August 10, 2010
This could be the Canadian Big Bang Theory.
After spending six weeks this summer tootling around Niagara Falls, Stratford and Waterloo, Ont. — creative ground zero for BlackBerry-maker RIM — famed physicist Stephen Hawking says the Earth is doomed and mankind should flee to space.
Really, is the Falls’ parking that gruesome? Did Shakespearian wit, blunted by Canadian accents, ignite Hawking’s interplanetary escape plans? Did he tire of the whole Jim Balsillie-deserves-an-NHL-franchise hand-wringer?
Hawking suggests on the Big Think website that the human race is angry, gluttonous and growing too fast, depleting the planet and risking more frequent international threats like the 1962 Cuban missile crisis. To avoid extinction, Hawking warns that people must colonize space within the next two centuries.
“It will be difficult enough to avoid disaster on planet Earth in the next hundred years, let alone the next thousand, or million. The human race shouldn’t have all its eggs in one basket, or on one planet.”
Yikes. So why are Canadians wasting their time trying to claim the Arctic? We should be putting dibs on Mars.
Mars is generally considered the most livable of our solar system’s planets. It has frozen water, carbon, nitrogen, hydrogen and oxygen, as well as vast quantities of mineral ores. Our moon, on the other hand, is small and desert-like, Venus is too hot (460 degrees Celsius) and Jupiter lacks a solid surface.
Going beyond our solar system doesn’t appear to be an answer either.
Ray Jayawardhana, a professor of astronomy of the University of Toronto, said Hawking’s suggestion is “an appealing idea to have (an earthly) presence elsewhere.” But he points out that getting to the closest star, even at the speed of light, would take many lifetimes.
“The nearest stars are about four light years away and that would take tens of thousands of years to get there with current technology.”
Many proponents of space settlement believe floating in space, not planting sod on Mars or building condos in the next galaxy, is the way to colonize. That notion is already being tested on the International Space Station.
NASA has predicted the human population in space could one day exceed 10 trillion people living in millions of colonies, with a combined living area hundreds of times the surface of the Earth.
Jayawardhana can imagine building space stations to support people, orbiting the sun for light. But try going to the store for milk and bread. “Where do you get the natural resources to support (human life)?” he asked.
Hawking’s interview came shortly after he visited Waterloo’s Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics where he carries the title of distinguished research chair.
The gloomy prediction for Earth from the 68-year-old author of A Brief History of Time is not unique.
American astronomer and astrophysicist Edward Sion earlier told Big Think that the sun will eventually expand to become a Giant Red Star with a “viscous drag” that will pull planets toward it. The Earth’s orbit will decay into a death spiral, hurtling our globe directly into the gassy mass where it will likely be incinerated.
But time is on our side. Scion says the Big Burn is about 6 billion years away, plenty of time to check out other galaxies.