August 2010 Archives

Stephen Hawking on Extinction

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I spotted this story today and, since a version of this famous scientist appears in Rockford's Rock Opera, ecological musical audio book I felt I should share it.

According to astrophysicist Stephen Hawking, author of A Brief History of Time, the human species faces the ever-growing threat of extinction unless efforts are made to successfully colonise outer space within the next 200 years.

During an interview with website Big Think, Professor Hawking cited the 1963 Cuban missile crisis - when Russia and the United States teetered on the verge of nuclear war - as a prime example of the sort of self-destructive danger we face as a species.

He also said the frequency of such perilous threats is only likely to increase in the future and, as a race, humans will need to seek "great care and judgement" in order to dodge complete extinction.

"It will be difficult enough to avoid disaster in the next hundred years, let alone the next thousand or million," he warned. "Our only chance of long-term survival is not to remain inward looking on planet Earth, but to spread out into space."

"But I'm an optimist," he added during the interview. "If we can avoid disaster for the next two centuries, our species should be safe, as we spread into space."

Adding to the weight of his convictions, Professor Hawking said Earth's finite resources and mankind's booming population growth are making life on the planet increasingly dangerous - potentially destructive issues that can only be quelled by seeking out other inhabitable worlds within our own galaxy.

While glitzy Hollywood sci-fi might suggest galactic colonisation is well within mankind's grasp, scientists will first need to significantly increase propulsion capabilities if escaping extinction is to be achieved.

Specifically, the nearest neighbouring star to our own sun is Proxima Centauri, which would take 4.2 years to reach if travelling at the speed of light (almost 300 thousand kilometres per second). If we were to travel there with current rocket technology, the journey would likely take somewhere in the region of 50,000 years.

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