Recently, there’s been some startling news from the astronomy world. It’s been announced that a planet capable of sustaining life has been discovered outside of our own solar system. This, of course, opens up all kinds of incredibly important scientific and social opportunities, especially those involved with the real estate market.
Granted, of course, this news is part of the ongoing and never-ending battle between journalists eying up a juicy story and experts trying to do their best to cautiously downplay expectations. In this case, it’s the same story being reported as either “A probability has maybe arisen that a planet has perhaps been found that is likely to be able to possibly sustain some form of potential life, perchance, at some point in the undetermined future” or “Green men photographed landing in the Yucatan, enjoying box seats at Yankee Stadium.”
The first acknowledgment to be tagged a hospitable planet is the presence of water, since water is a signal of life, something proven by the cultural significance and population surrounding the Ganges river, but then equally excepted by Lake Erie. Other indicators of life include the presence of an adequately bright star to revolve around and at least one major media market. Such planets are difficult to come by, since most are bloated gaseous bodies that just stopped caring after they got married.
Though, of course, the scientists are trying their hardest to downplay any undue excitement. It’s not like we’ve gotten canceled postmarks from the place yet or anything. And many astronomers are at pains to point out that their definition of a hospitable planet includes Mars, a planet not known for being a predominantly welcoming place, what with the only people who would conceivably want to go there are those that want to have the universe’s best off-season travel expenses, followed by the universe’s quickest death by asphyxiation.
Most people tend to forget that these heavenly bodies have starkly different attributes than our own. This new planet, for instance, orbits its sun every 13 days, meaning that there would be 28 seasons of American Idol for every one season we have to put up with here. Its star is part of Libra, the least imaginative of the zodiac (“Hey, I’m a mighty hunter.” “Hey, I’m a ferocious lion.” “Hey, I am used to determine the heft of an object in accordance with a table of standard weights and measures and also am the abstract representation of justice.” “Uh…yeah. Hey, Sag, let’s go buy that virgin over there some Jaeger shots.”) And our weight would be much larger; the planet’s gravity is about one and a half times stronger, meaning that no woman would ever set foot on this planet at any time, ever, unless she is in a situation where she simultaneously gets married and also never has to interact with another female ever again.
Think of it, though! A planet full of teeming possibilities! A billion new customers without worry from protectionist interference by the United Auto Workers! Or, if there’s no one’s home, a placid meadow of economic growth and material wealth! It’s something that can be almost universally anticipated by everyone. The religious have new souls to convert and new heretical branches to found; the environmentalists have a whole new planet to cry themselves to sleep about; industrialists have a whole new set of mountain ranges to crack open and scoop the contents out of; scientists have a whole new set of funding to tap so they don’t have to beat the global warming horse around anymore; science fiction writers have an entirely new genre to flog to death and eventually discard in the dustbin of Millennium Falcons and appropriately hyphenated Middle-Earths; and politicians have an entirely new society to find new and inventively creative ways to take a symbolic (or perhaps not) massive dump all over.
The parallels to the Age of Exploration are hard to pass up mentioning. Like centuries ago, there’s a level of excitement that, after hundreds of years of armchair imagination, slow, occasional drips of unverifiable yet illuminating information, and the distant, lustful wishes of newfound wealth and fame, finally came to fruition. Advances in navigation made it less likely that ships would become unceremoniously lost or sailors would die horrible deaths by drowning, mutinous violence, scurvy, or, alas, most likely, gonorrhea, inventions such as the carrack, the lime, and Puritanism made long-term voyages possible. Today, satellites, stellar probes, high-powered telescopes, and the congressional delegation of Texas have all made space exploration more of a reality than one mediocre episode in a dated anthology.
The flip side of the celestial coin, of course, is if we can’t inhabit this new Earth—it’s already taken. The chance of extraterrestrial life this close to our house is pretty small—you’d think we would have heard a minor league hockey game on the wi-fi or something by this time—but there’s always that infinitesimally small chance that we might meet up with someone or something. Chances are, it will be some walking fish or furry rodent-thing, just another item on the Dollar Value Menu. But there’s also the chance they have gained sentience and progressed as a civilization, building a complex world of social contracts, scientific advances, and fantasy sports leagues. But somehow, I doubt it. A civilization such as ours that has developed to the point where there is an evolutionary need for a cheeseburger pizza, well…I suspect they’re going to get to us first.