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Will there ever be a new planet for humans to live on?

Will there ever be a new planet for humans to live on? Where will it be situated?
Beth from Stockton on Tees (Aged 5-14)

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One Response

  1. The exploration of space is currently very expensive, so we’ve barely begun to travel around even our own solar system, but within our solar system we can see places where it might be possible for people to live.

    The obvious candidate is Mars. It’s quite a bit smaller than Earth, so the gravity isn’t as strong, and it doesn’t have a magnetic field like Earth, so radiation from the Sun isn’t deflected to the poles and would make the place more dangerous.

    These are relatively minor problems though. The big problems to living on another planet are getting a supply of water and air. Mars does, in fact, have water. As far as we can tell there’s a substantial amount of frozen water at the poles, and there may be further water below the surface in places. The other problem is air; Mars has a very thin, unbreatheable atmosphere made mainly of carbon dioxide. Initial visitors to the planet would have to take their own air supplies, though if they were to take plants with them then they could produce enough oxygen to keep a colony alive.

    The thin atmosphere also gives a low atmospheric pressure, meaning that even if the planet were warm enough for liquid water, there’s very little of it’s surface where that water wouldn’t evaporate (though there’s a few places that are suitable).

    We currently have the technology to build sealed habitats on Mars where people could live and, after a while, be self-sufficient. The big problem is the billions of dollars it would cost to get there. But yes, it’s likely that if humans choose to leave Earth then Mars will be the first planet they settle on (assuming there isn’t some huge disaster that wipes out a lot of our population in the decades or centuries between now and then).

    Some scientists have speculated about terraforming Mars. This means making the entire planet similar enough to Earth for people to live there without needing to stay confined to sealed environments. The first task would be to get an atmosphere more like our own, and this could take decades, but is not beyond the realms of possibility. We could perhaps engineer simple plant life that would be capable of surviving on Mars, which would convert the atmosphere for us, and then send these on cheaper unmanned probes to prepare the planet for our arrival.

    Once we have colonised any other available locations in our solar system we’re likely to begin looking for other suitable planets. At the moment it’s very difficult to detect such planets, because they’re so far away and they don’t emit any light, but by watching for stars being attracted by planets in their own solar system, and by studying how they “wobble” we can estimate whether there’s any planets in nearby solar systems that might be able to support life. At the time of writing (June 2008) we have detected just 294 planets outside our solar system, most of which are probably gas giants like Jupiter. However, there’s a few planets which might have solid surfaces like Earth and which may be in the habitable or “green” zone where they’re not too close to their star to be too hot, or too far away to be too cold.

    In April 2007 astronomers discovered on of the best possible candidates; a planet named Gliese 581 d, which is about 20 light years away (which is quite close compared to most other solar systems). Places like this will probably be the next logical step for humans after our own solar system.

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