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Y3K: The Science of the Next Millennium
The Future of the Solar System
by Robert J. Sawyer
Copyright © 2000 by Robert J. Sawyer
All Rights Reserved
The solar system measured out to the cometary halo is
approximately sixteen billion kilometers in diameter; the
farthest humans have so far gone is to Earth's Moon, less than
400,000 kilometers, or 1/40,000, of that distance.
Much of the next millennium will be spent opening up this
new frontier: our sun's family of eight other planets, sixty-odd
moons, millions of asteroids, and billions of comets.
Within a century, we will have large, orbiting space
colonies with thousands of people living in them, serviced in
part by a permanent space elevator from Earth's equator to
geosynchronous orbit. We will also have permanent settlements on
the Moon and Mars, and will have begun mining the asteroids.
Also within a century, we will have made contact with the
indigenous life of Europa, living in the vast oceans beneath the
icy surface of that Jovian moon: in all of the next millennium,
these may be the only extraterrestrial beings we encounter.
We also, quite possibly, will have dealt with the threat of
an asteroid or comet impact. The dinosaurs may have died out
because they didn't have a space program, but we will not.
Within two hundred years, in part to alleviate overcrowding
on Earth, we will begin the centuries-long process of
terraforming Mars: making it habitable for human beings without
the need for spacesuits. Orbital reflectors will concentrate
sunlight on Mars's poles, releasing the frozen carbon dioxide and
water vapor stored there. Comets will be maneuvered to crash
into Mars, supplying it with volatiles. Genetically engineered
blue-green algae imported from Earth will convert the Martian
atmosphere into one we can breathe. And water will be running
freely again in the ancient riverbeds of the world that we will
no longer be able to refer to as the Red Planet.
But by the year 3000, even more ambitious plans will be
under way. We will use nanotechnology to demolish Earth, the
asteroid belt, and Uranus and Neptune for raw materials to build
a Dyson sphere a thin shell around the sun at a distance of
150 million kilometers, equal to the radius of Earth's orbit.
Not only would this shell's inner surface provide habitable space
millions of times the size of Earth's surface (something needed
as humans, by this point effectively immortal [see my speculations
on the future of the human body],
continue to breed), but it would also enable us to harvest every
photon of energy put out by the sun, providing almost unlimited power.
Indeed, so much energy would be collected that much of it
would have to be radiated away into space. Both Mars and Jupiter
(with its inhabited moon Europa) will continue to orbit outside
the shell, but will have sunlight beamed at them from the shell's
outer surface. Mars will become a popular tourist destination
for those curious about what living on a natural globe had been
like for humanity's ancestors.
More Good Reading
Rob's speculations on the future of:
Rob's essay on life in the future: "The Age of Miracle and Wonder"
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