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back to article The universe speaks: 'It's time to get off your rock!'

The twin visitations from our solar system on Friday – one expected and one not – are yet another signal that mankind really needs to get out and about a bit more if we are to survive as a long-term species. Those with an interest in space had already blocked out Friday on our calendars for the flyby of the asteroid 2012 DA14 a …

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JDX
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Re: This whole debate...

Rubbish. Even with a very significant event, our climate will STILL be less difficult than that of Mars/Moon.

I'm not talking about billions of us surviving, but tens of thousands is all that is needed. That's a pretty huge colony.

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@JDX

"We're not dinosaurs, reliant on a certain climate or delicate environment..."

I recommend you look up a book/documentary called "Guns, Germs and Steel" by Jared Diamond. He's an anthropologist who spent 30 years researching why Eurasian civilisations dominated the world over other cultures, and his thesis states that geography - specifically the temperate conditions that allowed certain species of food plants (wheat, oats, barley) and animals (goats, cattle, horses) to exist - is what gave the Eurasian cultures their edge, by freeing them from the exigencies of survival and enabling specialisation. When they attempted to colonise the tropics, their traditional survival methods failed because the plants and animals upon which our civilisation depends were not adapted to survive there.

So we do need surprisingly specific conditions to survive, or at least to maintain the structures of advanced civilisation. Without our temperate-zone climate, wheat and other staple foods don't grow, and without them civilisation as we know it cannot stand.

In a post-impact Earth, survival alone becomes only a thin possibility. If we look at past extinction events - the Permian-Triassic or the Cretaceous-Tertiary, for example - we see that the climate changes that resulted from them weren't measured in decades or even millennia. The lushness of the Permian gave way to the deserts of the Triassic; likewise with the verdant Cretaceous and the barren Tertiary, both of which lasted for millions of years before the Earth recovered.

In a mass-extinction event of this magnitude, large, complex lifeforms cannot survive. Only the smallest, simplest creatures can eke out an existence, and give rise to new evolved forms over time; the dinosaurs from the Permian-Triassic, and the mammals from the Cretaceous-Tertiary. The poisonous atmosphere, the centuries of global winter darkness resulting from an impact - these effects would last far longer than our civilisation has already existed and developed, and so the chances of anything much more complex than a frog surviving them are marginal at best.

So "re-colonising Earth" is simply not a viable proposition in the aftermath of such an event. Not unless we can maintain a civilisation in underground bunkers for a few million years at a stretch, until the Earth becomes inhabitable again...

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Re: This whole debate...

"Putting the time/money into building a framework - libraries, tools, etc - that would allow a remnant of the population to survive the harshest conditions following a major event seems better. For the cost of a program to build a self-sustaining colony on Mars, we could surely build 100 equivalent kits which could be used to re-colonise Earth!"

Aren't you assuming there will be an earth to re-colonise? There are plenty of potential disasters which could mean that the earth can't be re-colonised. A good bet is another planet and the best bet is another star system

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Vic
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Re: @JDX

> or at least to maintain the structures of advanced civilisation

I think we should probably attain them, prior to maintaining them...

Vic.

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Terminator

"Science fiction writer Robert Heinlein summed it up best: "Once the human race is established on more than one planet and especially, in more than one solar system, there is no way now imaginable to kill off the human race."

There is; religion.

And more specifically, religious fanatics/nutters. Just give them access to some nice education and a selection of nasty viruses and thats one planet gone. Given enough time, friendly rivalries will turn into outright aggression and ultimately thermonuclear winter will kill off everything but the cockroaches.

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And look what happens when you combine the two -- we get ElRon!

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Holmes

Actually Heinlein was known for warnings about the destructiveness of religion, and quite a few of his works are easily recogniseable as a warning against unbridled fundamentalism, usually centering on bible-belt type Literalism, but not failing to take a poke or two on just about anything else related to the Great Hoax.

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Anonymous Coward

Or politics. Having multiple planets with WMD is not more "safer" than having multiple countries with WMD. I'd hedge my bet or surviving a natural threat other a human one any day. Nature does not hold grudges.

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JDX
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I think people thinking they're smarter than they really are is far more of a danger than religion.

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Holmes

There's a funny thing about space: stupid people don't live very long in it.

It's quite the Darwin filter.

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Rol
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Joke

Name it iRock

Then as it enters the atmosphere a crack team of lawyers can sue it out of existence.

