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Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Space...the final frontier (that we'll never get to?)

Mark this down on your calendar:

Yesterday, according to this article on MSN, our shiny Keppler spacecraft discovered what is believed to be an Earth-like planet, orbiting a sun not unlike our own. The catch? It's roughly 600 light years away.

                        We can't get there from here...

I'm not against exploring our universe. I think it's kind of cool, actually. I still remember watching the Apollo missions on TV and hearing those famous words, "One small step for man..."

I do have lingering doubts though about spending $500 million on a spacecraft that is cruising around taking pictures of far-distant planets in neighboring solar systems. As neat as all this is, I have to ask:

What's the point?

Let's just say for the sake of argument that Keppler 22b is found to be the Goldilocks planet (you know, the one that's just right).
                                                 Road trip!

What are we going to do with that amazing nugget of information? After all, Keppler 22b is six hundred light years away. I'm not very agile with numbers but I have it on pretty good authority that it would take in the neighborhood of 7 million years for someone to get there from here, in our present technological state - assuming for the moment that we could figure out a way to attach a big enough gas tank to our ship.

Seth Shostak, a senior astronomer at the SETI Institute, estimates there are 1 trillion planets in the Milky Way alone. "Surely some of them have undergone what Earth has undergone and developed life, and eventually what we call sentient life," he says.

So, it appears that it's relatively easy for scientists to take probability and trot it out a ways to buy into the possibility of extra-terrestrial life - or at least life-sustaining worlds - yet it's difficult for some of these same scientists to consider the possibility that the Bible is correct and our universe was purposely created. I mean, with all due respect to Carl Sagan, we've spent billions and billions of dollars and found pretty much bupkis.

But I'm not writing to discredit science or start another round of Big Bang vs. Creation Smack Down.

In fact, Shostak goes on to note that the argument (for extra-terrestrial life) is simply one of probability. "If we are the only intelligent beings in the galaxy, or for that matter in the universe, then we are truly a miracle," he says.

Now there's something that makes sense, don't you think?

In any case, let's get back to my original question: Let's say that Keppler or some other, future, exploration system finds an Earth clone; a planet that mirrors ours and can easily support life.

                                        Home sweet....ach!

Is it possible to get six or seven billion people onto spacecraft and over to the nearest life-sustaining world? Not if you believe we will never be able to economically break the speed of light barrier, and have the technology to do it in huge proportions, ferrying people, livestock, agricultural supplies, etc. to our new home. Oh, and I hope there's plenty of water there or that we also have the technology to generate A LOT of it.

As excited as I am that we're exploring the universe and finding cool stuff out there, I really can't get too overwhelmed at finding a planet that might, possibly, be in the neighborhood of supporting life. Right now, we couldn't even get a couple of folks over there to check it out - much less put together a large-scale exodus ala Battlestar Galactica.

So enjoy the pictures, artist's renditions and bubbly prognostications of sister worlds, etc. I'm going to finish my coffee and think about ways to make this old Earth a better place to live.

What do you think?


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