Stephen Hawking says we must start searching for the next Earth

The physicist warns that Earth is becoming overpopulated and it's time to start looking for a new home.

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Stephen Hawking pictured with Garik Israelian, founder of the Starmus festival.

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Humanity's future is in space and it's time to start looking for our future home, according to physicist Stephen Hawking.

Speaking on Friday at The Royal Society in London, Hawking said, "I strongly believe we should start seeking alternative planets for possible habitation."

Earlier this month, Hawking predicted that if the human race is to survive, we will need to leave Earth within the next 100 years.

"We are running out of space on Earth," he said, "and we need to break through the technological limitations preventing us living elsewhere in the universe."

Fortunately for all of us, efforts are already underway to find a new home for humanity. Last year, SpaceX founder Elon Musk unveiled his plan to colonise Mars "in our lifetimes". Musk has set his sights on building rockets large enough to carry 100 passengers to self-sustaining cities in a terraformed Martian landscape.

If you'd rather try further afield, there's the Trappist-1 star system. Astronomers announced in February that at least seven Earth-sized planets have been discovered just 39 light years away. More significantly, three of those planets could potentially support life. Or there's Proxima b, a nearby exoplanet where life "could still be evolving long after our sun has died". Hawking's Breakthrough Starshot initiative already plans to target it for a flyby mission.

Colonising new planets will be the subject of Hawking's keynote speech at next month's Starmus event in Trondheim, Norway. He says that he's not alone in his views and that many of his colleagues will also discuss the subject in what he claims will be "an extraordinary festival."

Starmus is a celebration of science and the arts, founded by astrophysicist Garik Israelian. Next month's event will be the fourth Starmus festival. Speakers will include astronaut Buzz Aldrin, professor Brian Cox and 11 Nobel laureates. But it's also rooted in the belief that music and the arts can help inspire scientific understanding and discovery. Director Oliver Stone will appear at this year's festival and its advisory board includes musician Peter Gabriel and Brian May, the Queen guitarist and astrophysicist who released his own VR viewer last year.

A look at Elon Musk's plan to move us to Mars (pictures)

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The Starmus festival aims to bridge the divide between scientists and the public. Neuroscientist and Nobel laureate Edvard Moser said it's important than ever that "science should not be an elitist activity." He criticised President Trump, who has been openly sceptical of the scientific consensus on global warming, pointing out that "a few months ago, we didn't even know what an alternative fact was." But he argued that the answer is to teach people how scientists collect data and how science corrects itself.

Starmus hosts the awards for the Stephen Hawking Medal for Science Communication, which recognises individuals who have helped the public better understand science through writing, music and film. This year's winners will be given a medal designed by Alexei Leonov, the first man to walk in space. They'll also receive an 18-karat gold Omega watch.

Hawking, 75, has previously warned that the threats of climate change, overpopulation, asteroid strikes and genetically engineered viruses will make the next century a particularly dangerous one for our planet. In recent years, he has also discussed the potential dangers of contact with aliens, artificial intelligence and other avoidable catastrophes.

The Starmus festival will run from 18-23 June. It will be hosted by NTNU, the Norwegian University of Science and Technology.