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Stephen Hawking Thinks The Earth Should Probably Start Packing

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"I see great dangers for the human race," begins noted theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking. As a human myself, that's exactly the sort of thing I don't like to hear.

Perhaps they are words I , or more accurately we need to hear, however. As part of website Big Think's Dangerous Ideas series, Hawking suggests that humanity's best chances at avoiding extinction lay beyond the bounds of Mother Earth.

"I believe that the long-term future of the human race must be in space," Hawking tells Big Think. "It will be difficult enough to avoid disaster on planet Earth in the next hundred years, let alone the next thousand, or million. The human race shouldn't have all its eggs in one basket, or on one planet. Let's hope we can avoid dropping the basket until we have spread the load."


Humanity hasn't done a stellar job of keeping itself alive in the past, with relatively regular incidents threatening to end life as we know it on the planet. Hawking notes the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1963 as one such event.

While he calls himself an optimist, Hawking notes the frequency of such events is increasing, and as they do, the chances of humanity living to see the Sun die in roughly 7.6 billion years decrease.

Hawking suggests we start looking to the stars before it's too late. I think the man has a point. You know how we procrastinate. One minute we think we have all the time in the world, and the next minute the world is gone.


And worse, folks like University of Sussex astrophysicist Dr. Robert Smith say that we don't even have the full 7.6 billion years.

"Life on Earth will have disappeared long before 7.6 billion years," says Smith, "Scientists have shown that the Sun's slow expansion will cause the temperature at the surface of the Earth to rise. Oceans will evaporate, and the atmosphere will become laden with water vapor, which (like carbon dioxide) is a very effective greenhouse gas. Eventually, the oceans will boil dry and the water vapor will escape into space. In a billion years from now the Earth will be a very hot, dry and uninhabitable ball."

A billion years? We'd better get moving, especially considering what scientists on the more pessimistic side of things have to say.

"The nearest star [to Earth] is Proxima Centauri which is 4.2 light years away," says University of Michigan astrophysicist Katherine Freese, "That means that, if you were traveling at the speed of light the whole time, it would take 4.2 years to get there."


That wouldn't be so bad, but we of course can't travel at the speed of light yet. The best we can do is ten thousandths of light speed, which would take about 50,000 years, give or take.

Me? As a man with no children who isn't particularly fond of his nieces and nephews, as long as the world outlasts me, I'll be just fine. Check back with me in a few years and we'll see if that outlook has changed.


Stephen Hawking's Warning: Abandon Earth-Or Face Extinction [Big Think]