Proxima b, our nearest neighboring exoplanet, is almost 25 trillion miles away. Even one of our fastest spaceships—the 31,600-mile-per-hour New Horizons—would take hundreds of thousands of years to get there. Assuming we can’t figure out how to warp space-time (seems unlikely, but fingers crossed), we’re still looking at a couple-hundred-year trip in the best-case scenario, which leads to the real problem: No human crew could survive the entire ride. Science-fiction writers have long floated so-called generation ships as a solution. Designers would outfit these interplanetary cruise vessels to support a community of adults and their children, and their children’s children, and their children’s children’s children…until humanity finally reaches a new celestial shore. Here’s our best guess for what it would take to sow the seeds of an extrasolar species.
The galaxy brims with billions of planets, but whoa—they’re so far away! Unfortunately for would-be star trekkers, even the closest would take hundreds of lifetimes to reach with current technology. Until someone invents the warp drive, we’ll have to do our exploring with telescopes.
Rumors are flying that astronomers at the European Southern Observatory have discovered an Earth-like exoplanet in the habitable zone of Proxima Centauri, our nearest neighboring star. If confirmed, this is undeniably one of the biggest astronomical discoveries of the century.
Kepler has given us a stash of thousands of exoplanets. Now, researchers have pulled twenty from that stash that they say are the most likely to be habitable.
Since the 1960s, the Drake Equation has been used to predict how many communicative extraterrestrial civilizations exist in the Milky Way galaxy. Along these same lines, a new formula seeks to estimate the frequency at which life emerges on a planet—a calculation that might allow us to figure out the likelihood of life arising elsewhere in the universe.
With Pluto millions of miles behind us and construction of the James Webb Space Telescope moving swiftly along, astronomers are already thinking about the Next Big Mission. At the top of their wish list? A forty foot-wide orbital telescope that’ll search for proof of life beyond Earth.
If you thought the Kepler spacecraft’s glory days were over, think again. Today at the 227th meeting of the American Astronomical Society, astronomers announced a whopping 234 new exoplanet candidates discovered by Kepler in 2014. The best part? All of them are just tens of light years away.