A 50,000 year road trip

An interesting factoid from an article about Stephen Hawking saying that human beings will need to leave earth for outer space in order to survive:

University of Michigan astrophysicist Katherine Freese told Big Think that the closest star to Earth is Proxima Centauri. That’s 4.2 light years away, which means man could reach the star in 4.2 years – if man could travel at the speed of light.

At this point man travels at about ten thousandth of light speed, which would make that journey about 50,000 years.

via Stephen Hawking: Abandon the Earth.

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • Carl Vehse

    Prof. Freese points out today’s space travel speed capability compared to the speed of light. It should be noted our current rocket propulsion systems rely on Newton’s 3rd law of motion. One simply cannot take along enough fuel for that type of (even nuclear-powerd) propulsion to get us to another solar system. Moving a spaceship through interstellar space will require the engineering application of a more advanced understanding of physics yet to be developed.

    Another problem the article doesn’t mentioned is that Proxima Centauri is a red dwarf star, which undergoes periodic x-ray bursts. Even if it had a orbiting planet the size of Earth, the planet’s surface would not likely be inhabitable. The nearby Alpha Centauri is actually two orbiting stars, each approximately the size of our sun, also not good candidates for having inhabitable Earth-like planets.

    Given the many and intricate requirements needed for an Earth-like planet to exist in orbit around a star, we may be doing interstellar window shopping for some time. And if the planet doesn’t already come equipped with photosynthetic life to fill the atmosphere with sufficient oxygen, our descendants better add a few hundred thousand years of prep time, assuming they brought along some super-genetically-engineered blue-green algae.

  • Carl Vehse

    Prof. Freese points out today’s space travel speed capability compared to the speed of light. It should be noted our current rocket propulsion systems rely on Newton’s 3rd law of motion. One simply cannot take along enough fuel for that type of (even nuclear-powerd) propulsion to get us to another solar system. Moving a spaceship through interstellar space will require the engineering application of a more advanced understanding of physics yet to be developed.

    Another problem the article doesn’t mentioned is that Proxima Centauri is a red dwarf star, which undergoes periodic x-ray bursts. Even if it had a orbiting planet the size of Earth, the planet’s surface would not likely be inhabitable. The nearby Alpha Centauri is actually two orbiting stars, each approximately the size of our sun, also not good candidates for having inhabitable Earth-like planets.

    Given the many and intricate requirements needed for an Earth-like planet to exist in orbit around a star, we may be doing interstellar window shopping for some time. And if the planet doesn’t already come equipped with photosynthetic life to fill the atmosphere with sufficient oxygen, our descendants better add a few hundred thousand years of prep time, assuming they brought along some super-genetically-engineered blue-green algae.

  • Winston Smith

    Stephen Hawking can run rings around all of us when it comes to physics, but he hasn’t read the most important Text of all, and therefore he doesn’t know (but should) that abandoning the Earth isn’t in the script.

  • Winston Smith

    Stephen Hawking can run rings around all of us when it comes to physics, but he hasn’t read the most important Text of all, and therefore he doesn’t know (but should) that abandoning the Earth isn’t in the script.

  • Louis

    I don’t know, Winston – Carl has just indicated some very basic holes in what Hawkings is saying. I’m no physicist, but in my limited experience, popularisers are rarely top rated scientists. Their gifts lie in exposition, dumbing -down even – imnportant things to be sure. But they are rareyl any type of “guru”. Any physcist here care to comment?

  • Louis

    I don’t know, Winston – Carl has just indicated some very basic holes in what Hawkings is saying. I’m no physicist, but in my limited experience, popularisers are rarely top rated scientists. Their gifts lie in exposition, dumbing -down even – imnportant things to be sure. But they are rareyl any type of “guru”. Any physcist here care to comment?

  • Cincinnatus

    Stephen Hawking’s non-scientific musings (ravings?) always remind me of That Hideous Strength.

  • Cincinnatus

    Stephen Hawking’s non-scientific musings (ravings?) always remind me of That Hideous Strength.

  • Winston Smith

    I was arguing from a Biblical, rather than an astrophysics, standpoint, but Hawking’s science may be wrong as well. Interstellar travel always made sense on Star Trek when they had dilithium crystals and warp drives and stuff.

  • Winston Smith

    I was arguing from a Biblical, rather than an astrophysics, standpoint, but Hawking’s science may be wrong as well. Interstellar travel always made sense on Star Trek when they had dilithium crystals and warp drives and stuff.

