I saw this story about the possibility of habitable planets in the Alpha Centauri system, our “next door space neighbors.” So rather than looking in the deep recesses of space, we’re looking closer to our galaxy, in our own galactic neighborhood as it were.
Of course, the only problem is if there are planets in the system that hold life, Alpha Centauri is still 4 light years away, and even though in terms of space that’s not an enormous distance, we still haven’t figured out how to go anywhere near that far.
As a matter of fact, we are still far away from solving this challenge. From the article …
The problem with interstellar spaceflight is the “interstellar” part. We happen to live in a universe that is strikingly vacuous. The Centauri system is nearly 26 trillion miles away.
That’s roughly 280,000 times the distance of the Earth from the sun. It’s so distant that a beam of light traveling at 186,000 miles per second needs more than four years to cross the interstellar void. If you looked at Alpha Centauri tonight (it’s overhead in the Southern Hemisphere), you’d be seeing light emitted right around the time of the second inauguration of George W. Bush.
To frame it another way: The venerable robotic probe Voyager I, which has traveled farther from Earth than any man-made spacecraft, is racing away at nearly 11 miles per second and has already traveled 10 billion miles. It would need on the order of 80,000 years to reach Alpha Centauri were it traveling in that direction.
Although I have generally long-life genes from all four of my grandparents — they all lived into at least their 80s — I don’t think I can hang around the 79,950 years or so it’s gonna take at this rate. Someone, better come up with something. And quick!
Of course, there are those who want us to believe that we have already gone to alien worlds!
One of my favorite “conspiracies” (read: “hoaxes”) of the past few years is The Zeta Reticuli Exchange Program. In a nutshell, the “story” here is that according to “a retired U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency official” the U.S. has been participating in a top secret exchange program where twelve U.S. military personnel were sent to live on Serpo, a planet of Zeta Reticuli, between the years 1965 and 1978. In exchange, an alien from Serpo lived on this planet for a number of years.
Sound familiar? Yeah, the end of Close Encounters of the Third Kind, where the Richard Dreyfuss character is among the astronauts who get on the alien mothership and fly off into space. The Serpo conspiracy story also has all the pieces you’d expect, from crashed alien spacecraft to government cover-ups. However, there’s nothing about sculpting landing sites out of mashed potatoes or memorable synthesizer music.
To the credit of whoever created the Serpo story, they did a masterful job, crafting an amazingly detailed narrative that I encourage you to check out if you’re looking to kill some time on the web and enjoy this kind of thing. Here’s a good place to start … make yourself some popcorn, sit back and take a trip across the galaxy!