Filler: Earthlings, go planet hunting
Sooner or later, we're going to run out of stuff on Earth.
Right now, the only resources we have in clear abundance are acrimony, flawed economic theories, and buffoons willing to showcase their oddities on reality TV shows.
"He jiggles uncontrollably. She's a tanning-bed addict. Can their love last? Tune in to 'Shakes and Fries' and see."
The first thing we exhaust may be clean water, but it could be metals, farmland or places to stash our waste.
And we will run out of patience and set off too many nuclear weapons. We will run out of luck and into a devastating pandemic, or a meteor.
These things will eventually happen. Before they do, we must find our next planet. In a recent interview, renowned astrophysicist Stephen Hawking shared his belief that space travel is the answer.
"Our only chance of long-term survival is not to remain lurking on planet Earth, but to spread out into space," Hawking told The Canadian Press news service. "We are entering an increasingly dangerous period of our history. . . . Our genetic code still carries the selfish and aggressive instincts that were of survival advantage in the past. It will be difficult enough to avoid disaster in the next hundred years, let alone the next thousand or million."
There is a deadline by which we must get out. The sun will burn out in a few billion years, but in just one billion years, it will burn too bright to allow human life on Earth.
In the meantime, we're not getting any better at taking care of the place. A report last week said greenhouse gas emissions are the highest they've ever been. A recent United Nations study concluded the Earth's population will exceed 9 billion by 2075.
The scary part isn't that the population will increase even more after that, it's that it won't. The study concludes that after that, our species, under the various pressures caused by such a high population, won't expand any more.
And being stuck in place isn't what our species is about.
Traveling to a planet that could support us has traditionally been the focus more of sci-fi than scientific research, but two things are happening that could change that.
One is the discovery of our first potential "Goldilocks planets," so-called because they're not too cold, not too hot, but just right to allow for the existence of liquid water, and thus, us. The most promising are a couple of planets around the star Gliese 581, a mere 20 light years from here.
In space terms, the planets of Gliese are practically our neighbors, although, at 117.6 trillion miles away, not the kind you go caroling with or pester for a cup of sugar.
Another promising development is the recent announcement that neutrinos may have been clocked moving faster than light. The thought-to-be absolute rule that nothing can travel faster than light is often considered the cul-de-sac of interstellar travel, the reason we'll never make our way to another habitable planet.
Are the planets of Gliese the right planets? Don't know. Is the speed-of-light breakthrough the thing that's going to make interstellar travel a reality? Don't know.
Does all this seem impossibly beyond our technological grasp? Sure.
But every great scientific breakthrough looks like science fiction before it happens. I believe inhabiting another planet will become possible because I know the challenge will be dealt with using science I can't yet imagine.
By then, they'll look back at our primitive iPhones, and our belief the stars could not be mastered, and snigger, "ignorant cavemen." Particularly if they stumble across any old episodes of "Shakes and Fries."