After 5,500 years of recorded human history, with no evidence of other earth-like planets in the Universe, we have gone from discovering the first near-Earth-size planet a year ago, to finding one today that would only take 20 years to get to…
How have we achieved such an astronomical, exponential progression in such a short period of time?
Here’s the timeline:
Nov 4, 2013 – Data from NASA’s Kepler space observatory calculated that our galaxy “probably contains at least two billion planets that, like Earth, have liquid water on their surfaces”. This was based on studying 150,000 stars and finding 3,000 candidate planets – all at least double the size of Earth and most gas giants instead of rocky planets like Earth.
Jul 23, 2015 – After zooming in on smaller, closer stars, NASA’s Kepler mission confirmed the first near-Earth-size planet in the ‘goldilocks zone’ where liquid water could form. The planet, Kepler-186f, is 500 light-years from earth.
Aug 25, 2016 – Today astronomers announced the discovery of Proxima b – an earth-like planet in the Goldilocks zone orbiting our closest neighouring star, Proxima Centauri, just 4.2 light-years away from our solar system. This is after 6 months of telescopes around the world focusing on Proxima Centauri to look for a tell-take ‘Doppler wobble’ which would give the planet away.
This accelerating speed of discovery is matched by the accelerating speed of travel to get there:
In 2015, NASA’s New Horizons proble finished its 10 year, 4.8 billion km journey to Pluto. At its speed of 84,000 km/h, it would take 54,400 years to reach Proxima b.
Last month, NASA’s Juno probe flew at over 3 times that speed, reaching 265,000 km/h as it entered Jupiter’s orbit. That speed shrinks the travel time to Proxima b to ‘just’ 17,157 years.
But a new $100 million project called the “Starshot Project” plans to send mini probes to Proxima Centauri that are accelerated by lasers to 20% the speed of light. At that speed – 216 million km/h – it would take just 20 to 25 years to get there.
The Starshot Project is part of the organization “Breakthrough Initiatives” which was set up last year to find out if we’re alone in the universe or not. Its board includes Stephen Hawking, Mark Zuckerberg, and founder, Yuri Milner.
This has all happened within 12 months of NASA Chief Scientist, Ellen Stofan, saying, “I think we’re going to have strong indications of life beyond Earth within a decade, and I think we’re going to have definitive evidence within 20 to 30 years.”
Are you noticing the exponential growth in scientific discovery? And the exponential growth in innovation?
It’s worth pressing pause for a moment and just realizing what amazing times we live in.
“Sometimes I think we’re alone in the universe, and sometimes I think we’re not. In either case the idea is quite staggering.” ~ Arthur C. Clarke