“It’s extremely exciting to know that planets with potentially Earth-like conditions are out there, but learning what they actually are like will require a great deal of fortitude, creativity and hard work.”
Gregory Laughlin of the University of California, Santa Cruz
“Every great advance in science has issued from a new audacity of imagination.”
Yesterday USAToday wrote … “Another Earth may be 500 light years away.”
How awesome is that? <answer: awesome>
And I immediately thought … “inevitably we will show a failure of imagination.”
What do I mean ?
Well. I should be excited but instead I am wary of how ‘we the people’ will move forward. In fact … I envision no moving forward, no ‘trying to do what it takes to get there’ and no imagination to overcome the cries of ‘why waste money on something like this!”
Let me get the ‘another earth’ detail out of the way first.
Some 500 light-years away, a little planet basks comfortably in the heat of its sun. It’s probably rocky – as the Earth is – and it’s probably just the right temperature to boast liquid water. In other words, it’s about as close to Earth as any planet we know of.
Unveiled at a recent meeting of the American Astronomical Society, the planet Kepler-438b may be the Earth twin that researchers have long sought. Other planets have made claims to that title, but Kepler-438b is more similar to Earth in both size and in the amount of energy it receives from its star than a celebrated runner-up, several scientists said.
That runner-up, planet Kepler-186f, might be called “a cousin of Earth,” the University of Puerto Rico’s Abel Mendez, keeper of a database of planets outside our solar system, said via email. But 438b and another recently discovered planet are “brother and sister-in-law. We are getting closer.”
Kepler-438b and compatriot planet Kepler-442 b “are the best candidates we have so far for Earth analogues,” said astronomer Willy Torres of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, a co-author of a paper in The Astrophysical Journal describing the new planets. Both were found with the help of NASA’s Kepler spacecraft, which launched into space in 2009.
Kepler 438-b is only 12 percent bigger in diameter than Earth, unlike the large number of “super-Earths” scientists have turned up outside our solar system. It has a 70 percent chance of being rocky, which scientists regard as a requirement for supporting life. And its surface receives roughly 40 percent more energy from its small star than Earth’s surface receives from the sun.
Kepler-438b “could be a perfect twin of Earth. We just don’t know, because we can’t pin down the measurements,” Torres said.
Sadly, Kepler-438b may represent something of an astronomical dead end. It is so far away, and its star so dim, that finding out whether it bears life or even an atmosphere is a daunting challenge, if not impossible.
“Discoveries of worlds like Kepler-438b are simultaneously satisfying and tantalizing,” planet-hunter Gregory Laughlin of the University of California, Santa Cruz, said via email. “It’s extremely exciting to know that planets with potentially Earth-like conditions are out there, but learning what they actually are like will require a great deal of fortitude, creativity and hard work.”
Unlike previously discovered planets outside the solar system, these candidates orbit stars much like our own sun.
“These candidates represent the closest analogues to the Earth-sun system to date,” said Mullally, “and this is what Kepler has been looking for.”
These new Earth-sized candidate planets in the water-friendly zone of their stars “are super-exciting,” said Lehigh University astronomer Joshua Pepper.
Ok <part 1>.
This is awesome.
I don’t care if it is 500 miles or 500 light years … it is a journey we should seek to take. It is a ‘task’ of which we should partake.
It is a task with an objective but not the means < today> to attain the objective.
This is where we, the people, typically excel.
When we are told it is not possible.
Ok <part 2>.
Now my concerns.
All this ‘another earth’ seems slightly impossible doesn’t it?
Only with the failure of imagination.
I wrote about this ‘failure’ once before in 2011
<many of the words & thoughts remain relevant to the topic today>:
The key thought in the words I wrote then:
We seem to have become the generation of measurement rather than the generation of imagination.
ROI, measurement … practical rewards & output … that is what we ‘do’ these days.
This is how we conduct business and … well … lives.
We seem to have forgotten the value of unsought discovery.
We seem to have culturally turned our back on imagination … and the power of imagination.
What if we were to send a ship with dozens of people and create a new civilization?
What if we could start a world from scratch?
What if we found another civilization already residing on this ‘other Earth’?
I am afraid we will never even get out of our solar system let alone explore the universe other than telescopes and unmanned probes.
It is because of a lack of imagination that we don’t see that actually exploring the universe would be the greatest journey of all for us as a species.
The comments under the article unequivocally reflect a majority of “so what.” Or “why waste our time.”
… it simply makes no difference either way.
500 light years is far beyond our practical reach so long as the speed of light is an absolute limit.
While it’s interesting to fantasize about the possibilities in the future the fact is that it is very possible that we will never be able to bridge the incredible vastness of space to other potentially habitable planets.
My main answer to this negative view of imagination <it’s not failure … simply the inability to envision ‘what could be’:
“Imagination is the one weapon in the war against reality.”
Jules de Gaultier
I want to be careful here because I do not want to diminish the individual challenges many people have with regard to paying everyday bills and the day to day pressures of enduring a recession.
But we, as a whole, need to think long term.
What makes civilization great is how we forge through crap like unemployment and recession and day-to-day challenges and get to ‘hope’ and imagination and innovation and find out what is beyond the next horizon.
I would also point out that the reaching for the horizon tends to solve unemployment and recession and the day-to-day hardships thru innovations and overall betterment of Life.
If America decided to ‘do’ this project … assume responsibility for reaching another Earth … we will succeed.
Not by working harder than anyone else. But because we permit hope and imagination to prosper.
Maybe I am crazy.
If I am … let me be content in my craziness.
“Here’s to the crazy ones.
The rebels. The troublemakers. The ones who see things differently.
While some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius.
Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.”
Short version of an Apple Computer Ad
I am no genius by any stretch of the imagination.
I can recognize the value of imagination.
The value of discovery.
The value of seeking what is beyond the horizon.
“Imagination has brought mankind through the dark ages to its present state of civilization.
Imagination led Columbus to discover America. Imagination led Franklin to discover electricity. Imagination has given us the steam engine, the telephone, the talking-machine, and the automobile, for these things had to be dreamed of before they became realities.
So I believe that dreams–daydreams, you know, with your eyes wide open and your brain machinery whizzing–are likely to lead to the betterment of the world.
The imaginative child will become the imaginative man or woman most apt to invent, and therefore to foster, civilization.”
L. Frank Baum
Imagination fosters civilization.
Imagination fosters all that ‘could be.’
The search for the way to reach ‘another Earth’ is one big prosperous innovation initiative … assuming someone has the kahones to do it.
This is the rebirth of NASA.
This is the rebirth of imagination.