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Happy

Re: Name it iRock

Only if it's shaped like a round-cornered rectangle

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Trollface

Re: Name it iRock

OH SNAP!

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Anonymous Coward

none of this is new

Any money spent on colonizing space is futile in the very long term. The petri dish for the organism called the human species is finite. Traveling to distant planetary systems is impossible. I repeat, impossible. Wonderful imaginative exercise, but impossible. They are simply too far away even at light speed, which can't be achieved. It is highly unfortunate, but in this specific simulation, all life is doomed. Whether by object strikes, or the eventual expansion of the Sun's corona. Neither can be stopped long term. Pray, wish and hope all you want, no difference it will make. The only thing we have is today with a distinct need to learn how to control population growth and get along until the eventual end. We all individually die, and species die as well. Sad, but true, so rejoice. Towards the end, we will blast millions of high speed projectiles out into space with dessicated DNA and tissue in the hopes that at least one will land on a planet capable of supporting the process of life and evolution, just like our originators did very long ago.

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Trollface

Re: none of this is new

Suicidal troll?

Do not feed anyway.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: none of this is new

Realistic visionary ....

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FAIL

Re: none of this is new

Evolutionary dead-end.

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Flame

Re: none of this is new

... The petri dish for the organism called the human species is finite. Traveling to distant planetary systems is impossible. ...

The petri dish for the organism called the human species is INFINITE. Traveling to distant planetary systems is impossible with the knowledge we have today. But who knows what amazing methods of travel human ingenuity will develop in the future?....

There, fixed that for you...

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Anonymous Coward

Re: none of this is new

Hope springs eternal. However, the reality of the day in which we live is the only reality there is. Will the future bring hi speed inter-stellar travel? Maybe, maybe not. As of today, right now, interstellar travel with humans actually living through the experience is not possible. Period. Non-debatable. Nor, can you find any rational scientist willing to say that humans can survive the hundred(s) or so year trip that would be required to get to the nearest star that may have suitable planets to inhabit - and oh, yeah, don't guess wrong on the planets being habitable, cause there's not much wiggle room there. That is, if a piece of space dust doesn't rip a hole in your ship in flight. Real life isn't the movies. The realities are far harsher and few people are even willing to have the discussion because it is flippin uncomfortable. Knowing you're stuck on a sphere floating in space that over time is devastatingly vulnerable to a wide variety of normal extra-terrestrial and terrestrial events is quite unnerving when realized in its entirety. If anyone wants to pull in nebulously hopeful future possibilities and somehow consider that reality, then I guess it makes folks feel better, but does little to change the facts as they exist today.

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Re: none of this is new

"The petri dish for the organism called the human species is INFINITE"

I think it's finite but boundless...

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Re: none of this is new

"Traveling to distant planetary systems is impossible. I repeat, impossible."

Why is it impossible? Even with current technology we could build a multi generational colony ship. The only reason why we haven't is politicians won't spend money on something that you won't see the results for hundreds of years.

If they knew the earth was going to be wiped out and knew it couldn't be stopped, then money is no object.

If you look at possible improvements in robotics, cryogenics and zero G manufacturing, getting to another star system becomes a real possibility. The first step is to work out where our best bet is as far as possible star systems.

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FAIL

Re: none of this is new

"Traveling to distant planetary systems is impossible."

No, just highly prohibitive in terms of money, energy and time. There is no law of nature that prevents it happening. The Voyagers are already doing it, but at a very slow pace given the size of the universe.

Would that be one of those "facts" like the assertion by the UK Astronomer Royal that space travel is "Utter bilge"?

Perhaps, because the context of the quote was the proceeding line that "It would cost as much as a major war just to put a man on the moon."

Currently its impossible for someone to start a journey to another star and be alive at arrival.

But more technological progress has been made since (roughly) the mid 19th century than the previous 18 centuries combined.

Things change.

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Go

I have to agree with this article's title

Step one is figuring out an economical way to get people and materials into orbit. Until we can do that the best you are going to get is "we managed to build a spaceships for a few hundred/thousand people and we called it saving humanity".

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Re: I have to agree with this article's title

And which step is figuring out a way to feed everyone on this planet?

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Rol
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Re: I have to agree with this article's title

You can get a hell of a lot of humans into one tiny test tube and they wouldn't eat much on a ten thousand year journey!

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Re: I have to agree with this article's title

"And which step is figuring out a way to feed everyone on this planet?"

Soylent Green

More food and less people eating. Problem solved!

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WTF?

