A: It’s hazardous to predict even a decade into the future, let alone a century. Some of the topics about exoplanets (alien worlds beyond our Solar System) which I shared with UBC students in my ASTR 101 and ASTR 333 courses this year were not even on anybody’s radar a decade ago. The pace of exoplanetary discovery is just that rapid and that dramatic.
But there are some subjects I’m sure will be on the UBC syllabus in 2115:
ENGL 3289.76 — Alien Pastoral Poetry
The concepts of "rural life" depicted in pastoral poems expanded to cosmic horizons in the wake of the discovery of extraterrestrial life in the 2030s, through infrared spectral signatures of microbes on exoplanets found in the early 21st Century.
APSC N=55107 / PHIL 10800 — Ethics of Mars Terraforming
Elon Musk III and his company Global Renovations Inc. want to apply engineering on a planetary scale to make Mars livable for humans. But in a few hundred million years, the Habitable Zone of the Solar System will have moved past Earth and will encompass Mars. Could life evolve on Mars in the far future? Do we have the right to transform a planet — even one uninhabited today — to our liking as a species?
How will the work you are doing now influence your field in 100 years?
A: Exoplanets discovered today by me, my students and my colleagues include ones that are in the "Goldilocks Zone" of their stars. Not too close to the star, not too far, but just right for water oceans, and maybe life.
These will be the targets for concentrated searches for life, and I’m confident that those searches will find aliens in the next two decades or so. Those aliens won’t be Vulcans or Ewoks but microbes, recognized by biogenic signatures in infrared spectra of those distant worlds.
It is hard to imagine a more fundamental discovery for science, for philosophy, for theology, and for culture, than proof that we are not alone in the Universe.
Scientists and students at UBC are laying the groundwork for that transformative moment.