On Tuesday night in Raleigh, N.C., Dale Russell spoke to a semi-full auditorium at the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences about his new book, Island in the Cosmos. Russell, a senior curator of paleontology at the museum, talked about the possibility of carbon-based life evolving or surviving on Mercury, Venus, Mars or Titan. All the planets except Mars were quickly dispatched with for one reason or another as being ill suited to life as we know it. But other than glossing over references to stratigraphy, it was not clear to me what the paleontology connection was in his talk. (Comparative Astrobiology may have been a more apt title.) I took two main impressions home: the amazingly similar geomorphology of Mars to Earth, and the analogy of an elderly person facing their death to that of the human species staring down the deadline of Earth expiring its hospitality to our kind. Regarding the comparative geomorphologic features, he showed images of features on Mars and compared them with known and well-understood geological features on Earth. Several images depicted riverine beds which he said could only have been created by flowing rivers or single episodes of glacial meltwater. Other structures he presented showed mountains built from flowing “lava.” I wish I had brought pen and paper with me to jot down specific quotes, but sadly I did not. Russell said that if the Martian polar caps were to melt, there would be enough water to cover the planet’s surface to a depth of about 75 feet. I haven’t done much reading in the planetary sciences, but this factoid surprised me. He flashed a slide of what Mars may have looked like when younger, and covered partly in water. It was eerily evocative of Earth when terrestrial land was locked up in Pangea. But the most intriguing aspect to me was his timeline for the Earth’s demise. I had previously read that eventually the sun will swell and turn into a red giant before collapsing into a white dwarf. In its swollen stage, it will swallow Mercury, Venus and then Earth. This will happen when the Earth is about 12 billion years old, or 7.5 billion years from now… okay, I’ve heard this before. But Russell said that the temperature on Earth will grow so hot as to preclude multicellular life long before the planet is swallowed by our source of life, the sun. Long before. As in about 1.5 billion years from now, or when Earth is roughly 6 billion years old. In a single shot of insight, I better understood why there was such a serious research streak to figure out how to colonize other planets. Previously, when I read lofty ideas about colonizing Mars with humans, my gut instinct was that it was a cop-out trajectory for avoiding dealing with our over consumption patterns on Earth and generally making a mess of things. But just as elderly people face their twilight years with a forward-looking perspective that frets over how their progeny will fare in the future without them, so too is humanity faced with the “deadline” of our demise on earth 1.5 billion years from now. Our species is old enough and intelligent enough to forecast the death of the environment which gave rise to us. Suddenly, I am more compelled to put planetary science topics on my reading list.