EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

September 25, 2013

Column: Earth still can expect a good, long run

Lee Bowman
The Eagle-Tribune

---- — The good news is that humankind has at least 1.75 billion more years to advance before the sun heats up so much that Earth will lose its “habitability” — although it could hang in there as long as 3 billion more years.

British researchers, writing in the journal Astrobiology, recently calculated the window for life to exist on Earth and on a gaggle of other recently discovered planets thought to be the right size with the right sun to possibly host life.

The estimate for Earth occupancy means humans — who have only been around for about 200,000 years in our modern form — could survive in some fashion for a very long time. That’s assuming progress isn’t interrupted by an asteroid, nuclear war or catastrophic mismanagement of our environment.

Whether a future civilization will find a way to emigrate from our heating-up planet to another far away in space is mere hopeful speculation. Right now, our interstellar travel skills are a bit limited.

Voyager 1, our deepest space probe, took 36 years to travel 11.7 billion miles past the edge of the solar system. Moving at 38,000 miles an hour, it will reach the vicinity of the next-closest star in 12,000 to 20,000 years — not exactly the express lane.

There may be alternative housing in the neighborhood, at least for a while. When the sun makes Earth too hot, it will actually warm Mars just enough to make that planet more hospitable and able to have liquid water — perhaps again, perhaps for the first time. The robotic research on the history of life on the Red Planet is ongoing.

This doesn’t stop earthbound conspiracy theorists who are convinced that some of the world’s elites have already started colonizing Mars as a second home to escape mayhem on this planet. Images of surface features are frequently touted as proof of bio-engineering on Mars. One favorite example: stands of pine trees growing around polar ice caps. This must be true — it’s on the Internet, after all.