Intergalactic wonderings and wanderings

Henrietta Dow looks at NASA new discovery of TRAPPIST-1 and examines the implications for human life.

Photo credit: wikimedia.commons

By now, most of us have probably heard about NASA’s discovery of what they’re calling a “sister solar system.” Around 39 light-years away from Earth, a star called TRAPPIST-1 is the center of orbit for seven planets which appear to be structured similarly to Earth. What is particularly interesting is that three of these planets lie within what scientists estimate to be a “temperate zone.” This refers to an area where there is a distinct possibility of the existence of water, which, to make a presumptuous jump, could mean extraterrestrial life.

One of the first thoughts I had after reading this news was, “Well…how do we get there?” The suggestion of habitable planets far across the galaxy conjures up Star Wars-esque imagery – a vast empty space of possibility, ripe for exploration. How incredible would it be to expand our relatively small view of the universe?

But then, a second thought: “What if there’s already some form of life there?” What would something like that mean, to discover an entire planet of living beings previously foreign to us? As a species systematically killing off our own home, undoubtedly one of the first questions we’ll want to answer is, “can the planet foster human life?” – the existence of native beings would complicate that immensely. Where would we even begin with the ethics of such an endeavour?

Of course, these are all questions that leap far ahead of any knowledge we currently have on these new planets. Personally, I never thought that something this monumental would be discovered in my lifetime, and will actively be following any updates.

This is something to be excited about; our small species has come so far in our short existence, and already we’re looking to worlds far beyond our own. Look out, universe, the humans are coming.


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