Worlds Away

New Earth-Like Planet May
Have Everything But a Moon

It’s almost as warm as our planet. It may have liquid water on its surface. It orbits a twin of our own sun. Kepler-22b, the newest exoplanet found by NASA’s space hunter mission Kepler, is but one of hundreds already found that could harbor life. But it’s somewhat unique in what its size is comparable to earth’s in ways many before it aren’t.
No astrophysicist is hyper ventilating about it just yet, though. The observations are based in a lot of assumptions and, at this point, we have no idea whether the new discovery is a rocky or a gaseous body. There’s also no word yet on whether it has a moon.
The Kepler mission has accelerated a thousand-fold the hunt to find a place fit for life as we know it, and a few obscenely massive black holes to boot.
In fact, the mission’s findings will be combined with observations made by the S.E.T.I. project, one of the oldest searches for alien life that was recently revived.
It’ll now direct the eyes of its system observatories to the same area in the sky that Kepler has been pointed to.
As for us, in the meantime, all we have managed was to multiply threats to the environment and to our own survival on this planet.
But no one is ready to pack and board the first rocket to the unknown just yet. In fact, we’re far to even being able to consider the possibility of a mass exodus from earth as a viable survival option to our species.
Never mind diminishing budgets and interest in space travel, as sad as it may be. Or the creeping malaise of conformism and settling for the lowest common denominator that seems to be taken over the human mind of late.
The truth is, our bodies are not, literally, up to speed, as in interstellar speed, to such an enterprise, as in journey to the stars enterprise. And even a several-months long trip to Mars seems unattainable and punishing to our flesh and bone vessels.
There’s also the no small matter of our low-tolerance to long periods of isolation, our fragile psychological state when forced to live at close quarters with other human beings, our not so spoiled need for idle time and so on and so forth.
Such mental and physical inadequacies are exactly the foundation for the argument of many that see no purpose whatsoever of dreaming about one day moving our ZIP codes to another piece of rock in space.
Even if there’s no other choice; after all, once nature picks a species for extinction, you are as helpless as dinosaurs once were to resist it.
This kind of pragmatism also makes a lot of sense if one considers that there’s still a lot that can be done in order to help earth coast along this rough patch. It’s just fair, since we’re the ones who made the situation to reach such dire straits.
Finally, who wants to leave this planet? Honestly, with all the carnage, wars, hatred, prejudice, racism, social inequalities, well, we may as well stop just about here, but the point is, since when it stopped being worth fighting to save the earth?
Science, though, should never be bound by circumstantial factors, or obliged to those who’re quite comfortable with the status quo. In fact, the essence of our own quest for being alive is to go further and farther than the generations that preceded us.
Space travel is, thus, a great metaphor to our journey on this earth: as we dream and one day may be able to fly through galaxies, we hope to also be making an inward trip to our essence, and the unknown worlds that exist undiscovered inside us, as individuals and as a species.
Thus, as we must remain engaged in salvaging our home planet and preserving it for our descendants, the allure of Kepler-22b and others that will certainly come after it will be out there to inspire us and offer us hope, in case we need it.
Paging Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson, if one day last century someone finally proved that deep inside we’re made of the same stardust of distant galaxies, it was because that likelihood had already been anticipated many years before by science.
We should never underestimate the possibility that those earth-like planets still to be discovered will, some day, reveal precious clues about the human psyche and true intergalactic spiritual origin.
Still, for many of us, it’s virtually impossible to imagine us living in a planet without a moon. That’s why some recent intriguing reports on natural satellites, our own and one of Jupiter’s, got the scientific community, and dreamers at large, all riled up.

Using a combination of instruments aboard the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter and the Lunar Orbiter Laser Altimeter, NASA was able to compose the first high-resolution picture of the moon from 69,000 Wide Angle Camera-captured stereo images.
The picture follows a tradition of mapping the moon that dates back from Galileo, who published a drawing of it in 1610. While he didn’t technically map the moon, he was first to realized the irregularity of its surface.
Others depictions took different approaches, but at the dawn of the space era, in the late 1950s, our satellite already was an old friend of astro-mapmakers everywhere.
Still, the 2010 hi-def picture is as impressive as the technology involved in putting it together. After all, the moon sits 238,856 miles away from us, and to learn anything about it does take an enormous effort.
The more we learn about it, though, the better our chances of traveling outside our space vicinity successfully, since it’ll necessarily include a pit stop there. Earlier this year, scientists realized that our satellite has more water than previously thought, which is definitely great news.
As it turns out, water is what’s definitely not missing in Europa, Jupiter’s largest moon. A team of astrobiologists have found the best evidence yet for water in the form of small lakes about three kilometers below the surface of the icy world.
Any liquid water, of course, could represent a potential habitat for life. Which is the quest that will always guide both our survival here on earth as our search for a habitable planet that we could relocate to, in case of a civilization-ending catastrophe.
Which also makes the need to preserve the precious liquid, as rare in space as life itself, ever more urgent. We may be able to travel to distant stars in the future, at speeds inconceivable to our current bodies, and for any forsaken reason that may be.
What we most certainly won’t be able to do is to live without water, either here or elsewhere in space. And even though it doesn’t need to be an either/or type of scenario, perhaps we should dedicate as much research to water as we may to finding new planets.
A crucial difference between the two, though, is that what may determine water shortages may have less to do with its amount on earth, than with its vulnerability to man-made environmental hazards, accessibility to everyone, and above all, with who will control it.
The conquest of outer space seems, thus, way easier.

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