Two weeks ago, astronomers made a huge discovery: for the first time in human history, we are able to witness the birth of a planet. The new planet, named PDS 70 b, is about 370 light years from earth. That means it is so far away, that what we’re seeing today actually happened 370 years ago, long before the foundation of the United States, before the birth of Johann Sebastian Bach. Centuries of human history transpired in that time. And yet, it will be billions of years before that planet is fully formed.
Scientists have discovered more than 1,000 of planets outside our solar system. Most of them orbit bizarrely close to their star. Others are super gas giants, many times the size of Jupiter. The methods used to discover these planets might explain why we have almost no found worlds that are potentially hospitable to human life. Eventually, we may have the ability to locate more planets outside our solar system, ones that are more like earth, with similar gravity. Perhaps someday we can determine whether a planet has a breathable atmosphere and similar diurnal cycle. Getting there is another issue altogether.
Assuming we could travel to the stars, as Carl Sagan hoped, we might decide to plant colonists on those worlds. Humans are fairly adaptable, so we could adjust to a different planetary rotation, where a day is 30 hours or 15 hours. The gravity could be weaker, like on Mars, or stronger. There might not be seasons. For the most part, those varying conditions occur on earth (except for the gravity bit). Residents north of the Arctic Circle experience long periods of daylight and darkness, depending on the season. People in tropical regions experience summer all year. People living in Nepal and Bolivia breathe thinner air than most of us.
With the turmoil of our current world, it’s easy to feel like we can’t possibly survive long enough to find our way out there. Some might question why we should even bother, with all the problems we’re facing here. We can’t seem to resolve our own conflicts without killing each other, not to mention that there are people literally dying to find a better life for themselves and their families. Refugees are turned away. Families are separated. Humanity isn’t looking like it’s worth saving.
But we could start over. Travel across the galaxy to a new world. Do it right this time, we’ll tell ourselves. This world will possess none of the negative things we left behind on earth. How will we overcome our human nature? Will we have rid ourselves of our greed, our need for revenge, our taste for violence? How will we end bigotry and xenophobia? How will we rid ourselves of the worst parts of our nature?
It seems that the only way we can make it to this bright future is that we evolve. Traveling outside our solar system will require collaboration on a global scale. We will have to overcome many obstacles that currently plague humanity. Until we conquer these negative aspects, we are grounded. Our best chance is to work together. Human development has a long way to go. It might be thousands of years before we are capable of achieving this.
In the meantime, we’re stuck with each other. We will see changes in our world that would stupefy our ancestors, and our grandchildren will come to accept things that would leave us speechless. Our world will change dramatically in that time, a thousand generations from now. Languages will shift (modern English is less than 1000 years old), attitudes will change, cultural norms will be unrecognizable. A thousand generations ago, humans had just migrated to North America. The Great Pyramid would not be built for millennia. So much can change in that time. Everything will change.
Really, the thing I am concerned about is not whether we blow ourselves up. I am more concerned about a stray asteroid or a mutated virus. If we can survive these things, I’m sure we can travel to the stars. When we get there, I’m not sure we will still be human.