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What If Humans Built a Planet?| Unveiled

VOICE OVER: Noah Baum WRITTEN BY: Dylan Musselman
Humans hope to one day live on other planets. But for places like Mars and Venus, we need to terraform them to become like Earth... So, why don't we just build a brand new planet from scratch? In this video, Unveiled finds out whether building a planet is possible? And exactly what would happen if the human race ever did manage to build its own world in space...?
Transcript

What If Humans Built A Planet?


Humanity’s search for earth-like other worlds seems to know no bounds. We’re now able to photograph the farthest places in our own solar system, but also to locate other, far more distant planets with the potential to support life… all in the apparent hope that one day we could live somewhere else in the universe. But might there yet be another answer to our seeming need for a second home?

This is Unveiled and today we’re answering the extraordinary question; What if humans built a brand-new planet?

To build a planet, we have to know what constitutes a planet first of all. According to the International Astronomical Union, there are three criteria that a celestial body has to meet to be one... It has to orbit a star; be big enough to have sufficient gravity to force it into a spherical shape; and also be big enough to clear away any other similarly sized objects in its orbit - with that last point being primarily what led to Pluto’s demotion to a dwarf planet, in 2006.

So, based on these entry-level qualifications, could we ever truly create our own world? Before we even attempted to do so, we’d first need to have mastered our own planet; to have become a Kardashev Type I society. At that stage we’d know everything there was to know about the way that Earth worked - being able to predict the weather, control natural disasters, and harness every single speck of energy available to us. And then we could use that knowledge going forwards. In this particular alternate reality, Earth stands as a kind of planetary blueprint; a “completed” project to inspire something else - with that “something else” being a new planet altogether.

Seeing as a Type I civilization on its way to Type II will have also made greater progress in terms of exploring the rest of the solar system, we’d by then have know-how gained on other existing planets to draw upon, as well. And, thinking optimistically, we’re already beginning to take our first steps toward achieving this. Projects like the Artemis Program (a majority-NASA initiative to get us back to the moon) as well as various plans for a crewed mission to Mars could well change our scientific and technological perspectives forever. Should we succeed in reaching somewhere like the Red Planet, we could be well-practiced in how to build sustainable colonies on alien landscapes in just a few decades. For the most part, though, our ambitions for visiting other planets amount to terraforming them - that is, making them as Earth-like as possible. But, were we to just go ahead and build something new from scratch, then there’d be no need to terraform because we’d create exactly what we wanted from the outset - with the ideal size, temperature, atmosphere and layout. It really could be “the perfect place”… but obviously dreaming it up and actually doing it are two totally different things!

To construct an entire world where once there was nothing, we would need a lot of help from the sun. Typically, planets form as bits of matter circling a star accrue over millions of years and condense into a spherical body. So, a star is key even then. But, we could - theoretically - build one much faster than what’s naturally expected… According to a mid-2000s study by aerospace engineer Mark Hempsell; were we to (in a future time) set up a massive fusion reactor close to the sun, we could harness its hydrogen and fuse it into far heavier elements like platinum and osmium - and use those as building blocks for our new planet’s core. By now we’re stretching far closer to Kardashev Type II capabilities - where we control whole star systems - but that’s what we’d need to get started. From there, to generate aspects like rotation and convection, we’d need to subject our sphere of new matter to incredible levels of heat and centuries-long periods of cooling, all while attempting to build an optimized atmosphere to both allow for life and cocoon us from radiation. By the time we’d somehow achieved all of that, we’d had to have surpassed even Type II, and be well on our way toward Kardashev Type III capabilities.

But what if we wanted something before then? Before we ascended to unheard of levels of intelligence? We could go about building a planet in a different, much simpler way… opting for a massive metal structure something like the iconic Death Star - only even bigger and without custom-building it for a life of evil. Instead, our metal world - let’s call it the Life Star - would take artificial living to whole new levels. Everything from sky colour to oxygen levels would be in some way mechanised, with apparently “natural” landscapes actually built to precise specifications. It might not seem as though a structure like this could ever qualify as a genuine planet but, going by the AIU’s criteria, if we somehow built it big enough it would satisfy all of the requirements. Quite how we’d afford to make and maintain the place, though, is another question entirely!

So, maybe there’s a midway point, here; a middle ground between a crisp new planet from nothing and a clunky metal world from something like “Star Wars”? Arguably the best course of action would be to start with massive enough celestial bodies already in existence - like moons or asteroids. Though again we’d need some far future technological capabilities the like of which we don’t currently possess, say we could extract multiple objects from the Kuiper Belt or even the Oort Cloud… and, then, say we could smash them together, forcing them to combine, before leaving them to develop their own shape and gravitational influence while orbiting at their new distance away from the sun… If we ever could (and ever had the time) do all of that then we would, again, have forged ourselves a new planet; earning ourselves an absolute blank canvas to create a new world.

From there, we’d add life… probably taking a “Noah’s Ark” approach to import animals and plants from Earth. Seeing as we would have custom-built our second planet to harbour whatever living conditions we needed, by the time it came to actually living there then the transition should be simple. This place would be just like Earth or could even be an enhanced version of Earth - where the environment is always rich with whatever life needs at the time. To take it a step even further, if we really were in a position to design whole worlds, then could we also be set to “design” the creatures which inhabit it? Any civilization capable of creating a planet would, after all, have a god-like influence on what exactly happens there.

But, let’s not cosmologically run before we can walk (or even crawl). As fantastical as the idea of birthing new planets may seem, it still is just that - a fantasy. Which isn’t to say that something like it might not one day be necessary… Should Earth ever become uninhabitable for any reason, then humanity will need to relocate to somewhere. If the other solar system planets don’t suit, and we’re unable to develop faster-than-light travel to take us to any of the possibly Earth-like planets we’ve identified in other star systems… then perhaps the “Life Star” really will be needed. If not, then a wholly artificial Earth would at least serve as the ultimate in social experiments - granting its human creators a chance to watch and record exactly how the evolution of life plays out on it… and to determine how closely its history matches Earth’s own. In terms of technological achievements, it would surely be the grandest of all. And that’s what would happen if humans built a planet.
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