May 27, 2012

The Other Earth Out There - Kepler 22B

Another Earth is a wonderful Sci-Fi-esque movie that Sundance put out in 2011. In the movie, humans on Earth discover another planet just like Earth- in fact they actually discover that Earth has replicated several times. The wonderful idea of another Earth, another you- free from the mistakes that you have made, free from the reality that has become your own- was destroyed by a twisted yet surprisingly boring I-killed-your-family-now-let's-have-sex typical Hollywood plot. It really pissed me off to be honest- being someone who actually really loved the whole concept of movie. After seeing it I was less than thrilled with the movie, but infatuated with the science and astrophysics behind it. Another Earth? Such a novel idea.

In our observable universe there are between 80 and 100 billion galaxies, packed with 100 billion to a trillion stars each. Science has stipulated that for every star there is least one planet. That's a theorized amount of 100,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 planets in the observable universe, or a hundred sextillion planets. And really who knows what's beyond that? With a number like a hundred sextillion, isn't it more than possible if not entirely realistic that somewhere along the way life formed elsewhere? Are we really naive enough as a species to think that we are 1 in 100,000,000,000,000,000,000,000?

The human species is entrenched in the belief that we are the best, that we are the most special. Millions of years of evolution have created a species capable of reason- a species capable of formulating ideals and remarkable theories. Our strongest suit is our thinking brain- more importantly in that brain- our speculative nature. Aristotle once said, "It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it." To hear an idea, but not believe- to logically reason and apply your own knowledge to conceive your own opinions, that's what separates us from the rest.

Ask an average American what they think of the chances of us being the only planet that harbors life in the 100 billion galaxies that we know about today. Most people will tilt their heads to the side a bit, pause for a second, and say "I have no idea.". Ask a scientist, and your answer will be far more substantial and salted with philosophical skepticism. But when was the last time you had an astrophysicist hanging around answering questions? The problem here is there aren't enough scientists, astrophysicists, astronomers, and physicists available to tickle the vast majority of our one common need as a species, to understand all that is unknown. Ask a college student why those majors aren't their own and a common answer is "It's just too hard.". Since the dawn of the computer age, the humans of Earth have largely decided that they no longer wanted to speculate themselves- but instead wanted others to-allowing them to be receivers of the end data.

Now we just swim through an endless stream of information, missing any picture that that information is trying to paint. Stuck in the details, the muck, and the grime of the internet are stories that should be known. Scientific discoveries that literally hold our precious views of reality in their clutches- waiting to inform, to enlighten, to expand your mind's boundaries. Boundaries like whether life exists elsewhere, because questioning that forces us to reevaluate our merit as a species. If we find a planet like our own, and it harbors life- will that life be better than ours? Will we suddenly have found a new enemy that we in no way understand? Does answering the question that life exists elsewhere create the answers we need as a species, or does it simply create new questions beyond our own fathomabilty?

Kepler 22b was confirmed by NASA in December of 2011, you may have heard about it- but most people did not. In fact, the birth of Earth 2 went largely unnoticed by the mass audiences of the world. A planet floating perfectly in the 'Goldilocks zone', Kepler 22b is just right for life. It features an average temperature of 72 degrees fahrenheit, is 2.4 times the radius of the Earth itself, and is in the habitable zone where land and water can be formed. It is similar to Earth in other ways too, like the orbit of its sun- 290 days next to our 365. Or the fact that it is orbiting a G-class star just like us- just a little smaller, less brighter, and less hotter than our own. Kepler 22b is a breakthrough in a long and tedious search that astronomers and astrophysicists have grappled over for quite some time. They answered the first question that everyone wanted to know: is the existence of a planet in the habitable zone a singular event or does happen elsewhere? The interesting part is what comes next.

Kepler 22b isn't alone too, in fact scientists have found at least two thousand other planets that also are in the habitable zone surrounding their stars. Eventually as they slowly get confirmed we may even find out that there are many more out there. Once the fact that other planets exist just like ours is accepted, we can then begin to try to find out whether life exists on them. It is not until we are ready to carry the weight of that knowledge though that we will even begin that journey, and as a species we are nowhere near that capability.

For now it remains a distant dream.. our alternate reality.

xoxo disaster girl

P.F.S. Links for the Curious
NASA Kepler Mission Website
NASA's Kepler Mission Confirms Its First Planet in Habitable Zone of Sun-like Star
NASA Telescope Confirms Alien Planet in Habitable Zone


  1. Thank you for your thoughts, I enjoyed reading your article. It seems to me when it comes to movies, especially entries into festivals like the Sundance Festival, creativity and imagination is more excepted than a Hollywood blockbuster per say. That unique beauty is exactly why I loved this movie. I don’t think there has ever been a time when I have not asked the question, (Are we alone)? Movies are a passion for me, as they are welcome company on my frequent business trips for Dish. Since I write movie reviews as a hobby, I subscribe to Blockbuster @Home to have access to all the movies I need, regardless if they are new or old, giving me a relaxing way to spend my time, when I’m not working. One day, I hope humans have the opportunity to have their question answered, until then we will all dream. Dreaming is almost as beautiful as the reward of the answer, if not more.

    1. Thank you for your response! I love hearing from people who enjoy my writing. I think that this movie as a whole will always be one of my favorites despite my slight disappointment with it. And you are certainly right about this statement: "Dreaming is almost as beautiful as the reward of the answer, if not more."

      That's a quote worth quoting! Hopefully one day in the future we can reach a level where dreaming is in fact the answer. At the pace technology is heading, it doesn't seem to distant.