It wasn’t too long ago, 1995, in fact, when the idea of finding planets outside our own solar system was science fiction, so even if you wanted to boldly go where no one has gone before, you couldn’t.
But since then, planets have proven as prolific as peanuts, and the space-based Kepler scope, launched in 2009, has found more than 1,200. And here’s big news: 54 of them are in the so-called Goldilocks zone, not so hot that we’ll fry like bird poop on the roof of a car on a sizzling summer day, not so cold that it’s perpetually Jan. 27 in Winnipeg - but just right. Mild enough to hang out, watch the stars, and wonder if ET’s doing the same thing on Planet Cubic Zirconium.
More good news. Kepler can view about one per cent of the sky. If it could see the whole enchilada, it could identify another 400,000 planets, many of them habitable by humans.
We’ve fouled our own nest so badly that even the notion of a second chance is welcome relief. Just imagine, a new home without Kim Kardashian or Donald Trump, where we can start replacing indigenous inhabitants right away!
It’s a good idea not to get too carried away. That the planets in question exist at all is based on mainly circumstantial evidence, and using current technology, it would take a zillion years to get there (300,000 to be precise). But the point is, there’s now a “there.” We’ve got something to shoot for.
Humans are a resourceful bunch. Columbus thought he would find a passage to India, instead, he found a “new world” and exploited the indigenous people there instead. Smiles all around, except, of course, for the exploited indigenous peoples.
Even if we never get there, planets fire the imagination. Mars, Jupiter and Saturn have turned out to be big disappointments, ET-wise, but no matter. Now we have at least 54 new outlets for our ridiculous notions of alien beings, and that should be enough to keep our minds expanded for generations to come.
Getting there is half the fun. It’s time to cue the geeks, stock up on their favourite snacks, and get them planning the warp drive that will get us there, faster than it takes Capt. Jean-Picard (the thinking man’s Star Trek captain) to say: “Make it so.”
Look out galaxy, here we come …