Interstellar space travel could work if we use free-floating planets instead of spaceships, scientist claims
MANKIND could one day zip through the cosmos via free-floating planets, if one scientist’s theory pans out.
Instead of jumping on a giant spaceship to escape planetary doom, civilizations could use a free-floating planet, a new study presented in the International Journal of Astrobiology claims.
Free-floating planets are objects of planetary mass that currently do not orbit a star.
Many of these unattached planets, each around the size of Jupiter, can be found in a region of the Milky Way known as the Upper Scorpius OB stellar association.
And now one researcher, Irina Romanovskaya, proposes that “extraterrestrial civilizations may use free-floating planets as interstellar transportation to reach, explore, and colonize planetary systems.”
Romanovskaya argues that highly-advanced extraterrestrial civilizations (ETCs) may already be doing this, and leaving behind techno-signatures in the process.
“Unexplained emissions of electromagnetic radiation observed only once or a few times along the lines of observation of planetary systems, groups of stars, galaxies, and seemingly empty regions of space may be techno-signatures produced on free-floating planets located along the lines of observation,” Romanovskaya says.
Where did this theory come from?
To date, astronomers have discovered between 70 and 170 free-floating planets.
And it’s possible these planets carry their own life in subsurface oceans, which are kept warm by radiogenic decay, Science Alert reported.
So whenever a free-floating planet gets pulled into a star’s orbit by gravity – effectively making it more hospitable – that life has basically transported itself to a more habitable environment.
Given that scenario, Romanovskaya asks: Why can’t ETCs do the same thing?
Free-floating planets, when acting as a lifeboat, provide some undeniable benefits, like offering “constant surface gravity, large amounts of space and resources,” Romanovskaya writes.
“Free-floating planets with surface and subsurface oceans can provide water as a consumable resource and for protection from space radiation.”
Controlled nuclear fusion as an energy source
In theory, an advanced ETC could steer a free-floating planet towards energy sources via ‘controlled fusion’, Romanovskaya says.
Fusion, also known as ‘nuclear fusion’ is when two or more atomic nuclei are combined to form one or more different atomic nuclei and subatomic particles (neutrons or protons).
Because the total mass of the resulting single nucleus is less than the mass of the two original nuclei, there is leftover mass which becomes energy.
While the concept of ‘controlled nuclear fusion’ is not a reality yet, researchers have been toying with the idea as a potential energy source.
In the study, Romanovskaya suggests that advanced ETCs might already be using this technique to transform a free-floating planet into a temporary life-supporting object.
Four ways ETCs could travel on free-floating planets
Romanovskaya proposes four scenarios for how ETCs may travel from their homeworlds to free-floating planets.
The first is targeting free-floating planets that pass by an ETCs homeworld.
If an ETC is advanced enough and free-floating planets commonly approach their homeworld, they might have the capability to spot it and approach it.
The second scenario involves using ‘astronomical technology’ to steer a free-floating planet closer to a civilization’s homeworld so they could travel to the flyby object.
‘Astronomical engineering’ describes technologies or methods used to change the motion of cosmic objects.
Scenario three describes a civilization that might use astronomical engineering to actively eject an object from its planetary system, therefore artificially turning it into a free-floating planet.
However, this scenario, which would require very advanced and powerful technology, might come with a host of potential problems.
For example, bringing a large foreign object into an inner solar system would disrupt the orbits of nearby planets.
And in the fourth scenario, if a civilization could accurately determine when a planet would turn free-floating – say, after the loss of its Sun – they could ride that planet out of the dying solar system.
In all of these situations, a civilization could escape near-doom via a free-floating planet – but it’s important to note that these are only temporary solutions.
“For all the above scenarios, free-floating planets may not serve as a permanent means of escape from existential threats,” the author explains.
“Because of the waning heat production in their interior, such planets eventually fail to sustain oceans of liquid water (if such oceans exist).”
What about Mankind?
In about 5 billion years, our Sun will turn into a red giant, expand and engulf the inner planets, including Earth.
If humanity is still around at that time, will we be advanced enough to survive it?
It’s impossible to know, but if we are, then perhaps humans will be testing Romanovskaya’s theory and hopping on a free-floating planet.
As spacecraft currently do not have the capabilities to help us escape from existential threats, this method might be the only option for humans of the future.
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