I happened to mention this issue...

...to a group of my friends in a pub a year or so ago, and suggested that , out of all the threats I knew about, this one really needed to be addressed.

The general consensus was that I was either drunk or insane.

This seemed to be based on the belief that WE are down here, and SPACE is up there, and so the two things are nothing to do with each other. Furthermore, anyone who starts talking about space as if it was somewhere to go is obviously living in the far future - 'thousands of years hence' was mentioned. Indeed, one wag suggester, to general approval, that humans would have evolved into another species before we needed to worry about what was on the Moon.

Anyone who wants to address defences against meteorites will have to address this attitude first...

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Unhappy

Re: I happened to mention this issue...

"Anyone who wants to address defences against meteorites will have to address this attitude first..."

For a lot of people space is a prgramme, not a place.

But as it is a place, stuff can come from there as easily as it goes to there (actually it's rather easier).

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Devil

"Watch out, human beans"

Or dat big, black hole gonna getchoo.

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NASA's preference is "land on the foreign object and deflect it in situ"

Why would humans on the rock be necessary ? We don't have to negotiate with or even civilize the natives.

Mechanics can be automatic. Setting a sail, that is as on a yacht adjusting it for the required effect, can be done from a wonderful control room containing 300 engineers all looking to party, and probably an equal number of tv feeds.

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Anonymous Coward

Just a thought but..

If ol' Elron's "master plan" is actually to use all those surplus billions to build an army of itty bitty bootstrap probes containing nanotech, human DNA and a small but potent LENR reactor then around the time the "lights go out" 7K years from now humanity and most of Earth's biosphere will be spread out to the hundred or so nearest stars by good old fashioned slower-than-light methods.

AC

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Devil

Re: Just a thought but..

Presumably an LENR reactor built with the same advanced insight that produced the classic http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/All_About_Radiation.

Reminds me of the time a local mad guy was advertising at the refectory of the University where I worked for help in building a fusion rocket using his amazing "divide by zero" technology. I'd already found a screed of his that he'd left behind on a bench, and said feat could apparently enable all sorts of amazing technology, instead of just producing an NaN. The mathematical arguments employed to prove that assertion were only slightly more bizarre than the sort that postmodernists use when they try to muscle in on maths or physics. And they get tenure.

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Re: Just a thought but..

Good old ElRon's minions have missed a possibility though.

Imagine that the DNA gets damaged in transit, but is still viable - all sorts of weird and wonderful 'monsters' evolve out of the muck and eventually they come back to Earth to find their progenators - discover us, and assume we wiped out their forebears and kill us all.

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Another technique

There is this deflection technique that consists in having a spaceship travelling alongside the asteroid, so that its minuscule gravitational force pulls the celestial body off its original trajectory enough to avoid Earth. No bombs, no tricky landings, no fighting the asteroid spin, etc.: just having enough mass and advance time to do the trick.

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Re: Another technique

I believe that plan calls for a swarm of ships and a couple decades notice. If Apophis were going to hit us in 2036 we'd be deploying that solution now for it to have a chance of working.

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Alert

Doomed...

They swore blind the planet was about to be eaten by an enormous mutant star-goat, or some such thing

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Angel

Paranoia

I know I am paranoid. The question is am I paranoid enough? Am I paranoid about the right things?

I would guess that living with this little dilemma is the basis for all the religious foo foo rah that has been going on for as long as there have been human beings. Maybe we really need just a little bit of faith to go along with all our new knowledge. I would also wager that no one will be heading off of this rock any time soon without taking time to say a little prayer about making it back in one piece.

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Mushroom

Did the commentards call for an asteroid proof shield to be built over every nuclear power station yet?

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Trollface

Picture a moldy cheese ball a couple of days before el reg's xmas party

Everyone knows that the nut-covered ball will vanish long before the cheap wine and the partiers do. Thriving on the surface of the cheese ball dwells microscopic colonies of anxious mold. And their thoughts were about the immenent destruction of the cheese ball, into the maws of voracious IT writers. In the most intelligent circles, the very best and brightest of Moldo sapien, the discussion was how best to escape their birth cheese ball to a better ball, and save their mold line from extinction. There were Bries and Camemberts and Goudas all around but inter-cheese travel was olny dreamed about and hadn't been developed. The furthest they had travelled was only to other cheeses on the same cheese plate.

Could they ever get to the wheel of Emmentaler at the nearby cheese store?

Certainly not before el reg's xmas party.

