Is it possible for us to migrate to an Exoplanet?

Michel Mayor, Physics Nobel Prize winner, was a professor at Geneva University and Queloz was his doctorate student when they made the discovery that started a revolution in astronomy. Since then over 4,000 exoplanets have been found in our home galaxy. Is it possible for us to migrate to an Exoplanet?

Humans will never migrate to a planet outside of Earth’s solar system because it would take far too long to get there, Swiss Nobel laureate Michel Mayor said Wednesday.

Mayor and his colleague Didier Queloz were on Tuesday awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics for their research refining techniques to detect so-called exoplanets.

“If we are talking about exoplanets, things should be clear: we will not migrate there,” Mayor told AFP near Madrid on the sidelines of a conference when asked about the possibility of humans moving to other planets.

“These planets are much, much too far away. Even in the very optimistic case of a livable planet that is not too far, say a few dozen light-years, which is not a lot, it’s in the neighborhood, the time to go there is considerable,” he added.

“We are talking about hundreds of millions of days using the means we have available today. We must take care of our planet, it is very beautiful and still absolutely liveable.”

The 77-year-old said he felt the need to “kill all the statements that say ‘OK, we will go to a liveable planet if one day life is not possible on earth’.”

“It’s completely crazy,” he added.

Using custom-made instruments at their observatory in southern France, Mayor and Queloz in October 1995 discovered what had previously only existed in the realm of science fiction — a planet outside Earth’s solar system. Is it possible for us to migrate to an Exoplanet?

Mayor was a professor at Geneva University and Queloz was his doctorate student when they made the discovery that started a revolution in astronomy. Since then over 4,000 exoplanets have been found in our home galaxy.

“It was a very old question which was debated by philosophers: are their other worlds in the Universe?,” Mayor said.

“We look for planets which are the closest (to us), which could resemble Earth. Together with my colleague we started this search for planets, we showed it was possible to study them.”

Mayor said it was up to the “next generation” to answer the question of whether there is life on other planets.

“We don’t know! The only way to do it is to develop techniques that would allow us to detect life at a distance,” he said.

Nearest Exo Planet to the Earth.

Proxima Centauri b is nearest Exo Planet to the Earth

 Proxima Centauri b is nearest Exo Planet to the Earth

There are 4,118 known exoplanets, or planets outside our solar system that orbit a star, as of October 1, 2019; only a small fraction of these are located in the vicinity of the Solar System. Within 32.6 light-years, there are 97 exoplanets listed as confirmed by the NASA Exoplanet Archive. Among the over 400 known stars within 10 parsecs, around 60 have been confirmed to have planetary systems; 51 stars in this range are visible to the naked eye, nine of which have planetary systems.

The first report of an exoplanet within this range was in 1998 for a planet orbiting around Gliese 876 (15.3 light-years away), and the latest as of 2017 is one around Ross 128 (11 light-years). The closest exoplanet found is Proxima Centauri b, which was confirmed in 2016 to orbit Proxima Centauri, the closest star to our Solar System (4.25 light-years ). HD 219134 (21.6 light-years ) has six exoplanets, the highest number discovered for any star within this range. A planet around Fomalhaut (25 light-years ) was, in 2008, the first planet to be directly imaged.

Most known nearby exoplanets

Most known nearby exoplanets orbit close to their star and have highly eccentric orbits. A majority are significantly larger than Earth, but a few have similar masses, including two planets (around YZ Ceti, 12 light-years ) which may be less massive than Earth. Several confirmed exoplanets are hypothesized to be potentially habitable, with Proxima Centauri b and three around Gliese 667 C (23.6 light-years ) considered the most likely candidates. The International Astronomical Union took a public survey in 2015 about renaming some known extrasolar bodies, including the planets around Epsilon Eridani (10.5 light-years ) and Fomalhaut. Is it possible for us to migrate to an Exoplanet?

How We Could Visit the Possibly Earth-Like Planet Proxima b

How We Could Visit the Possibly Earth-Like Planet Proxima b

This illustration shows a Breakthrough Starshot nanocraft, which could travel to the star Proxima Centauri, where a potentially Earth-like planet was recently discovered. 

It’s a long trip

In 2015, NASA’s New Horizons probe completed its 3-billion-mile (4.8 billion km) journey to Pluto after traveling for about 9.5 years. The spacecraft traveled at speeds topping 52,000 mph (84,000 km/h). At that rate, it would take New Horizons about 54,400 years to reach Proxima Centauri.

Last month, NASA’s Juno probe reached speeds of about 165,000 mph (265,000 km/h) as it entered into orbit around Jupiter. At that rate, a probe could reach Proxima Centauri in about 17,157 years. (It should also be noted that there is currently no feasible way to accelerate a craft large enough to carry humans to those speeds.) Is it possible for us to migrate to an Exoplanet?

In other words, sending a probe to the nearest star system would not be easy.

The founders of the Breakthrough Starshot initiative want to send wafer-thin probes to Proxima Centauri at very high speeds. The plan calls for equipping these probes with thin sails, which would capture the energy imparted by a powerful Earth-based laser.

This laser would accelerate the probes to 20 percent the speed of light (about 134.12 million mph, or 215.85 million km/h), according to the program scientists. At that rate, the probes could reach Proxima Centauri in 20 to 25 years.

But first, scientists and engineers have to build the apparatus that will launch the tiny probes on their journey. In a news conference today (Aug. 24), Pete Worden, chairman of the Breakthrough Prize Foundation, said that a group of experts had convened earlier this week and discussed plans to build a prototype of the Starshot system. However, he added that the full-scale apparatus is at least 20 years off.

“We certainly hope that, within a generation, we can launch these nanoprobes,” Worden said. “And so perhaps 20, 25 years from now, we could begin to launch them, and then they would travel for 25 years to get there.”

He added that building the full-scale apparatus would likely cost about the same as building the Large Hadron Collider, the largest particle accelerator in the world; that project is estimated to have cost about $10 billion.

“Over the next decade, we will work with experts here at ESO [the European Southern Observatory] and elsewhere to get as much information as possible about the Proxima Centauri planet … even including whether it might bear life, prior to launching mankind’s first probe towards the star,” Worden said. Is it possible for us to migrate to an Exoplanet?

Worden said the Breakthrough Prize Foundation also hopes to “obtain similar data about the other nearby stars, Alpha Centauri A and B.” (The two Alpha Centauri stars lie about 4.37 light-years from Earth; some astronomers think Proxima Centauri and the Alpha Centauri stars are part of the same system.) 

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