Let’s say, in a few years, we’re 99% certain an exoplanet, 1.5x the mass of earth, rocky with liquid water, but 40 LYs away, harbors life due to some bio-signature we can detect from its light spectrum (let’s say convincing proportions of O[sub]2[/sub] and methane). Among passing a gauntlet of a few other techniques.
So now what? Of course, we’d study this planet with as keen an eye as we possibly could, but from this distance, there’s no way to discern much else.
What technologies might we work on to get a better picture of this planet? Would crafting a probe, despite the distance (and therefore the timescale involved), be worthwhile?
At current Voyager speeds, a probe would take nearly 800,000 years to get there. Crafting a probe that would last 1/100th of that would be an engineering marvel, not to mention the odds of anyone being around in 802012 to care if it did.
I think if we could get a probe moving 100 times faster than the Voyagers, it would be worthwhile to fire one off. But I have no idea if that’s feasible.
I think society should say, “Wow, life on another planet! That’s pretty cool.” Then we may listen for communications from that planet as best as we can without going overboard, and more or less move on with our lives.
Not sure about propulsion technologies in general, but I wouldn’t bet on solar sails. The main draw for sails is that you don’t have to supply so much of the thrust yourself. But the acceleration would probably be lower than our current probes.
I would imagine a bigger problem would actually be the onboard electronics. We don’t know if we can craft electronics (or power supplies) that will function without fault for decades, much less centuries. Even the Voyager probes have required occasional reprogramming and correction by NASA to take care of glitches that have come up. And, of course, they’ve also required course corrections, which we probably couldn’t make over interstellar distances.
I can’t imagine an autonomous probe could be built with today’s technology that would make it intact and functioning. To make such a probe would probably be my first priority. At the very least, it would help with exploration of our own solar system.
Hopefully some kind of private group would form with the purpose of going there, because otherwise I don’t think anyone will spend the money. We can barely stand to explore the oceans, never mind local space, and definitely never mind some other solar system entirely.
It’s hard to believe we’re the same species that spread all over the land on this planet over 50,000 years ago with no technology to speak of.
Hey, the technological progress is still happening. It’s just that, now as then, there almost always needs to be some kind of material or economic incentive for any tech or tech-research or scientific research that requires investment of resources.
One really nice thing about finding an inhabited (even if it’s mostly microbial) planet 40ly away is we could do for them, what no one as yet has done for us. That is, signal them and let them know they aren’t alone. I wonder what modern humanity would be like, if 2,000 years ago stargazers looked up and saw something deliberately blinking at them.
Right now our electromagnetic signals (pollution, really) don’t get far before blending into the background of space and being undetectable. I think it’s 25 or 30lys or so. Imagine though, if we knew exactly where to point our transmitters? I’m sure we could figure out some way of establishing a beacon pointed right at them, so if and when they develop the ability to look up and intelligently wonder what’s out there, there could a bright little spot deliberately calling attention to itself.
The entire history of the human race suggests otherwise, or we’d never have colonized islands from rickety watercraft, spread across the continents, found the time to forget that happened, and re-explore again the rest of the globe, each time with wildly unknown results. Here we already have a good idea of what’s out there to exploit, and we’re totally uninterested. It is amazing to me.
I don’t know if it is a realistic concern, but in the back of my mind I think of this natural conclusion where we’ve exploited, unrecoverably, so many of Earth’s resources for ourselves that we cannot escape the gravity of the planet any longer and we’re genuinely stuck on this rock until the species dies. It’s a horrible thought.
You’re right! We’ll just flick the lightswitch on the Sun a few times to let them know we’re here! Seriously, we could definitely signal them with modern radio technology if they knew to be listening (and they might, there are a few logical radio bands to listen on and we’ve started deliberately listening, so they might be) but I don’t think there’s any way to signal to them unless they’ve got some pretty good technology. I’m trying to recall what Niven and Pournelle hypothesized about a laser large enough to be seen across stellar systems; such a thing would certainly require a large proportion of the Earth’s current GDP, if it were possible at all.