Nobel Prize winner says migration to exoplanets is ‘completely crazy’

10 Oct 2019

An artist’s view of the exoplanet 51 Pegasi b, the first exoplanet around a normal star to be found in 1995. Image: ESO/M Kornmesser/Nick Risinger (

One of the recent winners of the Nobel Prize in Physics has dismissed the notion that human migration to exoplanets is possible.

Rather than needing to flee Earth due to it becoming uninhabitable, efforts should be taken to preserve what we have on our home planet, according to recent Nobel Prize winner Michel Mayor.

Mayor was jointly awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics with his colleague Didier Queloz, as well as James Peebles, for their efforts to improve exoplanet detection. However, speaking with AFP, Mayor said that, using conventional means, it would be impossible for humans to travel beyond the solar system.

“If we are talking about exoplanets, things should be clear: we will not migrate there,” he said.

“These planets are much, much too far away. Even in the very optimistic case of a liveable planet that is not too far, say a few dozen light years, which is not a lot, it’s in the neighbourhood, the time to go there is considerable.

“We are talking about hundreds of millions of days using the means we have available today. We must take care of our planet, it is very beautiful and still absolutely liveable.”

Pioneers of astronomy

Any suggestions that another Earth-like planet would be our plan B in the event of a climate collapse would be “completely crazy”, he added.

Mayor and Queloz were the first to announce the discovery of a planet outside of our solar system (known as an exoplanet) that orbits a solar-type star in our own Milky Way. The planet, named 51 Pegasi b, is a gaseous ball comparable with the solar system’s gas giant, Jupiter.

Since then, their work has contributed to the discovery of more than 4,000 exoplanets in the Milky Way alone, many of which vary wildly and have captivated the public’s imagination.

Meanwhile, Peebles of Princeton University laid the groundwork for their discovery in the mid-1960s in what is now the basis for our contemporary ideas about the universe.

Speaking of the possibility of finding life on one of these exoplanets, Mayor said the next generation of scientists need to develop new techniques capable of detecting it from a significant distance.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic