The European Southern Observatory announced that according to their calculations there could be as many as 100 habitable planets within 30 light-years from Earth that would be able to sustain human life. That's right: if we could get there, we could easily turn them into hospitable places suitable for us to live on.
From the article by Lewis Page of The Register:
The implications are immense, as these hundred worlds are so close that it is possible to imagine ways of sending spacecraft to them - though such journeys would take many decades or even centuries under current assumptions. The prospect of interstellar colonisation - a staple of science fiction - has become hugely more likely.*
Perhaps still more importantly, the prospect of such worlds across the galaxy in the tens of billions suggests that even if the appearance of life on watery worlds is extremely unlikely, it has probably occurred somewhere else as well as here on Earth. We could be looking at one or two worlds with some primitive slime in their oceans, or thousands of aggressive star-conquering alien empires (who could - given the distances and numbers involved - all be unaware of each others' existence) but we're much less likely to be alone than we thought we were last week.
No matter what, this would seem to be a clear wake-up call to humanity to pull its head out of its - erm - navel, and look outward to the other zero-point-nine-recurring of the universe. It's not just pretty lights in the night sky: it's potentially home one day to the vast majority of human beings who will ever live - and perhaps to lots of other people too.
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