Mr. Chekov, Plot a Course for Trappist-1



What an amazing age we live in with NASA reporting the discovery of seven terrestrial planets orbiting the star TRAPPIST-1 with at least three and possibly all of the planets in its habitable zone.

Now that doesn't necessarily mean any of the planets have life. In our solar system there are three planets in the habitable zone - Venus, Earth, and Mars. Obviously Earth is a pretty good place to live and living on Mars is something that might be feasible some day. Not so much Venus however.

What is amazing is while the star is relatively close - 39.5 light years from Earth - it is well beyond our abilities at present to even come close to being able to make a trip. While at Warp 6 it's a little more than two months away the fastest spacecraft made by humanity thus far would take well over a hundred thousand years to get there. Bit of a bummer...

I've rather enjoyed a lot of science fiction which treats the laws of physics realistically and still manages to tell a great story. One of my earliest hard science fiction reads was Arthur C. Clarke's The Songs of Distant Earth. In it the Earth had been destroyed by the sun going nova. Knowing it was going to happen, humanity, unable to find a way to make interstellar travel feasible for live humans, sends seedships of embryos and later just DNA code and raw materials, in hopes of propagating humanity, with the newborns to be raised by robotic parents. At least one of the worlds has its experiment succeed, with Thalassa establishing contact with Earth, though it is lost after some 400 years. In the meantime, just a century before the destruction of the sun, the weight problems which prevented practical interstellar travel for live humans are solved. It is too late to get all of humanity off the Earth but a fleet of ships does escape. One of them, the Magellan, stops at Thalassa, bringing us the plot of the book.

Ursula Le Guin cheated a little bit, allowing for instantaneous communication but leaving the speed of light a limit on travel. Realistically, even getting close to the speed of light is a massive problem but we at least know it is physically possible. 

Looking at all the debates around abortion and stem cell research today, I wonder what we as a species would do if the only way to have a chance of insuring the survival of humanity would be to send such seedships into the universe, hoping for the best. What would it be like for a generation of humans to be born to no parents? Would religious books be sent with them? In Clarke's book, they were not. What would a colony with just one religion be like? Of course, many holy books make reference to other religions. As a gamer, I could imagine a fascinating RPG with characters being among the first generations of humans on a new world.

Image Credit

Creative Commons Attribution International
This artist’s impression shows an imagined view from the surface one of the three planets orbiting an ultracool dwarf star just 40 light-years from Earth that were discovered using the TRAPPIST telescope at ESO’s La Silla Observatory. 
ESO/M. Kornmesser

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