A rogue planet ejected from its home solar system billions of years ago has wandered through interstellar space until it crossed our solar system’s gravity well. This slight trajectory deflection has put it on a direct path for impact with Earth. Scientists detected havoc in the Oort cloud out past Pluto. The Oort cloud is in chaos. Using our best minds and observatories we determined that the object is in the magnitude in size of Jupiter. Since it is travelling at a relativistic speed we have 400 years until Earth is no more.
Would the world band together and try to figure out a way to save humanity or would it be too far away and we would just let future generations figure out the solution?
The first astronomers to detect the upcoming event might not even recognize the danger. Anything that will take 400 years to hit us will be passing through a variety of gravitational fields and will be aiming at a location that might seemingly have nothing to do with Earth.
But at some point, someone would run the numbers and discover that yes indeed, we were facing the possibility of a celestial collision. At this point, they would only be thinking in terms of probabilities and not certainties. But after they shared their findings with other astronomers, gradually a general consensus would form, that the celestial body did not represent a mere possibility of colliding with Earth, but that it almost certainly would.
By this time, the astronomers had made no attempt to hide their work so far, the news would have already hit the Internet. But very few lay people would be able to follow the math, so there might be a series of confused news articles talking about something hitting something else someday.
But gradually the articles would gain coherence, the Wikipedia entry would become clearer and more persuasive. Counter-arguments and competing mathematics would be discredited, and a general sense of disturbance would begin to spread through the planet.
The governments of the world, while saying nothing publicly, would have long-since been in communication with the astronomers, and done their own verification of the science. In addition, they would have analyzed the possible effects of an impact, the probable number of deaths, the time it might take for human civilization and economies to recover. They would have considered the options of attempting somehow to divert the oncoming celestial body, the size of the required explosion, the mass and trajectory of debris, and other details. Finally, they would reach the inescapable conclusion that the impact could not be prevented and that the destruction would be too great for any kind of recovery. In 400 years the planet would be totally destroyed, with no hope that any life would survive.
During these considerations, NASA would for several months already have been calculating the possibility of resettling a portion of humanity onto another planetary body in the solar system. They would estimate the likelihood that the destruction of Earth would affect the orbits of other planets, or that debris from the impact might fly into any prospective resettlement area.
Official government spokespeople would have no comment yet. If asked, they would simply reply that they didn’t want to “get ahead of the science,” and that “so far, nothing is known for certain.” But they’d affirm that they’d have more to say when the scientific questions had been better understood.
At this point, only a very small minority of people would be expressing any sort of outrage at their government’s silence, or at the existence of the threat itself. Those people would be quite vocal, but the Internet buzz and radio talk-show hosts would always say something along the lines of, “even if it’s real, it’s 400 years in the future. Relax.” And that would echo the sentiments of many Americans, if not people throughout the world.
Eventually, the United States, China, Russia, and the European Union would make a joint announcement. The leaders of those nations, speaking together at the United Nations building in New York City, would announce a plan to create a series of large-scale, self-sufficient settlements on several planets and moons throughout the solar system. The impending threat against the Earth would not be mentioned. When asked if there was a connection between the colonial project and the threat of destruction, the reply would be that this project was a normal outgrowth of the space programs of all developed nations, and should be welcomed as a sign of ongoing human progress.
Gradually, budgeting for the various components of the colonial enterprise would be established. Research would proceed on a number of fronts, including the construction of space elevators along the equator, habitats capable of transporting large numbers of people across interplanetary distances, and larger habitats capable of maintaining those people indefinitely at specific locations throughout the solar system. There would also be a new focus on asteroid mining and bulk transportation of non-living cargo between planets. As reported in the news, each colony would need a permanent source of raw materials, ongoing protection of necessary atmospheric conditions, and a long-term effort to transform each colonial planet and moon into an Earth-like body with appropriate atmospheric and ecological conditions. Those terraforming efforts, however, would be acknowledged to require thousands of years, and would not be a major part of the requirements for the initial set of colonial outposts.
The first colonies would be established on Mars. Many lives would be lost in those initial efforts. But the governments of the world would praise those who sacrificed their lives and would redouble the effort to address the remaining technical problems. The colonial projects would go forward, government spokespeople would say, in spite of any obstacles.
After Mars, Jupiter would also be home to many colonies, in the form of orbiting stations. These stations would have a modular construction so that they could be continually expanded. Over the next hundred years, a ring of such constructions would gradually form around the planet, syphoning its material needs largely from Jupiter’s gaseous atmosphere. The water of Ganymede and the Earth itself would begin to be harvested for use by all colonial projects.
The first wave of colonists would be highly trained specialists, capable of building the colonial infrastructure and then setting up the requirements of actual habitation.
The next wave, however, would be taken from the impoverished countries of the world. In exchange for risking their lives, they would be given commercial opportunities in the new colonies. Like the early Martian colonies, many participants in this second wave would perish as well, until each colony was securely established and tested under proper load.
The third wave would consist of the populations of wealthy nations. Tens of millions of people would migrate to thriving economies ready to receive them. The occasional atmospheric accident would be hushed up as quietly as possible. But the governments of the world would provide whatever incentives were necessary in order to keep up migration rates.
Eventually, after half the world’s population had been resettled, the governments would acknowledge publicly for the first time that within another 200 years the planet would be destroyed by a celestial collision. They would put forward the colonies as a perfectly reasonable option and offer further economic incentives for people to migrate. They would also impose new laws restricting childbirth on Earth. Later, the restrictions would be tightened until all new Earth-based pregnancies were outlawed. An underclass of undocumented natives would spring up, living largely off the grid, and difficult to gather into the migratory waves.
By now the government officials would all have migrated to the colonies themselves, remotely overseeing a set of small, isolated, local governments on Earth. Among the off-world governments, there would be ongoing negotiations, attempting to unite them all into one; but these would be slow and unpromising, given religious, tribal, and political histories on Earth. But the United Nations would be quite strong and would play a large role in ongoing decision-making for the colonies as well as for the remaining local governments on Earth.
By the time of the destruction, only a few hundred million people would remain on Earth. The impact would be streamed live to viewers in every colony. Everyone, everywhere, would feel the loss as a tragic event; and would feel the uncertainty of their own future. How could these little colonies, these little bubbles of air, with no history, ever hope to have a future? And this uncertainty would become an inspiration to young people that would rally an inventiveness and resourcefulness throughout the colonies, and would lead them to make great leaps of technological advancement and to overcome the remaining obstacles to humanity’s continued survival.
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