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Journal: Life on Earth Will End in 1.75 to 3.25 Billion Years

Loops, flares and eruptions on particularly active day on the sun.  As the sun ages, it will expand and the Earth will be too hot to support life. (Credit: NASA/Solar Dynamics Observatory)
Loops, flares and eruptions on particularly active day on the sun. As the sun ages, it will expand and the Earth will be too hot to support life. (Credit: NASA/Solar Dynamics Observatory)

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The human race has 1.75 billion years – and maybe a lot more – to find a new home, according to a new study on how long habitable conditions will last on Earth.

Researchers at the University of East Anglia (UEA) in Britain looked at exoplanets – planets outside our solar system – to come up with their estimate of how long Earth will be in the Sun’s “habitable zone.” This is the distance from a planet’s star at which temperatures are conducive to having liquid water on the surface, and therefore life as we know it.

“We used stellar evolution models to estimate the end of a planet’s habitable lifetime by determining when it will no longer be in the habitable zone,” said Andrew Rushby, from UEA’s school of Environmental Sciences. “We estimate that Earth will cease to be habitable somewhere between 1.75 and 3.25 billion years from now. After this point, Earth will be in the ‘hot zone’ of the sun, with temperatures so high that the seas would evaporate. We would see a catastrophic and terminal extinction event for all life.”

The findings also shed light on the potential for intelligent life elsewhere in the universe. Almost 1,000 planets outside our solar system have been identified so far by astronomers. 

“The amount of habitable time on a planet is very important because it tells us about the potential for the evolution of complex life – which is likely to require a longer period of habitable conditions,” said Rushby.

He added that while there were insects 400 million years ago, modern humans only evolved within the past 200,000 years.

“Of course, much of evolution is down to luck, so this isn’t concrete, but we know that complex, intelligent species like humans could not emerge after only a few million years, because it took us 75 per cent of the entire habitable lifetime of this planet to evolve. We think it will probably be a similar story elsewhere,” he said.

Rushby and his colleagues looked at one exoplanet, Kepler 22b, and estimated its habitable lifetime to be 4.3 to 6.1 billion years. Another, Gliese 581d, could have a habitable lifetime of 42.4 to 54.7 billion years.

“This planet may be warm and pleasant for 10 times the entire time that our solar system has existed,” said Rushby.

While no true Earth-like planet has been discovered, the researchers say it’s possible there may be one as close as 10 light-years away, which is very close in astronomical terms. Despite the proximity, getting to such a planet would take hundreds of thousands of years with existing technology.

The solution may be closer to home.

“If we ever needed to move to another planet, Mars is probably our best bet. It’s very close and will remain in the habitable zone until the end of the Sun’s lifetime - six billion years from now,” Rushby said.

The paper appears in the journal Astrobiology.

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by: fred from: colorado
September 19, 2013 1:35 PM
so this is worth reporting why?

by: patcap from: florida
September 19, 2013 1:34 PM
bring the trees, bring the dogs

by: Bill Ramos from: Scottsdale AZ
September 19, 2013 1:31 PM
Its so presumptuous to believe that we as a species will last even long enough to see the next century much less the next 1.75 Billion years!

by: Guruchild from: Earth
September 19, 2013 1:28 PM
As someone who plans to forever (so far, so good!), this disturbs me deeply. One day, Earth and the solar system simply won't exist in any form I once knew. I'll be floating around in the gases of the galaxies and stars forever... wait a minute. Well played, universe. Well played.

by: JP from: Maryland
September 19, 2013 1:27 PM
Al Gore said we have one week....Wha!!!!!!

by: Preston from: Fall River, Ma.
September 19, 2013 1:12 PM
Having just returned from an extended visit to the future, let me assure all of you that by the year 2273 world scientists will be deploying "Insolation Screens" that will fully envelop the entire planet, allowing for near-perfect controls over incoming solar radiation as well as protecting against meteorite strikes.

Note: this technology would have been deployed much sooner had it not been for the tragic Global War IV that wrecked with the planet's atmosphere (circa 2133).

by: scott from: Holuston
September 19, 2013 1:07 PM
Junk science big time.

by: Carl F. Enz from: Glendora,California
September 19, 2013 1:01 PM
The way that WORLD EVENTS are going,Wars,Financial Crisis wil cut life on Earth sooner than that!!!!

by: Anonymous
September 19, 2013 1:00 PM
Glad I saw this story. I had planned on buying new shoes today, seems silly now.

by: Trevor Green
September 19, 2013 12:58 PM
Maybe it makes sense to reform the entire earth in that span into something that we can control the orbit of. What would it take to move a planet? Or possibly construct one. :)
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