I love science and I love tech, but I think the general public is being sold a bill of goods by some scientists who want to do research and need someone to pay for it! Case in point the headline this morning on Hacker News: “Astronomers Discover Habitable ExoEarth Orbiting Binary Star.” The link led to Technology Review.
Today, we can add another strange planet to the list: 55 Cancri f, one of five planets known to orbit an orange dwarf star some 40 light years away in the constellation of Cancer.
Without actually seeing them, scientists are discovering exoplanets.
Before you pack up the SUV and head out please understand 40 light years is really far away, about 378 trillion kilometers!
It would take 40 years to reach it traveling at the speed of light (and another 40 years to get back to the Earth). Of course we have no spaceship or satellite that even comes close to the speed of light.
A few years ago someone posted the math on Yahoo Answers.
The fastest man made object is the Helios 1 spacecraft orbiting the Sun. It only made it to that speed through a number of gravitational slingshots, but hey, let’s say that’s our current best technology.
It travels at 247,510 km/hr.
40 light years is a distance of 378,429,218,903,232 km (378.4 trillion kilometers).
So if you just plug that into good ol’ Distance = Rate * Time, solve for time,
(378,429,218,903,232 km) / (247,510 km/hr) = Time
Time = 1,528,945,169.50116 hours, which converts to 174,537.12 years.
Oh, one more thing. You’d better plan on getting to 55 Cancri f at the right time of year.
They say that although this planet’s orbit is much more elliptical than Earth’s, it still spends most of its time (74 per cent) in the habitable zone.
So 26% of the year it’s uninhabitable!
Doing these interplanetary studies isn’t cheap. The James Webb Telescope, a large, infrared-optimized space telescope, is about to be defunded by Congress. It’s cost $3 billion so far with at least that much more to come (and it’s already costing more than four times its original budget estimate).
As I said, I love science and technology, but there’s got to be a limit.