Strange New Worlds
Vincent Plant lists six exoplanets that humanity could populate in the near future.
Picture the scene. You’re the head of NASA in the 2030s. A report arrives that says that humanity has discovered a wormhole, or a similar technology, that allows people to travel to six worlds. This opens up six planets within the larger universe for humanity to travel to and potentially settle. Where do you decide to go?
As it turns out, there are a few choices:
First of all, there’s Mars. This has been the target of Elon Musk’s voracious appetite over the past few years, with a flurry of tweets confirming that Musk’s aim is to have a million people on the Red Planet by 2050. In fact, it is known to once have been very like Earth, with artist’s impressions showing rolling oceans covering the northern hemisphere before the solar wind stripped away the atmosphere. Given its previous track record and similarity to Earth, it’s not surprising that people like Musk are thinking big.
Proxima Centauri b
Alternatively, consider Proxima Centauri b, a planet orbiting the closest star to our sun. It is within the habitable zone of its star enabling life to develop, albeit with the problem of being tidally locked to its planet. Life could, however, exist in what is called the ‘twilight zone’, the part of the planet that is permanently in a state of either dusk or dawn which does not get boiled by the constantly overhead sun or frozen in a permanent night.
In what can only be described as stellar overachievement, this red dwarf star has seven earth-sized planets orbiting it, at least three of which lie within the habitable zone.
Granted, the stellar winds are 2000 times greater than on Earth. However, with the right kind of intervention (say, a solar shade and a set of mirrors to replicate a 24 hour day), Proxima could turn into a home away from home. Add to that, you would be able to see a small extra star in the constellation of Cassiopeia, reminding us of the home that is still only four scant lightyears away.
So far, Gliese 1214b, a planet about 48 lightyears away in the constellation of Ophuicus, has been considered the most likely candidate for an ocean planet. If so, this would make an intriguing planet to visit in our hypothetical ship. There’s a reason it has been nicknamed ‘the waterworld’ among scientists.
TRAPPIST-1 (e, f & g)
Finally, there’s the TRAPPIST-1 system. In what can only be described as stellar overachievement, this red dwarf star has seven earth-sized planets orbiting it, at least three of which lie within the habitable zone. If these truly are habitable, these would be ideal candidates for our head of NASA to go and explore.
Scenarios such as this are, admittedly, nothing more than flights of fancy. However, they can help show us that the Universe is not necessarily a cold and inhospitable place. There’s a vast diversity of planets and conditions out there. Maybe, just maybe, there’s some amorphous pond scum in the vast expanses of our home galaxy, clinging to a rock in space that’s somewhat similar to ours. Whether or not this is the case, it’s always fun to look at the possibilities, just as it’s fascinated scientists for years. And who knows, maybe one day humanity will look back with satisfaction upon articles such as this as they live among the stars? Only time will tell.