Humans could become a truly interplanetary species within 200 years: Physicists claim 


The future of our species hangs in the balance at this critical juncture in human history. According to the findings of alarming new research, humanity will either find a way to harness the energy necessary to leave our planet securely, or we will end up extinguishing ourselves in some catastrophic event. 

However, the new article contends that if we can do the first and avoid the latter, our species might become a genuinely interplanetary species in as little as two hundred years. 

According to Jonathan Jiang, the principal author of the study and a researcher at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, who spoke with Live Science about the findings, “The Earth is a small dot surrounded by darkness.” According to our present knowledge of physics, humans are confined to this little rock with a finite supply of resources. 

The only way for humanity to permanently abandon our home planet is if they dramatically increase their reliance on nuclear and renewable energy sources while at the same time preventing those energy sources from being used for harmful ends.  

According to the research findings, the world’s population will only have a fighting chance if it can successfully eliminate its reliance on fossil fuels over the next few decades. 

The Kardashev Scale 

A representation of the TRAPPIST-1 planets as of the month of February 2018. (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech) 

In 1964, the Soviet astronomer Nikolai Kardashev suggested a measuring technique for estimating the technical capabilities of an intelligent species. Carl Sagan subsequently improved this scheme. It all boils down to how much energy a species can use for its objectives, whether those aims include exploring the cosmos or playing video games. 

A Kardashev Type I civilization, for instance, can make use of all of the energy resources that are present on the species’ home planet. This includes all of the energy sources buried beneath the ground (such as fossil fuels and materials that can be used for nuclear fission) and all of the energy that is showered down from the planet’s parent star. This equates to somewhere about 1016 watts in terms of Earth. 

Type II civilizations use ten times as much energy as Type I civilizations. They are capable of using all of the power that can be extracted from a single star. Species of type III can go much farther and use most of the energy in a galaxy. 

Although the human species is nowhere near the Type I threshold, the amount of energy we use continues to rise with each passing year. More people are using more power per capita, but this power comes at a cost. That cost is the threat to our biosphere that is posed by the release of carbon and other pollutants and the risk posed by the ability to use powerful means of energy storage and delivery for destructive purposes, such as nuclear bombs. 

The great filter 

A conceptualization by the artist of the terrain of the extrasolar planet TRAPPIST-1f. (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/T. Pyle (IPAC)) 

It’s possible that researchers haven’t uncovered proof of technologically sophisticated extraterrestrial civilizations because of the threat presented by our ever-growing need for energy. If Earth isn’t all that unusual and the evolution of life and intelligence isn’t particularly exceptional (and there’s no reason to believe that it is), then intelligent life should be abundant across the cosmos. Although humans have only been in the grand scheme of things for a brief period, the Milky Way galaxy has been around for billions of years. It is reasonable to expect that by this point, someone, somewhere, should have progressed to the Type III level and begun the severe exploration of the cosmos. 

This indicates that when humans attained intelligence, there should have been someone there to greet us, or at the very least, leave behind a present to show their appreciation for our arrival. 

However, we are the only ones here, as far as we can tell. It would seem that life, more specifically, intelligent life, is very uncommon. Therefore, there may be a mechanism or series of events that eradicates sentient life before a civilization may advance to higher levels of development. The majority of these so-called “great filters” are diverse kinds of activities that lead to species extinction. 

Yet though we haven’t even reached the first rung on the Kardashev scale, our species has already reached the point where it can destroy itself. Only a few nations now possess the nuclear weapons necessary to exterminate every single person on the face of the Earth. 

Jiang said, “We are our own Great Filter.”   

According to Jiang, the challenge is to keep from destroying ourselves while simultaneously increasing our energy consumption to the point where we can stably live on numerous planets simultaneously, even if this is only possible inside the solar system. The existence of humans on more than one planet acts as a powerful defense mechanism against the instigation of their extinction. However, a vast quantity of energy is required to attain multi-planetary status. This is not only to construct colonies for a limited length of time but also to maintain fully functional cities. 

The knife’s edge 

In an article that Jiang and his colleagues published in April on the journal preprint service arXiv, they investigated the most effective approach to achieving Type I status. The researchers acted following the suggestions made in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, which mapped out the evident repercussions that would result from the ongoing and unchecked use of fossil fuels. If humankind does not swiftly transfer its energy supply to nuclear and renewable choices, we will do too much harm to our biosphere to continue climbing the Kardashev scale. In other words, we will not be able to survive. 

The research also assumed an annual growth rate of 2.5 percent in renewable and nuclear energy. It concluded that during the next 20 to 30 years, those types of energy usage would slowly replace the use of fossil fuels. The research team determined that if we keep up our current pace of consumption, we will achieve Type I status in the year 2371. Nuclear and renewable energy sources have the potential capacity to carry on rising production without placing more burden on the biosphere. 

Jiang admits that the calculations included quite a few guesses and that the margin of error on the estimate was probably something in the neighborhood of a hundred years. For the measures, it was necessary to assume that humanity would find secure means to dispose of nuclear waste and that our growing capacity to harness energy would not result in an uncontrollable catastrophe. Despite this, if we can stay on this path, we will have the opportunity over the next few hundred years to lay the groundwork for the possible preservation of our species for future generations. 


Tharun Pranav
Tharun Pranav
Tharun Pranav is a Law student in the School of Law, Christ University. He is an Extrovert and a Pensive person in nature. One of his strengths is Sarcasm. He also has a passion for Space Law, Economic Analysis of Law, and Intellectual Property Rights. You can find him online on Instagram or LinkedIn.


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