Nasa, Kepler, and the great Unknown

The BBC and many others broke a story on April 17 that helps put our world into perspective. Scientists discovered an earth-like rock named Kepler 186f located some 500 light years away, orbiting a lonely star in an orbit that isn’t too hot or too cold. Instead, the orbit plus the planet’s assumed composition (an atmosphere, water, rocks) give the planet the right preconditions for life. What a delightful thought.

The idea that we are not alone in the universe must surely have a broad appeal. Yet not too long ago we thought the sun circled around us, that we were at the center of the universe and made in our creator’s image.

Science can continue to rewrite our history. That scientists can look back billions of years to the Big Bang, send robots to Mars and put men on the moon, is nothing short of astounding. Discovering life that could be lurking 500 light years away on a distant rock, in one of Saturn’s moons, or both would give us cause to rewrite our own cosmology and rethink our origins. The same BBC article points out we have identified 2,000 planets so far. I would venture to guess there are millions more to be found. So even if life happens in one every one hundred million planets, we cannot possibly be alone. Time will tell.

My only regret is that we cannot complete the journey in one lifetime. Even if we traveled to Kepler 186f at the speed of light it would still take 500 years to get there. One of the fastest moving objects ever made by humans is the Voyager I space probe. The probe finally left the solar system and moves at more than 36,000 MPH. Even at that phenomenal speed it will take 40,000 years to fly by a star that is not our sun.

But so long as we continue to take these small steps, they will no doubt develop into one gigantic leap for mankind.


As an aside, NASA’s mission—To reach for new heights and reveal the unknown so that what we do and learn will benefit all humankind—should clearly continue unabated.


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