Talks have been in session for some time now about if and where there might be somewhere outside of Earth in which humans would be able to live.
Despite toying with the idea of colonizing Mars, it certainly can’t provide the habitat or resources that our home planet does. And yet, there’s nowhere else around…but that just might not stop us from another option. Scientists now think they’ve found the next best thing to Earth.
Called Proxima b, this planet has a mass 1.3 times that of Earth and a temperature range that allows for liquid water on the surface, raising the possibility that it could support life. But it is located in the triple-star Alpha Centauri solar system – a whopping 4.24 light years away from our sun.
If it wasn’t so far away, it would be pretty much perfect. But Proxima B is overwhelmingly far to plan any human transport for the time being. In the meantime, there is finally one mission to explore it officially underway: Breakthrough Starshot.
The craft will make the journey in just 20 years. In order to accomplish this, it will only weigh a few grams and it won’t carry any of its own fuel – instead, it will be propelled by a 100-billion-watt laser fired at it from Earth.
To send humans to Proxima B would pose a challenge no one is yet sure is possible. It would take a vessel large enough to transport humans centuries to travel just one light year; getting to the Proxima b range would take at least a thousand years, and require the consecutive survival and aptitude of many generations of humans for success. And yet, research is already taking place to make this possible.
Frédéric Marin, an astrophysicist and black hole radiation expert at the Université de Strasbourg, has recently produced a series of research papers – in his spare time, and without any funding. There, he questioned what size crew would be able to survive the journey over centuries without outgrowing the ship’s capacity, resulting in too much inbreeding to be able to be healthy, or dying off completely. Next, he tackled how much space would be required to produce food, and how much artificial gravity would need to be maintained in order for the passengers to retain muscle mass and normal bodily functions. “You can use data from biology, anthropometry, anthropology, mathematics, to compute it,” Marin says. “This is a theoretical step, but it’s the first step.”
From the star-travel research nonprofit initiative Interstellar Studies, executive director Andreas Hein chimed in. “There’s no principal obstacle from a physics perspective. We know that people can live in isolated areas, like islands, for hundreds or thousands of years; we know that in principle people can live in an artificial ecosystem like Biosphere2. It’s a question of scaling things up. There are a lot of challenges, but no fundamental principle of physics is violated.”