The search for the next Earth

It’s not surprising with all of the advances in space travel technology that the possibility of finding another habitable planet is on our minds at the moment. We’ve sent space telescopes all over the universe toward distant galaxies and they’re sending back remarkable pictures.

Considering the vastness of the universe, it’s certainly not impossible that there could be a planet similar enough to Earth for us to live on. But many questions remain like where is this second Earth, or what will we find when we get there, or even how will we get there? These are very important questions, and ones which we must answer soon.

The search for the next Earth

What makes a good habitable exoplanet?

Well, let’s start with what exactly an exoplanet is. An exoplanet is a planet outside our solar system. It’s considered habitable if the conditions can sustain human life over several generations. For this to be possible, it needs to have large amounts of water on its surface, which is quite a rare find. Otherwise, we might be stuck with sulphuric acid rain, like on Venus or diamond rain like on Neptune (which would be nice, but a little dangerous). It also needs to have the right temperature sustained throughout the year. Some planets have the right temperature, but then move too close to or too far from the sun. It would be a bit annoying only being able to stay on a planet for a few months.

Considerations for colonizing exoplanets

Apart from the climate of the planet itself, there are other considerations. Firstly, we’d have to consider how long it would take us to get there. Some planets are quite literally millions of years away, so if we set out on a big spaceship, only our very distant ancestors would see this new Earth. The other consideration is about how many people we could send. The spaceship could only support a limited number of people for a while, but too few people arriving would be a disaster. It is estimated that at least 1000 genetically distinct individuals (separated by at least two generations) would be needed to create a sustainable genetic pool on the new planet.

What about closer to home?

So if venturing out far into the universe seems too difficult, what about planets in our solar system? Some people believe this to be a good possibility – inhabiting Mars or the Moon using terraforming technology. Terraforming is essentially modifying the planet’s climate and atmosphere using powerful technology and Earth-like stations placed on the planet’s surface. The trip is a lot shorter, but the technology needed would need to be very advanced and up to now is too expensive to build. If we do get it right, at least there is the possibility of a vacation on new Earth, or visiting family that has moved there.

The search for the next Earth

In the meantime

Before we find the second Earth, we need to take care of our first one. We need to buy ourselves time to find a place that can support the overpopulation that we have produced. Small efforts of recycling, using water sparingly, and applying our minds to find sustainable and eco-friendly technologies add up in the greater scheme of things. Even when we find another habitable planet, we’d want to keep Mother Earth alive and not have to leave out of necessity, but rather out of curiosity.