Big space news today. NASA says a new planet has been found in ‘the habitable zone.’ I beg you not make too much of their somewhat meaningless discovery nor their meaningless artist’s illustration at the top of this entry.
Even when the NY Times wails, “One Star Over, a Planet That Might Be Another Earth,” be wary.
The planet has been dubbed Proxima b. It orbits the star Proxima Centauri, around 4 light years away.
First, an admission. NASA has some of the smartest people in the world. NASA employs rocket scientists… and everything that implies. Just yesterday they reestablished contact with a satellite that went missing a few years ago. Amazing!
Planet hype, however, is different. This is surely planet hype.
“Habitable zone” is supposed to make you feel it’s like Earth, like home. Even Earth isn’t all that habitable.
Man can only live on a tiny portion of Earth. Most of our planet is either too hot, cold, wet or dry to support life. Plop down randomly on Earth and you’ll likely drown. Our planet is mostly covered by undrinkable salt water.
What does this Earth cousin look like? We don’t know. We haven’t seen it. We only know it’s there because scientists at the European Southern Observatory in Chile “traced subtle wobbles in the star revealing, the presence of a star-tugging planet. – NASA release”
That’s a valid way to find a planet, but it’s scant information.
We do know its about as distant from its star as Mercury is from our Sun. Daytime temps on Mercury run about 800° Fahrenheit. Because its in a closer orbit, a year on Proxima b takes 11 days.
It’s also far away. Space is really big. Four light years may sound close,
but it’s 6,000,000,000,000 miles (six trillion). but it’s 24,000,000,000,000 miles (twenty four trillion). The fastest space probe ever, Juno, achieved about 135,000 miles per hour. At that rate we’re 5,000 years away!At that rate we’re 20,000 years away!
Bottom line, there’s something out there too far away to really care about. Congrats on the discovery.