This is Ankush, a management professional, football enthusiast, foodie and a person with a never-give-up attitude
Going interstellar, a concept of science fiction or fact?
Have you ever thought where will the human civilization be 100 years in the future? 1000 years in the future? A million years in the future? Your guess is as good as mine, my guess is that our great great grandchildren will roam about the stars. How can I say this? The baby steps to make our civilization go interstellar is being taken today, as I write this article.
The technological advancement of human civilization has taken off in the last century at an alarming pace. Things which couldn't have been thought of some years ago are the norm today. Studies show that currently, the technological advancement rate is almost 32 times per 5 years. We built the first silicon chips roughly 60 years ago and now it powers every aspect of our daily lives. We can't even imagine some things that might be possible 5 years down the line. Hence for our civilization to be interstellar, I can see no immovable obstacles getting in the way. We can again become nomads, that we once were thousands of years ago. Only this time, distance traveled and discoveries made in the process will be on a much grander scale.
Why does the humans need to leave the Earth in the first place?
As we all know, many nations are taking global warming as a very serious issue for global environment change. Every day we are spewing out millions of tons of Carbon Dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. The technological advancement graph rightly shows the tremendous technological advancement in the last century, but that comes at a very hefty price.
Our civilization is a very energy hungry civilization. We are now depending a lot on non-renewable energy sources. These energy sources that are basically "non-renewable" will run out eventually and the human race needs to be prepared for that era. Hence the best possible solution is to go for renewable energy sources. But even that is not going to last as our planet Earth can house upto 9-10 Billion humans as per theory. Current world population is around 7.75 Billion. That means according to extrapolations the 9 Billion mark would be seen around the year 2050.
Apart from the most basic of the issues- Over population and Energy crisis, there can be more alarming issues which can come out of the blue and affect the entire human race in way lesser timeframe. Some are asteroid impact, AI taking over machines, Gamma ray bursts, nuclear or biological warfare etc. These issues may not take that long in the making but can wipe out most of the human race even before we can do something about it. We collectively as the human race must use our curiosity and intelligence to look towards the stars for a new home.
Where to head off to?
The first choice of any scientist looking for a new home outside Earth will be a planet which is placed roughly at the same distance as Earth is from it's Sun. This is famously called the "Goldilocks zone" or the habitable zone for water or H2O to exist in it's liquid form and that will in-turn result into life, just as life originated in water only when Earth was moving through the many phases of evolution. Apart from this, the temperatures for life to exist also should be in the suitable zone, not too cold or too hot.
These are better called "Exoplanets". The most promising of them and nearest to our home is Proxima B. It is a part of the Alpha Centauri star system. This star system is located 4.37 light years from our own, which may seem far but on a cosmic scale this distance is miniscule. Now, Proxima B sits in the goldilocks zone with one side of the planet always facing its star which is the hotter side. Scientists have confirmed that the temperature of the hotter side is greater than 0 degrees C. Water being present in the liquid form might be a possibility on the planet. The possibility of an atmosphere being present around the planet may also be on the cards which can even mean liquid water can be present on the surface of the planet.
Although these intriguing questions are there, the best we can do now is to observe the star system through telescopes from our own planet. Even with the fastest spacecrafts we have have now, it would take us 165,000 years to reach there. So scientists are already experimenting with solar sails that can reach upto 20% the speed of light and literally take 25 years to get to nearest star system. But can humans stop with the exploration of a planet which might be a longshot for our civilization to survive for millions of years? The answer is no. Here comes the concept of the Kardashev scale and how our civilizations measures up in this scale.
Human Civilization: Going truly Interstellar
Let's first talk about the Kardashev scale. This scale was developed by Nikolai Kardashev in 1964, this scale measures the technological advancement of a civilization based on the usable energy it has at its disposal.
The Kardashev scale are broken down into 4 categories: Type 0, Type 1, Type 2, Type 3 civilizations. A Type 0 civilization uses the natural resources of its planet to harness and meet the energy requirements. The energy sources for this type is mainly the non-renewable sources like coal and gas. A Type 1 civilization can fully control all the energy sources of its planet. Even this kind of civilization may have full control on the climate, temperature, the weather conditions as a whole. A Type 2 civilization can control the entire energy resources of it's host star and the star system. This civilization can literally make itself immune from extinction. This is frightening to hear, but with the technological advancements growing at an alarming pace, this science fiction to science fact is not that farfetched. The energy used by a Type 2 is 10 billion times more than a Type 1 civilization. For a Type 2 civilization a Dyson sphere/swarm would be the best solution for harnessing the entire power of its host star. Imagine if we could harness all the energy that is generated by the sun, we would never run out of energy!
A Type 3 civilization would be able to harness the entire galactic energy sources. This civilization would have the entire galaxy at its disposal. The energy levels for this kind of a race would be 10 billion times that of a Type 2 one. Travelling at the speed of light, travelling through wormholes, bending the very fabric of space-time can all be possible for this kind of a race. They might even be able to harness the energy from a super-massive black hole at the very center of a galaxy.
Currently, the human civilization is at .72 on the Kardashev scale, it will take around the year 4200 to reach Type 1 and between 1,00,000 to 10,00,000 years to reach Type 2 standards. Of course these values are hypothetical! One can imagine the timeframes we are talking about are enormously huge.
The foreseeable future
Humans are going to become an interstellar civilization sooner or later. It's only a matter of time before we start to move up the Kardashev scale. Our civilization is still the only form of life that is there, till date in the Universe. But is this fact going to change? I think so very quickly, with the advancement in technology humans may come in contact with intelligent forms of life in the universe. Just as the Earth will keep on changing, our race will do the same. The wormholes in the movie "Interstellar" may not be a thing of science fiction for too long. The way we have moved up the ladder in technological advancements, terraforming a planet like Mars might be up for the cards in this century itself. All lifeforms on Earth are carbon based, humans might one day be intelligent enough to alter that and even go on to control space-time itself. Technological advancements may one day even play with the limits of physics. Until then, it's everyone guess how the future will turn out to be. Technology was and will always be the answer to every hurdle!
© 2022 Ankush Mukherjee