Stephen Hawking just gave humankind a 1000-year deadline to get off this planet and find new homes elsewhere. It’s because the renowned cosmologist doesn’t think we’ll last much longer than that before we drive ourselves to extinction on Earth through forces like climate change, nuclear terrorism, or the rise of AI. So the only hope for survival is to spread out and become an interplanetary species.
“Although the chance of a disaster to planet Earth in a given year may be quite low, it adds up over time, and becomes a near certainty in the next 1,000 or 10,000 years,” Hawking said in a speech at Oxford University Union, according to the Christian Science Monitor. “By that time we should have spread out into space, and to other stars, so a disaster on Earth would not mean the end of the human race.”
On the bright side, NASA and other groups are already looking for those new homes and how to get us there. Since May 2009, NASA’s spacecraft Kepler has been scanning space for Earth-like planets located just the right distance away from their sun to support liquid water on their surface – the so-called goldilocks zone. They’re a bit on the rare side, however, as the spacecraft has only identified 21 goldilocks planets out of over 4,000 identified.
As for the logistics of transportation, a number of private companies are working on getting a colony started on Mars as a first step. Elon Musk laid out plans to get us there in 10 years while Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg claimed Boeing would in fact be first to Mars.
So it looks like Hawking doesn’t have a very optimistic view of our ability to avoid our own destruction here on Earth. But at least we have several options in development for moving to a new neighborhood before everything falls apart.
And in the end, Hawking left on a more inspirational note by reminding us to keep exploring and learning.
“Remember to look up at the stars and not down at your feet,” Hawking said, according to the Independent. “Try to make sense of what you see, wonder about what makes the universe exist. Be curious. However difficult life may seem, there is always something you can do and succeed at. It matters that you don’t just give up.”