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4 Signs We Could Live Somewhere Else In The Solar System

4 Signs We Could Live Somewhere Else In The Solar System.Will humans live on Earth forever? Most estimates are that, for one reason or another, we...

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

/ by Avishek Bera

 

The News Cover: Will humans live on Earth forever? Most estimates are that, for one reason or another, we won’t. And in the twenty-first century, there’s massively renewed interest in finding ways to get off of this planet to explore more of space. For many, it’s a matter of species survival. We simply have to move or else we will die. For others, it’s the greatest adventure imaginable. So, join us as we look at where the human homes of the future could be… This is Unveiled, and today we’re exploring four signs that we could live somewhere else in the solar system. 

Are you a fiend for facts? Are you constantly curious? Then why not subscribe to Unveiled for more clips like this one? And ring the bell for more fascinating content! The first and arguably clearest sign that we could one day live elsewhere in the solar system is… we might not have a choice! It feels like doomsday predictions are ten-a-penny nowadays, with most years being billed by one theory or another as the year when the world will end. But scaremongering aside, we do have various problems to contend with. The global population is rising, the natural resources are falling, the uptake of renewables is… happening… but is it happening quickly enough? 

With or without climate change and global warming, there are other reasons why we could have to hop-it off of Earth in a hurry, too. The Hollywood blockbuster asteroid strike is always at the back of the mind of any anxious astronomer, but we’ve seen in even recent history how space could one day turn against us in other ways, as well. There was the near miss with a coronal mass ejection in 2012 which, had it hit us, could’ve caused a solar storm unparalleled in modern history. And, while we’re thinking about the sun, our star definitely will blow up into a red giant within about five billion years. According to most predictions, it will render Earth uninhabitable in doing so, in around one billion years. 

So, even if nothing else goes wrong between now and then, we will have to leave when that time comes! So, why can it sometimes feel as though we’re still so far away from ever being able to actually do that? The prospect of humans leaving Earth en masse is all fine and easy for a sci-fi movie plot, but for generations now there’s arguably been a feeling that it won’t happen “in our lifetime”. 

And to some extent, that still rings true, with even the most optimistic of projections for future space travel tending to claim it will happen for the next generation. But, in other ways, we’ve never been closer to unleashing ourselves onto the solar system. And sign number two why we could soon be somewhere else is water. It’s… everywhere. Well, not quite everywhere, but it’s certainly not as elusive as it once was! 

Mars is so often our first port of call when we imagine living off Earth, and one of the main reasons for that is that there’s water there - definitely as ice, and possibly as liquid (although in small amounts). In 2018, scientists from the Italian Space Agency even announced detection of a subglacial lake on the Red Planet. And, in general, water under the surface is now widely held to be a common occurrence in the solar system - with similar subglacial or subterranean bodies of water believed to be on Europa and Ganymede (both moons of Jupiter) as well as Enceladus (a moon of Saturn). 

There are even theories that the dwarf planet Ceres, the largest object in the Asteroid Belt, also has the remainder of an internal ocean. Seeing as water is probably the most significant thing scientists look for when determining the potential habitability of anywhere other than Earth, it would appear that our solar system does, then, provide plenty of options. Add into the equation that most of the many thousands of comets hurtling around the sun also hold water ice… and that a European Space Agency mission successfully landed a probe onto a comet for the first time in 2014… and we’re seemingly better placed than ever before to learn about, make use of and imitate extraterrestrial water sources within the solar system. But, while water is undoubtedly important, it’s not the only thing we’re going to need if we’re going to survive elsewhere. 

Reason number three for today’s article is the many, contemporary plans to terraform that have taken hold in recent years. While we are still searching in earnest for planets that are readymade to support human life, we’re also more and more aware that finding one isn’t going to be easy. And, because Earth is the only planet inside our own sun’s habitable (or Goldilocks) zone, finding one in the solar system just isn’t going to happen. We need, then, to change one up.

 Elon Musk’s much-publicized plan to nuke Mars is probably the most famous example of a proposed terraforming method. For Musk, were we to detonate a load of our most destructive weapons over Mars, then we’d be equipping the Red Planet with multiple, artificial suns. And from there, water vapor gets released from the Martian ice caps, plus carbon dioxide… a greenhouse effect begins to take hold, and voila! Mars has a much-needed atmosphere, and perhaps even one we could survive in. 

The plan hasn’t attracted a great deal of support from elsewhere in the space or science communities, however. So, what are our other options? Another leading pitch for a terraforming strategy is to build lots and lots of giant mirrors. In recent years there have been a number of variations put forward on this theme, but the general idea is that if we can start reflecting (and directing) the sun’s light onto targeted locations in greater concentrations… then we can, again, inspire atmospheric change and a greenhouse effect. The Saturnian moon, Titan, could be one of the best candidates for this particular approach.

 It’s packed with surface ice to transform for our needs, and it’s partly protected by the magnetosphere around Saturn - meaning that any alteration made to its atmosphere should be long-term. By contrast, any change to the Martian atmosphere could be very short-lived because of our planetary neighbour’s lack of a magnetic field. But how, you ask, are we ever going to position all of these mirrors exactly where we want them? And, considering that they’d probably need to cover thousands of square miles, and that the distance from Earth to our example Titan is about one billion miles, it’s certainly a sizeable problem. 

But, thanks to reason number four as to why we could soon live somewhere else, it might not be impossible. In the twenty-first century, our space travel tactics have changed. And dramatically. For most of the middle of the twentieth century, the moon was our one and only target. For most of the end of that century, we saw either uncrewed missions to other planets… or crewed missions to the International Space Station in low Earth orbit. We took tentative, physical steps by landing a dozen people on the lunar surface across six separate missions… but then we returned to Earth and mostly stayed put. 

But now, we’ve bided our time long enough… and there’s a greater variety of proposed space missions today than ever before. NASA and Roscomos have been joined by the CNSA, ESA, ISRO and others as the international effort to get us into space has ramped up. And, whereas before simply getting to the moon was challenge enough, now we’re asking… what then? So much so that the moon is now usually billed as a steppingstone, only. The mission statements behind NASA’s Artemis Program continually refer to our proposed return to the moon as a learning curve for another, further-reaching goal - sending humans to Mars. Meanwhile, the dearMoon Project is in large part pitched as a test run for SpaceX technology, with Elon Musk’s private firm also having eyes primarily on the Red Planet.

 More than that, there are now various proposals to build off-Earth launch sites, which could totally change the rules of the game. So far in history, our space travel ambitions have been severely limited thanks to the amount of fuel it requires any ship to carry just to get out of Earth’s atmosphere. But, today, there are plans to bypass that, by setting up launch capabilities either on the moon (where the fuel needs are much lower) or high in orbit (where SpaceX, in particular, proposes refuelling recently launched vehicles). 

As well as all of that, there are initiatives at various stages of production toward orbital hotels, such as the Gateway Foundation’s Voyager Station, and even orbital cities, suggested by Blue Origin. Whereas in the twentieth century we were all about the destination… today we’re all about the journey. These plans (and more) are aiming to build a working infrastructure in space, so that we can one day explore with relative ease. Yes, this means that there is still a feeling that some of the most exciting stuff might not happen in our lifetimes… but we do now look at space with a strategy for the future, and not just a far-off dream. 

We’re locating resources, we’re developing ways to terraform, and we’re working on making the solar system a smaller, more reachable place. Because, one day, we will have to head out there! And those are four signs that we could live somewhere else in the solar system. What do you think? Is there anything we missed? Let us know in the comments.

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