Dirtying whose nest?

Posted 02.05.15

SHAWVILLE, QUEBEC | Here's some more-than-local news: astronomers have found a solar system not terribly unlike our own, named Kepler 444, with five earth-similar planets. They don't believe there's life there, since these planets revolve too close to the star to accommodate life, as we know it. The news is that the scientists were able to assign an approximate age to this system -- and its age is exceptionally old, several billion years older than our own.

How they estimated the age, via spectrographic analysis alone, is remarkable. The minerals constituting these rocky planets is also remarkable -- being so much older, these planets do not have the Earth's variety of minerals.

When they formed, the universe had only produced the most basic of elements -- hydrogen, nitrogen, lithium, a few others -- all before the early universe had its star-factories producing and pumping out the elements we know today. These characteristics make early planet formation unlikely, and yet five are there -- remarkable!

It would be most remarkable if they should find evidence of any sort of life on these strange planets. The indicators, I understand, are the presence of organic gases in the atmosphere, and these can be detected at great distances. But, so far, no such evidence from around Kepler 44 -- given its great age, cosmologists had expected this might be the big opportunity -- after all, having billions of years more than Earth's history to evolve some form of life seems to offer a distinct possibility of life.

Another big news story from astronomy over the past decade has been the discovery -- and mapping -- of a huge number of 'exo-planets' elsewhere in our own galaxy. No astronomer had even suspected there would be so many solar systems with rocky planets (as opposed to the more common gaseous planets, like our Jupiter and Saturn, which are very, very unlikely to harbour life, as we know it.)

Not that long ago, scientists had speculated that our own solar system might be the only one with rocky planets -- anywhere. Now we know that rocky planets are very common and that there are many within habitable distances from their own stars -- and yet, not a single one has shown any evidence of organic gases in its atmosphere.

As unlikely as this seems, statistically speaking, Earth still remains the only planet supporting life.

Earth, thus, is a very, very special place. It is our home, and likely the only home-like planet within our reach (no matter the sci-fi movies).

The local question coming from this interplanetary discussion, which every one of us must ask, is why are we all crapping in our own and only nest? Why are we polluting and heating up our only shelter in such an inhospitable universe?

It's a red herring to debate merely who is causing this heating of our planet; the question is how do we stop this self-destruction? Once our home is roasting, we are all roasted.


Copyright © 2015 Fred Ryan/Log Cabin Chronicles/02.15