“Space is for everybody. It's not just for a few people in science or math, or for a select group of astronauts. That's our new frontier out there,” astronaut and pioneer space explorer, Christa McAuliffe.
Space exploration and conquest is the final frontier for humanity. While interstellar space travel may seem like science fiction today (relegated to the realm of movies and board games), the day will come when humanity breaks the shackles of our sun and we enter the age of space conquest.
We’re making our bet: humanity will begin interstellar exploration in the 2400s, or at least that’s the story in SYNDICATE, our upcoming space exploration and conquest board game, which takes place in Arcturus, a star system 37 light-years from Earth. (You can learn more about the future history of humanity’s exploration of space and colonization of Arcturus as told in SYNDICATE here.)
Although SYNDICATE is science fiction, there are many real star systems (besides Arcturus) that would exciting interstellar colonization candidates:
#3 Proxima Centauri
Proxima Centauri is the low-mass star in the constellation of Centaurus, and it is the closest-know star to Earth, which makes it a likely candidate for humanity’s early interstellar exploration. At 4.2 lightyears from Earth, Proxima Centauri is practically our sun’s neighbor (in cosmic terms); however, with our current fastest rockets (aboard the New Horizon, which travels at c. 52,000 MPH), a journey to Proxima Centauri would take roughly 54,000 years.
When we get there, we will have the benefit of Proxima Centauri b, a rocky exoplanet slightly bigger than Earth located in Proxima Centauri’s habitable zone.
Colonizing Proxima Centauri b will come with its challenges (beyond the everyday challenges of interstellar space exploration). Due to fierce stellar wind pressure (2,000x that experienced by Earth), Proxima Centauri b likely has no atmosphere. Further, the planet is speculated to be tidally locked, causing a permanent dayside and nightside, leaving only a narrow temperate band (a “terminator line”, in astronomer parlance).
Challenges aside, the proximity of Proxima Centauri makes it a nice testing ground for one of humanity’s first conquests of interstellar space.
#2 Luyten’s Star
Luyten’s Star is red dwarf, 12 light-years away from Earth. Luyten took the spotlight in the space exploration community in 2017 when an exoplanet, “Luyten b”, a super Earth with 3x Earth’s mass, was discovered firmly in Luyten’s habitable zone. Further, Luyten b is estimated to receive a similar amount of stellar light and have similar temperature, making it one of the most likely exoplanets to support life (discovered to date).
In fact in 2017/2018, to check for extraterrestrial life, the nonprofit organization METI sent a series of messages to Luyten. We’ll find out in 24 years whether intelligent life is waiting for us (in which case our early space colonist should be equipped for space combat…just kidding).
Distance to Luyten is an obvious barrier and with current technology, a journey to Luyten would take roughly ~150,000 years, so humanity will have to make leaps in its space travel technology before it endeavors to explore and colonize Luyten.
TRAPPIST-1, an ultra-cool red dwarf 40 light-years from Earth, is the furthest star system on this list, but it is perhaps the most exciting because astronomers announced in 2017 that TRAPPIST-1 has 7 temperate terrestrial planets (similar in size to Earth or slightly smaller), 3 of which are in TRAPPIST-1’s habitable zone (TRAPPIST-1e, f, and g).
TRAPPIST-1 is exciting because it could support a complex interplanetary trade system (as we imagine in our board game, SYNDICATE) given the large number Earth-like planets in the system, but moreover, because TRAPPIST-1 is an ultra-cool red dwarf and it is expected to burn for 4 – 5 trillion years (or 400 – 500x longer than our sun). In fact, TRAPPIST-1 will be one of the last remaining stars still burning in the universe when the gas needed to form new stars has been exhausted.
As such, TRAPPIST-1 will almost certainly become home to humans (or our evolved decedents), at some point in our future.
Of course, all interstellar space exploration is sci-fi for now, but so was any sort of space travel 100 years ago. Since you may not be alive when we start colonizing the stars, you can get your fill of space exploration and conquest through our board game, SYNDICATE.
Anglada-Escudé, Guillem; et al. (2016). "A terrestrial planet candidate in a temperate orbit around Proxima Centauri". Nature.
N. Astudillo-Defru (March 17, 2017), “The HARPS search for southern extra-solar planets.”
Delrez, Laetitia, et al. (9 January 2018). "Early 2017 observations of TRAPPIST-1 with Spitzer”
Grimm, Simon L., et al. (5 February 2018). "The nature of the TRAPPIST-1 exoplanets"