  • Carl Vehse

    Hawking is not advocating abandoning Earth, just spreading out a little bit more into the nearby galactic neighborhood. Europeans did something similar when the “New World” was discovered.

    I don’t see space travel within this solar system or to others as something forbidden in Scripture.

    I do disagree with Hawking’s “ban the bomb” mantra, conveniently reported on August 9th, the 65th anniversary of the bombing of Nagasaki.

  • Carl Vehse

    Hawking is not advocating abandoning Earth, just spreading out a little bit more into the nearby galactic neighborhood. Europeans did something similar when the “New World” was discovered.

    I don’t see space travel within this solar system or to others as something forbidden in Scripture.

    I do disagree with Hawking’s “ban the bomb” mantra, conveniently reported on August 9th, the 65th anniversary of the bombing of Nagasaki.

  • Ted Snedeker

    It seems to me that folks seem to have difficulty thinking “outside the box” when it comes to space travel. The idea that we would come up with a ship, travel to a another habitable planet, colonize it, etc. like it was the fifteenth century and we were discovering a new America is totally misses the point. If we develop the technology to travel to distant star systems we certainly won’t need to find a planet to our liking. Technology of that level is so beyond what we are capable of today as to be true magic. If we have that level of technology we can simply mine the asteroid belt and build our own mobile biospheres. At that point we don’t need a planet, the biosphere generates its own magnetic shield and contains everything we need to live. Yes, eventually this old sun will run out of hydrogen and we would need to move on, but we could, by then, take our fully functioning habitable biospheres and drift out through the cosmos at sub light, multi-generational speeds to see what we could see (and perhaps pick up some raw materials to construct more biospheres.) All assuming, of course, that God doesn’t decide to call the question, roll up the carpet, turn out the lights and declare the “end of days.” but that is a discussion for a different thread.

  • Ted Snedeker

    It seems to me that folks seem to have difficulty thinking “outside the box” when it comes to space travel. The idea that we would come up with a ship, travel to a another habitable planet, colonize it, etc. like it was the fifteenth century and we were discovering a new America is totally misses the point. If we develop the technology to travel to distant star systems we certainly won’t need to find a planet to our liking. Technology of that level is so beyond what we are capable of today as to be true magic. If we have that level of technology we can simply mine the asteroid belt and build our own mobile biospheres. At that point we don’t need a planet, the biosphere generates its own magnetic shield and contains everything we need to live. Yes, eventually this old sun will run out of hydrogen and we would need to move on, but we could, by then, take our fully functioning habitable biospheres and drift out through the cosmos at sub light, multi-generational speeds to see what we could see (and perhaps pick up some raw materials to construct more biospheres.) All assuming, of course, that God doesn’t decide to call the question, roll up the carpet, turn out the lights and declare the “end of days.” but that is a discussion for a different thread.

  • http://www.simdan.com SimDan

    I have long wondered what would happen if man had not fallen into sin. With no death to keep the population down, the world would eventually get rather crowded. God gave us this universe to explore and delight in, the intellect and will to strive to understand it and the spirituality to glorify him as we marvel at his creation. My guess is some of us would have departed the Earth to explore and colonize the universe.

    This is merely pious speculation of course.

  • http://www.simdan.com SimDan

    I have long wondered what would happen if man had not fallen into sin. With no death to keep the population down, the world would eventually get rather crowded. God gave us this universe to explore and delight in, the intellect and will to strive to understand it and the spirituality to glorify him as we marvel at his creation. My guess is some of us would have departed the Earth to explore and colonize the universe.

    This is merely pious speculation of course.

  • kerner

    I read somewhere that long periods in space causes human bones to degenerate and become brittle. Today’s astronauts suffer from it. If true, how are we going to get people from here to there (on a journey that takes years) with their bones intact?

  • kerner

    I read somewhere that long periods in space causes human bones to degenerate and become brittle. Today’s astronauts suffer from it. If true, how are we going to get people from here to there (on a journey that takes years) with their bones intact?

  • Carl Vehse

    The embrittlement (loss of calcium) of astronauts’ bones is caused by weightlessness while in orbit. Some sort of artificial gravity like the rotating space station in 2001 or, more fancifully, the electric field generated “gravity plates” of Star Trek spaceships would be needed for long space travel times.

  • Carl Vehse

    The embrittlement (loss of calcium) of astronauts’ bones is caused by weightlessness while in orbit. Some sort of artificial gravity like the rotating space station in 2001 or, more fancifully, the electric field generated “gravity plates” of Star Trek spaceships would be needed for long space travel times.


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