Our 5 Billion Year Window
Not very long ago, before machines and things,
humans roamed earth with a single-minded intensity to find sustenance, shelter and to reproduce.
Our conscious world basically consisted of our immediate urroundings and our next meal. To survive was and is our greatest instinct. We now find ourselves as the dominant species on earth, with a capacity to continually acquire a better understanding of our environment and ourselves. We have studied every land, air and sea creature, every type of plant and vegetation, climate patterns, earth & oceans, the very make up of air and stratosphere, the moon, the solar system, the galaxy and possible worlds beyond.
If survival is our deepest seeded instinct, then our future actions will inevitably yield newer methods of survival and the search for potential new habitats to continue the species. According to some scientists, earth will be uninhabitable in about 5 billion years (give or take a couple of billion), due to several potential events, including the crashing of a neighboring galaxy, the earth eventually drying out, a severe ice age or the crashing of a large meteor. In any case, life as we know it may have to migrate from earth to find a suitable and sustainable planet for survival.
For years, science fiction enthusiasts with fantastic imaginations would conjure up other worlds, advanced civilizations, super aliens and machines, and danger lurking at every turn. Most used to view their creative tales as entertaining fantasies. However the possibility of distant life forms or potential habitats doesn't seem so fantastic any more. Thanks to the Hubble Space Telescope and other new technologies, possibilities within our conception of reality are being continually expanded. We now know that our tiny galaxy is only one of perhaps millions of other galaxies and stars that make up the universe and possibly infinite amounts of space and matter which is well beyond our comprehension. So is there a chance that among these trillions of objects in the cosmos, there could exist at least one earth-like life-supporting planet?
Scientists Neil Turok of Cambridge University and Paul Steinhart of Princeton University theorize that since our galaxy, the Milky Way gave birth to our solar system, it can be concluded that the matter and elements, which make up our system must exist in other parts of the galaxy. There are many similar fundamental characteristics in our cosmos such as gravity, electro-magnetism, forces inside atomic nuclei, and the masses and relative abundance of different particles.
So it may be possible that within its billions of stars, The Milky Way could indeed contain other earth-like planets with similar life-spawning ingredients.
Amazingly, we may actually find evidence of life sustaining qualities on distant stars in our not too distant future. Every few weeks, scientists are discovering other solar systems in our galaxy with Jupiter-sized extra-solar planets. Michio Kaku, a theoretical physicist and professor believes it’s realistic, "As we advance, scientists may eventually compile vast encyclopedia's of stars, identifying the precise coordinates of perhaps hundreds of earth-like planets."
Thus far, our propulsion technologies have only enabled us to begin to explore within the limits of our own solar system, which is only one spec of light among billions of other specs of light, spaced throughout our galaxy. Through high-powered telescopes, our visual capacity to go beyond our solar system, to view other star systems in our galaxy and beyond is steadily improving. It may be some time before we actually develop the technology to launch humans beyond our solar system and galaxy. For sheer fact-finding missions however, ground breaking new secrets of the stars may be within reach. Many mainstream scientists feel that not only is the discovery of another earth-like planet inevitable, but that it will happen within the next decade or so. It would seem that we are the twilight generation and our comprehension of the cosmos is sure to grow exponentially in coming years.
As time passes, our technologies and knowledge of ourselves, and all the fascinating life forms on earth and beyond will improve. Our drive for answers is unyielding and the possibilities of hidden truths out there are limitless. What will those secrets reveal? Will we eventually discover the complete meaning of our lives? Is life a result of a series of random events, which happened to work out perfectly, or is it part of an overall intelligent master design? If so, where and how did that original intelligence come to be? Are there other life spawning planets in our galaxy or is each galaxy only capable of producing one earth? What if many, many years from now after all is said and done, we do not find other life forms.
What if we eventually discover earth to be a one of a kind manifestation of all the similar matter and elements of the universe, converging ever so precisely; a one in a trillion, first of its kind event?
If so, then it is truly a miraculous development. Here we are, on this rock, sharing vast amounts of space with infinite number of other rocks and gases, with only us having this ability to think, reason, grow, influence and manipulate things around us.
We may be right now, only at the very beginning of the next major step in the evolution of life. It has taken humans a few million years to get to where we are today. In the past one hundred years, we have gone from inventing clumsy, slow machines, which barely got off the ground, to supersonic jets, piercing the sky, and reaching the edges of our solar system. Within the next millennium, we will probably have the technology to maintain space stations throughout our solar system and a much clearer picture of all the events of our galaxy.
Learning and improving exponentially, imagine where we will be a few million years into the future. We will learn and know things that we cannot even begin to comprehend or know exist at this point. With time and progress, there may come a time when we have highly advanced civilizations spread throughout many galaxies, adapting very slow and methodically to various climates and conditions. Some may evolve into a race of militaristic warriors, while others may seek only to explore for greater technology and knowledge. These future “humans” will have vast historical records and remember the earthly beings, their ancestors, who spawned life throughout the cosmos.
Will they remember us as wild and savage creatures that roamed earth with dinosaurs and just happened to stumble upon intelligence? Will they finally decipher just what natural elements caused us to use and nourish our brains to the point where we became the dominant species? Will they ever be able to master the eternal struggle between right and wrong, which exists in each of us, or is that a necessary ingredient for survival and improvement?
Earth has given us, and all of our ancestors sustainable life and can do the same for our descendants yet to come. It is safe to assume that most of us would want earth to maintain its support of life forever. Just in case it does not, we have this five billion year window of opportunity to find one or more suitable replacements. The future is a vastly unknown place and if we can stay away from petty divisions and self-defeatism, the knowledge we are sure to gain in future generations will eventually help us realize that we are all essential parts of one gigantic organism. A deep appreciation of earth’s miraculous reality as it is, with all of its wondrous life forms will enable to us to help it keep its course. It’s been real good to us so far.