Earth is a lush haven for life at the moment, thanks in part to its comfortable distance from the Sun. But there will come a time when our star’s explosive death rattles will vaporize our home world. What then? Where in the universe should humans migrate to build a civilization with some kind of cosmic permanence?
For the creators of Kurzgesagt (In a Nutshell), a YouTube channel that tackles complex topics with “optimistic nihilism,” the answer is to find ourselves a nice stable white dwarf system. In a animated short posted Thursday, the channel laid out the reasons why white dwarfs—which are the corpses of dead stars—are likely to be “humanity’s last refuge” when the lights start to go out in the universe.
“The Last Lights Before Eternal Darkness.” Video: Kurzgesagt (In a Nutshell)/YouTube
About 97 percent of stars in the universe, including the Sun, are destined to become white dwarfs after they exhaust their nuclear fuel and burst into novas and supernovas. White dwarfs are the raw exposed cores left in the ashes of these pyrotechnic events, and they are much more stable and long-lived than their stellar forebears.
While the Sun has a lifetime of about ten billion years, scientists estimate that white dwarfs will shine for trillions of years, making them potentially “the last sources of light and energy in a dying universe,” according to the animated short.
In other words, if humanity wants to play the cosmic long game, we should cozy up to white dwarf systems to ride this whole sentient existence thing out to the very end. Red dwarfs also present a promising long-term option, but because they are thought to be more flare-happy than white dwarfs, it may be more of a gamble to set up shop next to them
We would probably have to bring our own planetary hardware, since any life-bearing worlds in white dwarf systems are likely to have been eviscerated by the deaths of the original stars, but we still have a few billion years left on Earth to work out these logistics. Perhaps we can even re-colonize the stellar cadaver left behind by our own Sun.
Of course, even if humans were to migrate to these dwarf systems, it would only prolong the inevitable. Many trillions of years from now, during the heat death of the universe, even white dwarfs will fade out into black dwarfs, and life as we know it will be extinguished forever.
But in keeping with their optimistically nihilist tone, the Kurzgesagt team offers some words of advice for confronting the inherent mortality of everything: “It doesn’t matter what happens in a million trillion years,” the narrator points out. “Right now, we happen to exist at an excellent time, able to be in awe about a universe filled with endless stars and light and planets, and enough time to visit them one day.”
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