What If Humanity Became an Interstellar Species?


What if humanity grew to
be so technologically advanced that we were able to leave our Solar System and spread across interstellar space? This is WHAT IF, and here’s what would happen if humanity became an interstellar society. No human has ever been
outside of our Solar System, and only a few of us have
actually left the Earth. Even those who blasted out of
here in a rocket didn’t go too far. There are billions upon
billions of planets out there. But they are so far away, it would
take us a very long time to reach them. If we jumped into the
fastest spacecraft ever built, it would take us over 70,000 years to get to our neighboring
star system Alpha Centauri. Even if we could accelerate a
spaceship to 99% the speed of light, over 26,000 years would pass until we
arrived at the center of our own galaxy. And another 2 million years until we set foot in the nearest neighbor,
the Andromeda galaxy. How could we go about expanding
our civilization into space if we’re so terribly slow? To become an intergalactic civilization, we’d need to break the
speed limit of the Universe. But for all we know, traveling at the
lightspeed is physically impossible, nevermind outperforming it. The Universe is enormous, possibly infinite. And our lifespans are too miserably
short to cover those kind of distances even at near-light speeds. But let your curiosity take over and imagine we were a civilization that could approach lightspeed
and travel among stars. We’d start with Alpha Centauri,
our neighboring star system. Who knows – maybe the exoplanet
orbiting this three-star system would turn out to be habitable. Then, we’d push ourselves out further to discover the billions of other worlds. Not all of them would be
suitable for us to settle in. In astronomy, a habitable world is a planet that is just the right distance
from its Sun-like star to be able to sustain liquid water. But the reality is, humans
require so much more than that. Atmosphere, gravity, temperature –
they’re all important. It’s unlikely that we’d find
another planet just like Earth. But we could build self-sustaining
Earth-like biomes on our giant spaceships, where humans could live for generations. Or, we could terraform some rocky exoplanets. First, we’d harvest water
from a few ice comets. Then, we’d alter the planets’
atmospheres to resemble Earth’s. Anything to be able to
breathe in fresh air again. Even though space would be so accessible, people wouldn’t travel
around the Universe much once the new colonies were established. Even at the speed of light, it would take generations to make a
trip to the other side of the Universe. Space is just too vast, remember? In this new world, you’d
get to travel among stars only if you were a part of a ship’s crew, a colonist, or a space miner. We’d send robots to perform
our intergalactic chores. Robots don’t eat, sleep,
or go to the bathroom. They can withstand high levels of
radiation and extreme temperatures – all the things that would
kill a human being. But if space travel is something you crave, consider pursuing a
career as a postal carrier. Because the most reliable
way to communicate might be through the mail. Surprised? Well, our satellites rely on radio
waves to transmit information. Even though these waves
travel just as fast as light, they lose their strength over long distances. It’s like being too far away
from your WiFi router. If humanity did become an interstellar society, we humans would end up spread out
across hundreds of light years of space. At least we’d give Earth a break, and allow it to recover
from our mistreatment. Maybe we don’t have to go so far. Maybe we could create a new
society on artificial planets that we built around the Sun. But that’s a story for another WHAT IF.

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