Stephen Hawking is one of the greatest minds on the planet. He believes that if humans want to survive as a species, we must leave within 100 years to colonize another planet. The English theoretical physicist has warned that the aggressive human instincts, epidemics, population explosion, and overdue asteroid strikes have put the Earth in an “increasingly precarious” position.

Stephen Hawking
Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons / Doug Wheller / Flickr

Stephen Hawking says time is running out

Hawking made these startling claims as part of a documentary titled Expedition New Earth that will air on BBC Two over the summer. The documentary is part of the British media group’s science season Tomorrow’s World. Stephen Hawking warned that the human species would go extinct if we fail to find a new home within a hundred years. Hawking is working with Prof Danielle George of the University of Manchester and Christophe Galfard, a former student of Hawking’s, to explore the idea of interstellar travel.

Notably, Hawking had said previously that it would be nearly impossible for humans to create self-sustaining colonies on another planet over the next 100 years. He said early last year that the chance of a mega disaster to Earth in a given year is “quite low,” but it adds up over time and becomes a “near certainty” in the next hundreds or thousands of years.

As part of the documentary, Hawking and his colleagues would be traveling the world to find out how our species could survive in outer space. BBC says on its website that they will be exploring from the Atacama desert to the North Pole, the plasma rockets to human hibernation. For long-distance space travel, humans may need to stay in hibernation for months or years.

Hawking warned last month that the aggressive human instincts and rapidly growing technology might destroy our species by nuclear or biological war. He also mentioned that as a species, we would lack the skills to stay alive. Back in 2014, the renowned physicist warned that artificial intelligence was a major threat to humanity. The AI could eventually overtake humans in the evolutionary race, and wipe us out.

Can we colonize Mars in a hundred years?

Though two of our neighboring planets, Mars and Venus, are potential candidates for human colonization, most of the scientific community is focused on colonizing Mars. Conditions such as the atmospheric pressure and temperature on the red planet are closer to Earth than any other planet in our solar system. Billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk of SpaceX aims to establish a self-sustaining human colony on Mars.

Mars has many similarities to the Earth. NASA scientists have found evidence of ancient surface water on the red planet. The Martian solar day at 24 hours, 39 minutes and 35 seconds is similar to that of our planet. Also, the red planet has an axial tilt of 25.19 degrees, similar to the Earth’s tilt of 23.44 degrees. But a year on Mars is almost twice as long as a year on Earth.

Hawking’s Breakthrough Starshot initiative to study our neighboring system

Meanwhile, Stephen Hawking himself has taken the initiative to explore the outer space. In collaboration with Russian billionaire Yuri Milner, he has launched the Breakthrough Starshot initiative. The program involves sending hundreds or thousands of butterfly-sized “nanocraft” to Alpha Centauri. For the uninitiated, Alpha Centauri is the nearest solar system we have. It is just 4.37 light years or 25 trillion miles away from the Earth.

The nanocraft will be capable of traveling at 20% the speed of light. They will rely on a technology that uses massive amounts of light rays to propel objects into space. Each nanocraft will be equipped with cameras, power supply, photon thrusters, communication and navigation equipment. These tiny probes will be launched into space using a rocket. Once there, they will unfold the thin Lightsail. An Earth-based laser beaming structure would propel them deeper into space.

Hawking hopes the nanocraft will be able to explore the Alpha Centauri as well as other nearby solar systems. The probes will study the planets orbiting these stars to look for signs of life. However, the first nanocraft is unlikely to reach the Alpha Centauri until around 2060. Milner and Hawking believe that it would take at least 20 years to get the project off the ground. Upon launch, the tiny probes would take at least 20 years to reach our neighboring star system. Even after that, scientists will have to wait for about four years to start receiving data from outer space.