We first have to find new worlds, and then our descendants will have to invent some way of reaching them. Theoretically, neither of these two challenges would appear to be insurmountable... though I don't have the least idea of what the solutions might look like. When our descendants get around to finding solutions to the above-mentioned challenges, they'll surely be amazed to think that we old-timers of the start of the 21st century were incapable of envisaging such answers.
Astronomers in search of new worlds evoke the celebrated children's story of Goldilocks and the three bears, by the English romantic poet Robert Southey [1774-1843].
Last week, astronomers were thrilled to announce that NASA's Kepler spacecraft had discovered a pair of so-called exoplanets orbiting within the Goldilocks zone of a star that is henceforth named Kepler 62, located in the constellation Lyra, at a distance of 1,200 light-years from our solar system. Here's an artist's impression of a "sunrise" in the vicinity of one of these planets:
Meanwhile, plans are already under way for NASA's next-generation spacecraft designed to look for new worlds. Called the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), and designed by teams at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) headed by George Ricker, the new vessel will be launched in 2017. Here's an artist's impression of the TESS spacecraft:
One might imagine a latter-day Columbus setting out towards obscure shorelines. The TESS adventure reminds me rather of future oak forests planted by conscientious landowners who know full well that neither they nor even their immediate offspring will ever sit in the shade of those great trees.