Thursday, April 17, 2014

An Age of Miracles and Wonders

I live for stuff like this:
Scientists find an ‘Earth twin,’ or maybe a cousin

It is a bit bigger and somewhat colder, but a planet circling a star 500 light-years away is otherwise the closest match of our home world discovered so far, astronomers announced Thursday.

The planet, known as Kepler 186f, named after NASA’s Kepler planet-finding mission, which detected it, has a diameter of 8,700 miles, 10 percent wider than Earth. Its orbit lies within the “Goldilocks zone” of its star, Kepler 186 — not too hot, not too cold, where temperatures could allow for liquid water to flow at the surface, making it potentially hospitable for life.

“Kepler 186f is the first validated, Earth-size planet in the habitable zone of another star,” Elisa V. Quintana of the SETI Institute and NASA’s Ames Research Center in Mountain View, Calif., said at a news conference Thursday. “It has the right size and is at the right distance to have properties similar to our home planet.”

Quintana is the lead author of a scientific paper describing the findings in this week’s issue of the journal Science. Kepler 186f is the latest planet to be sifted out of the voluminous data collected by Kepler, which kept watch over 150,000 stars, looking for slight drops in brightness when a planet passed in front.

This follows the announcement last year that another star, Kepler 62, has two planets in its habitable zone, but those two were “super Earths,” with masses probably several times that of Earth. The gravity of those planets might be strong enough to pull in helium and hydrogen gases, making them more like mini-Neptunes than large Earths.

With its smaller size, Kepler 186f is more likely to have an Earth-like rocky surface, another step in astronomers’ quest for what might be called Earth 2.0.

“It’s a progression,” said another member of the discovery team, Thomas S. Barclay of the Bay Area Environmental Research Institute. “This planet really reminds us of Earth.”
And just like that -- just for a moment -- I'm seven years old again, and The Future is a wondrous place I can hardly wait to visit.

Our species figured this out, so go ahead and cheer.  Just a little.  All the banal horrors of the quotidian world will still be there when you're done, so indulge yourself.
Just for a moment.
No one's looking and you'll feel like a million.


n1ck said...

When people talk about the meaning of life, they're trying to generalize it in such a way as to be universal for every human who is alive.

I don't particularly feel that there is a "meaning" like that.

That said, I can look at consciousness in general, and humanity's ability to gain knowledge and then apply it as about the closest to a universal "meaning" as we can get.

We are conscious, we have "free will" that allows us to not just react to the environment, but to have intent to change it.

In the better universe, 99.9% of the politics that are still issues today have been long forgotten, and as a species we've identified science as the best case example of solving almost all of our problems.

I mean, technically (pun not intended), if we had the technology for molecular fabricating machines, we could all be libertarians living in our own self-contained environments.

If only the short-sighted idiots and morons understood this, maybe we could stop giving the oligarchs all the money and could be working towards a Libertarian, no-government idealized society.

Conservatism is basically its own worst enemy. Which is fitting.

Anonymous said...

On this we do agree Drift, life is full of wonders.

As a fellow nerd what are your feelings on Europa? It's an odd beast, and it's very interesting. Not just for the "holy shit this could have life and it's in our solar system" or the "we could actually fucking colonize this mofo", not even for "and the way will know both of these things is by drilling through the fucking thing via nuclear bombardment" aspect... just the "and it's a giant water balloon in space, that's only kept from bursting via Jupiters gravity and radiation plus it's own fucked up shit".

That's cool as hell, no matter how you slice it or dice.

At the end of the day the fact that we might establish a colony on Mars in my life, establish commercial space travel/tourism, build the space elevator, make RODS FROM GOD, and start mining the asteroid field is what gives me a shit eating grin. All that shit is way too fucking cool, and fixes any resources/population issues we may have.

We're too smart for our own good most of the time, yet we are smart enough to figure our way out of most problems... that gives me faith.

Guest said...

"Oh to dream of grand and wondrous things, and perchance to wake and find them real." - A bastarized paraphrase of many a great writer which may or may not be new but probably isn't.

@n1ck: You're over thinking it. The meaning of Life is to live. (There is a huge difference between living and surviving, but defining what that is wades really far into the weeds of philosophy and psychology.) Everything else is nuance. The hard part is convincing people that nuance isn't bad, and that while concepts are simple, applications is hard and always going to be imperfect. But you still have to try anyway.

It's why I think I'm in love with driftglass. Or at least intellectual lust. He's someone who seems to understand that change is a perpetual process rather than something with an endpoint.

Fred said...

Johanas Kepler was arguably the first astrophysicist. He established that the orbits of the planets are elliptical and that their speed of travel increases in proportion to their distance from the sun (inverse square law). He calculated this from empirical data gathered by observation, a revolutionary technique at the time (still unacceptable to many today).
Kepler also wrote and published perhaps the first science fiction story about travel to the moon and the idea of life on that celestial body.
Kepler's ideas about planetary motion led directly to Newton's theory of universal gravitation.
I like to think these planets are named after the man rather than his name sake. I'm sentimental that way.

Anonymous said...

Well, up until 60 years ago, Venus was thought to be Earth's twin. It was assumed to have the same relative core and atmospheric temperature as Earth, which turned out to be FAR off the mark.

So wheel sea...

Horace Boothroyd III said...

@Anonymous 11:36

Perhaps even more remarkable, the cyanobacteria now thought to be responsible for half of the carbon fixation in all of Earth's seas were first described in 1977. We live in an age of miracles and wonders, and much remains for us to understand.

Monster from the Id said...

"The Banal Horrors" and "Quotidian World" would be great names for rock bands.