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Anonymous Coward

Two whole planets full of humans?

Sounds fine until war breaks out between them.

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WTF?

Why the suprise over the russian hit?

Meteors and asteroids are the products of collisions and its safe to say the huge one that passed us by was going to have some debris following it. It was the size of an Olympic pool Friday but it would have been even bigger thousands of years ago, did they think the fallout from millions of old collisions just evaporated?

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Flame

Babylon 5 and "all of this was for nothing unless we go to the stars" quote

So, apparently we have to "go to the stars" for anything to be worthwhile. Let's try to clarify this:

How many of us have to go there? You, me, our kids... what if it was just the Murdoch and Koch and Ellison and Gates and Jobs and Putin and Romney and <insert lots more 1% names> families? They're humans, too... and they have a lot more resources at their disposal than most ordinary people do. Why shouldn't they be entrusted with the stewardship of the works of Buddy Holly and Aristophanes, etc? Who gets to be the payload, and who gets to be discarded as early stages of the great rocket of humanity?

Do the ones that go have to be the same species that we are now, or some offshoot of humanity? Will they even care about all that culture? I am trying to convince my son to care about Aristophanes, but he's more interested in Minecraft. How far removed from us could any descendants be and still care about carrying the essence of "us" into space somehow? Do you feel that you are representing for the Homo Habilis crew every time you make a tool?

What about just sending some AI carrying all of recorded human knowledge/culture, which can explain it all for someone else to appreciate? What's so great about my 1,000th generation descendant shrugging at the works of Marilyn Monroe and Buddy Holly before getting back to Space Minecraft version 4982? Perhaps something that is not in anyway descended from my or any other human loins might feel more appreciation for "Peggy Sue"?

I know for a 100% fact that I will die. Sometimes in the meanwhile I get to enjoy being alive just doing my own thing, but apart from that it's all about how I interact with the living, reacting world around me; people, and animals, and even the plants in my garden. Of my small impact on that world, even less would ever have a chance of being known unto these wonder-entities who will carry all the "proper achievements" like Marilyn Monroe out into space and eternity; guess my life is worthless. Oh well.

Flame away, space lovers...

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Mushroom

Re: Babylon 5 and "all of this was for nothing unless we go to the stars" quote

Doomsday Asteroid

(apologies to) Buddy Holly

Every day it's a-gettin' closer

Goin' faster than a roller coaster

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kLBWkM0jzK0

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Pint

No need to travel afar. The young-rich-famous-and-fertile could board an Earth-orbiting station, accompanied by robotic orbiting capsules containing post-apocalypse survival supplies. Caviar, pate and other essentials. Durable necessities could be cached in secret locations on earth. Wait out the disaster, then return when the smoke clears and repopulate. If the whole planet goes "pffft" then at least they have a front-row seat. Free beer and crisps for the rest of us.

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Coat

@florida1920: earth-orbiting station idea

Depends what you're worried about. A gamma-ray burst that takes out life on earth will also take out any life in orbit around the earth. The "to the starz!" folks are so committed to preserving humanity that they would spend all our resources making sure that we can spread humans so far out that even a gamma ray burst couldn't stop us from using all the resources of other places to keep spreading ever outwards. And so on.

As for the visionary qualities of science fiction, I'm surprised that nobody's mentioned that great Kurt Vonnegut short story, "The Big Space F**k". In it, humanity's last gasp at some demented form of survival is shooting a rocket full of freeze-dried sperm at a space-time wormhole that will send it to somewhere near the Andromeda nebula, in the hope of "finding something fertile out there". Billboards beside roads advertising this grand scheme proclaim "F**k you, Andromeda!". Seems about as much point to it, honestly.

[and yes, Kurt Vonnegut uses the proper swears]

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Mushroom

Here I am thinking about doom and forgetting to work..

I had better get coding or I won't be able to afford either-

A: a ticket with Bill &Co, or

B: a mind transfer into the probe thingy A.I., or

C: oh and why do we always want to put a 'C' in every list of alternatives??

It's all too much :-)

Icon of doom!

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Joke

Armageddon alone has 168 physical impossibilities

What? You mean we can't land a bunch of out-of-shape guys on an asteroid, have this drill a big hole, and drop in a nuke all to a soundtrack that includes Aerosmith and ZZ Top? Dang. Guess I need to make new retirement plans.

On a more serious note, Deep Impact was a much better movie. Why does Armageddon get all the media love?

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Trollface

That's showbiz!

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