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Astronomers: Not searching for planets to colonize is like dismissing Columbus’1492 journey?

Santa Maria/Dietrich Bartel

In “Humans must find new planets to survive” (ABC News, 27 April 2012), Darren Osborne tells us,

Finding planets outside our solar system that can sustain life should be made a top priority, say Australian astronomers.

Lineweaver says one of the reasons why humans should search for habitable planets is to place future human colonies. He dismisses the idea that humans should stay on Earth, comparing it to the attitude of some towards Columbus’ proposed trip across the Atlantic Ocean.

Not sure the analogy works.

Europeans in Columbus’ day had known for millennia that China existed but didn’t know of a viable sea route for trade.

The approximate circumference of Earth had also been known for nearly two millennia by then. But no one knew what obstacles the route presented. (The Americas were – it turned out – a significant obstacle.)

And there was the huge, unsolved problem in those days of longitude. What was the ship’s position, in relation to China or anywhere else?

What no one doubted was China’s existence. There was a land route to China, but it was slow, cumbersome, and dangerous.

By contrast, we do not currently know of any other planet in the galaxy that would support humans, quite a different situation.

But Lineweaver has a fix:

The report also raises the possibility of habitable planets that don’t contain life. They argue that the conditions for life to form, called the abiogensis habitable zone, are much narrower than the conditions needed for life to survive.

“Life, by managing its own environment, makes a planet habitable. It has produced adaptive features as a result of Darwinian evolution to live in colder and warmer environments,” says Lineweaver.

That ol’ Darwinian magic again, conjuring stuff out of nothing …

They may have a good case, but Columbus is not a good example, and Darwin is not a reliable conjuror.

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Colonize "habitable" planets in our galactic neighborhood? c = 186,000 miles/sec. Here we are, and here we will always be. StuartHarris
Even taken at face value such arguments are rather odd. "We must survive!" Who? Not "us", because we wouldn't be going, or would be dead before long anyway. Not "most of us", either. Nor necessarily our descendants - many of us don't marry and leave descendants anyway, so why are we busting a gut to change that for some? Just a few ship-loads of colonists would leave - or more likely their descendants after a long interstellar voyage. And the chances are their culture would soon be completely different to ours. Would it be a successful outcome if a few tribes of degenerate head-hunters were scuttling round the jungles of Sirius X? So it's vital the species survives, eh? That's defensible neither scientifically (all species go extinct), nor theologically (God will judge the world). Added to which, of course, is that the only reason our planet's likely to give us problems any time soon is because of our mismanagement - so the idea is to export that irresponsibility across the Universe? So this vital priority is just a bit of romantic foolishness really, isn't it? Jon Garvey

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