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The Cold Filtered Ramblings of Gene Mueller

There's no place like home, but we're getting closer to finding one

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Lots of big news got swallowed up by events in Boston this past week.

The gun control vote in Washington, changes in the Milwaukee County Board's size/pay, immigration reform and other stories got back-burnered by the horror, drama, heroics and scope of the Marathon bombings, the carnage of Thursday night/Friday morning, and the eventual capture of the second suspect.   

And rightfully so.

Among the news items that might've passed you buy is the fact we found two more planets, both of which are the closest thing to Earth astronomers have yet to discover.  

"Two Promising Places to Live, 1,200 Light-Years From Earth" reads the New York Times headline.  Discovered by NASA's Kepler probe, both circle a yellowish star slightly dimmer than our sun.   Both are a little bit bigger than our planet, and scientists say their orbits put them in the so-called "Goldilocks" zone--not too warm, not too cold when it comes to potentially hosting life.   Whether they did--or still do--may not ever be known, at least not until we perfect speed-of-light travel.

Scientists know what a planet needs be a good celestial host--the correct path around a just-right sun, the right size to have an atmosphere that's neither too thick or too thin.   Then there's the water component, as well as solid ground.  Earth has all of the above.  No other planet to date ticks all the boxes, although the two discovered this week come the closest to date.   Astronomers  say one of the two is smack dab in the middle of the habitable zone with a 267 day year, one that's 40 per cent bigger than Earth.

We don't have to look far to see just how fortunate our little blue marble is: our solar system is made up of planets that are similar to Earth yet lacking when it comes to having the right stuff to support life.   They're too hot or too cold, orbiting too close or too far from the sun.   And, when you consider how vast space is, the difference in life-supporting placement is mind-bogglingly small.  

All of which should remind us what a delicate astronomical coincidence our existence is.


Are there more planets out there like us?   This past week's discovery shows the potential exists, and it's not a stretch to think that somewhere out there is another chunk of rock fortunate enough to be spinning in the sweet slot around a sun that's just right, another place with water and a supportable atmosphere, a place where primitive life evolved into something more--dare we say, "human"?

And, let this week's astronomical news remind us just how fragile our celestial home is, how little it might take to screw it up and turn it into any one of those lifeless balls of rock that we share infinity with     This isn't my pitch for solar and electric cars,  a lecture about global warming or alternate fuels.   Call it a look in the mirror, one held up light-years away that shows that close is good enough in horseshoes but not an option when it comes to sustaining life.  

What we have here has yet to be replicated anywhere else--or, if it has been, we have yet to find it.   We just have to remember to always take good care of it, because we have yet to discover an option.  

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