The habitable planet is called Proxima d and orbits our stellar neighbour Proxima Centauri. And, let’s face it, four light-years is basically next door.
Right now, it does seem as if any chance of visiting is in the distant future. But the discovery, coupled with recent optimism about a warp drive does make you think.
One of the things it makes you think about is the past. If you look back 50 years and consider where our space ambitions were back then, you can’t help but wonder whether this interstellar travel is that far in the future.
In 1972, 50 years ago, most people believed that Earth was the only habitable planet in the entire Universe. Now, we have our work cut out just keeping up with the discoveries of life-supporting exoplanets.
In 1972, the Space Shuttle program was launched. Just four years previously the first man landed on the moon, the most successful event in the Apollo Space program, launched in 1961.
The computing power that achieved this was about the same, so we are told, as the computing power in a funny singing birthday card today.
Between then and now we have launched two extraordinary telescopes, discovered more about the Universe than seemed possible and are still getting signals from Voyager 1, now well over 2 billion kilometres away and outside our solar system. And we know how warp drive will work, it is just a question of putting something as powerful as the sun into a very small box
50 years is not a long time when you are talking about space.
Considering the rate that technology is developing, the next 50 years will see unbelievable developments. And already Elon Musk is talking up his spaceship that will go at Star Trek type speeds. Even allowing for the Musk Factor, it does seem possible.
Extrapolating recent developments in space 50 years into the future, it is entirely possible (probable even) that warp drive will be a thing, that we have a colony of some kind on Mars and are on our way to our new Earth, Proxima d. And by then, we will know more about it than Earth itself.
Let us hope that, if we are on our way to Proxima d it is not because Earth is exhausted and is no longer a habitable planet.