Last week, newspapers and television stations around the world carried the story of a previously undiscovered solar system populated with seven planets that exists only 39 light-years from Earth.
The announcement drove scientists giddy, mainly because the strange new worlds were believed to have sizes, climates and layouts close to our own, with the possibility of continents, oceans, atmospheres, shopping malls and maybe even inhabitants who know what’s what.
This discovery was announced while we were walking around in shirt sleeves in the dead of winter, a sure sign that we have driven our own world off-kilter and the magnetic poles are preparing to swap, destroying our ball of confusion and rendering our automotive GPS systems no better than the brain-operated navigational systems that led man out of the caves.
Add to that the likelihood that we might finally find intelligent life in the universe. You will notice I didn’t say “other intelligent life,” because many of us consider the jury still out on our own planet, with the foreman just requesting 11 cheeseburgers, one veganburger and more pencils and paper.
Me, I’m not so excited because I don’t put much stock in yet another announcement of more planets being found. If scientists want more planets, they shouldn’t have crossed Pluto off their list a few years ago. Anyway, how do planets affect me? I’m a Gemini.
Don’t get me wrong, though. If I ever set foot on another place that doesn’t have angels, I hope it’s a planet. The more planets the merrier, I suppose.
Look, we’ve been sending radio waves into space for about a century now, and has anyone answered? No. Have there come messages asking for the full DVD box set of every version of Law & Order?
Has a ship landed on the White House lawn and its occupants pleaded, “Stop making movies that show us as murderous insects. We pride ourselves on being great accountants, not warriors.”
Finally, the odds must be crazy against contact. These unseen planets are 39 light-years away.
That’s fairly close in astronomical terms, but it’s still 39 times the distance that light travels in a year. My car lists 120 mph on its speedometer, but I’ve never had enough faith in the nation’s highway system to attempt that. Light, on the other hand, zips along at 186,000 miles per second. So said Mr. Dykes in high school.
That means those planets are about 234 trillion miles from here. Don’t ever count on planning a weekend round-trip. And that’s at light speed. Our spacecraft leave Earth’s orbit at “only” 17,500 mph, so you see what a long voyage that would be. We would run out of things to say by the time we got beyond the Planet Formerly Known as Pluto.
I’ve reached that point now.
Reach Glynn Moore at (707) 823-3419
or glynn.moore at augusta.chronicle.com.