Swiss Nobel Laureate Says We’ll Never Live on Exoplanets

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Michel Mayor—Exoplanet Expert, and Nobel Laureate—Claims Planets Beyond Our Solar System Are Too Far Away.

It’s hard to argue with a Nobel laureate. Unless you are one yourself, or you’re arguing which Pink Floyd album was best, you’ve automatically lost the high ground. That person has, by definition, achieved more than you, and is considered by the world to be a foremost expert in his or her field. Even if you’ve got tenure and a PhD, you’re probably not as credible. So when Michel Mayor—who is a Nobel laureate, and an expert on exoplanets—says that we’ll probably never get there, you’ve got an uphill battle trying to prove him wrong.

Dr. Mayor and his colleague, Dr. Didier Queloz were both awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics this week for their work on studying exoplanets. (Like I said, hard to argue with those kinds of credentials.) Their work helped revolutionize our knowledge about potentially habitable worlds in other solar systems. Unfortunately, Mayor doubts humans will ever reach them – at least not any time soon. This dashes the hopes of sci-fi authors and not a few physicists, too.

Before we move on, here’s a video of Mayor talking about receiving the prize this week:

So Why All the Doubt?

Let us remember that distances in space are literally more vast than we can imagine. Very few, if any, of us have the ability to comprehend the magnitude of these distances. And even those who do have no realistic reference point from which to start, so their understanding is incomplete at best. 

Still, let’s give it a shot. Then maybe we’ll see what Dr. Mayor is on about. 

The shortest amount of time it will currently take us to get to Mars is around two-thirds of a year, or eight-and-a-half months. And that’s the closest “habitable” planet to us (nearly 40 million miles at its nearest and 250 million at its furthest). Then you reach the Keiper Belt and its a long, long time before you get to Jupiter. At its nearest, Jupiter is over ten times the distance from Earth as Mars is. At its furthest, Jupiter’s 150 million miles further away from us than Mars is at that stage in its orbit. 

Math Warning:

If it takes a standard human-ferrying ship, like oh, say Starship, almost a year to get to Mars at its closest, it would take nearly a decade to get to Jupiter. And we’re only half-way out of our own solar system. Both Voyager crafts that were launched in 1977 have only just reached interstellar space forty years later. To get to the next closest solar system, which doesn’t have any habitable exoplanets, by the way, would take them another 100 years if they were traveling at light speed. Which, of course, they’re not. And we can’t do that either, so it will be at least a few centuries before those crafts could ever reach Alpha Centauri. 

So, Okay, The Nobel Laureate is Probably Right… For Now.

When speaking with the press this week, Mayor cited the distance as the main reason for his claim. He said,

“Even in the very optimistic case of a liveable planet that is not too far, say a few dozen light-years, which is not a lot, it’s in the neighbourhood, the time to go there is considerable.

“We are talking about hundreds of millions of days using the means we have available today.

“We must take care of our planet, it is very beautiful and still absolutely liveable.”

This is not to say that tomorrow a new technology won’t spring up that changes everything. It’s certainly happened before. On the other hand, waiting for that is like waiting for a winning lottery ticket. The better choice is to save your money instead. 

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Brandon Humphreys

Brandon Humphreys

I'm a wizard. I write stuff and it goes from my head into yours - Magic! Apart from that, I am the Senior Editor for Space Porn, a veteran, a rock guitarist, and a teacher.

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