It seems a goal of mankind’s to gradually spread ourselves across the stars and become a space faring civilization. Whether we meet others on our journeys or not is of course part of the equation, but most of all our voyage through the heavens has for the most part been connected to our own planet. And now astronomers are debating which star system may be the most fruitful to visit first. While some suggest we may have finally closed the book on interstellar travel, still others are suggesting we may have yet to see just how far the human race could go.
Which star system will we colonize next even after we’ve exhausted our resources searching this one? It’s a prospect scientists have for years been discussing. While Mars may prove a promising destination for those attempting to grace the stars with the human touch, there has also been talk of colonizing Venus as well – though doing so would raise a whole different set of problems. A Venusian colony would likely have to exist shielded in the sky high above the planet like the fictional Cloud City from the Star Wars series, shielding its inhabitants from the harsh environment on the planet’s surface. Mars on the other hand may require colonists to seek refuge in great underground colonies designed to stave off the effects of radiation from a planet without any protection from the harsh and unforgiving yet distant and cold sun.
But when the subject of interstellar travel comes about, and the prospect of traveling to other star systems is placed on the table, all bets are off. The debate is currently being held between two major prospective stars with different benefits being afforded to each.
And that’s precisely what the 100 Year Starship program has begun debating. The program, which will hope to design a system to launch a massive interstellar ship within the next century, will be one of the foremost deciding factors on when and where our massive journey – a journey which would last decades or even longer – will start off. Of course the 100 year starship program is not necessarily designed to carry humans to another planet. Rather projects within it, like “Icarus” will serve to move robotic surveillance to other worlds and send back the first few images of what another planet would look like. Icarus would have to communicate over a vast distance in ways that previous space missions would never have had to deal with – sending long range signals back to Earth at light speed that would still take years to reach Earth.
So which of the nearby star systems are currently being debated? There are 58 stars within 15 light years of Earth’s own sun. Of these only two are known to have planets, Epsilon Eridani and GJ 674. The closest, Epsilon Eridani has a massive cloud of dust surrounding it where smaller Earth sized planets may reside and even hold life on a smaller so far undiscovered planetoid. If we were to make the journey to Epsilon Eridani, even the fastest rocket possible would take 15 years to get there, and an unknown amount of time to accelerate to near light speed requiring more fuel than currently exists on Earth. But new technology in the next century could easily make the journey not only possible, but even easy.