Whether there’s some truth to it or I’ve just watched too many movies and come from a curious family of imaginative, science-enthralled minds, it seems to me that there was a time in the past where most typical families in North America were at least a little captivated by the notion that there is a space beyond what we’re familiar with here on earth. News of missions to send live human beings in high powered machines into a space so full of mystery and uncertainty that we have taken to just calling it “space” seemed like something that turned heads and often filled conversations across the continent. Today’s reality seems to be very different. Despite last year’s worldwide fandom of Sarnia-born astronaut Chris Hadfield during his last trip to space, it now seems rare that any scientific or outer space discovery would even be deserving of a news roll exceeding the length of the latest updates on Rob Ford’s ongoing buffoonery or concern over what grown-up child star was seen doing things other people their age do.
I don’t expect in 2014 to see nuclear families gather around a walnut-encased television set with wide eyes while programming is interrupted with special coverage of rocket launches and anchor-hosted edutainment. I’m frankly surprised when I see a typical family all eating dinner together at the same time. I did, however, think people would be a little more excited when NASA announced Wednesday that they’ve found *715* new planets outside of our solar system.
Admittedly, I don’t know nearly as much as I’d like to about our space programs in the last 50 years and it’s quite possible that I’m overestimating the importance of such revelations but this “news” barely registered this week in mainstream press, taking a back seat to the typical parade of celebrity gossip and pop politics. On Wednesday evening, my hometown’s longstanding newspaper, The Sarnia Observer, (which sadly has been owned by a Sun/QMI for quite awhile now) had a story about a video of Justin Bieber’s arrest being released for public consumption on the front page of their website and no mention of the NASA announcement.
I shouldn’t be surprised, and I don’t think I am. I am feeling dismay and disappointment though. While the news and social media echo chamber carries on with the usual interchangeable gossip, a story with potentially serious implications about our future as a species and our own planet rots in the background.
From The Telegraph:
While the announcements were about big numbers, they also were about implications for life behind those big numbers.
All the new planets are in systems like ours where multiple planets circle a star. The 715 planets came from looking at just 305 stars. They were nearly all in size closer to Earth than gigantic Jupiter.
And four of those new exoplanets orbit their stars in “habitable zones” where it is not too hot or not too cold for liquid water which is crucial for life to exist.
Douglas Hudgins, Nasa’s exoplanet exploration program scientist, called the announcement a major step toward Kepler’s ultimate goal: “finding Earth 2.0.”
I probably sound depressed and angry. I am not. I am excited and filled with joy knowing that there are so many mysteries remaining and that many more will be revealed to me over the course of the rest of my life. It is a bit lonely though, as I feel so many people are missing out and wish this excitement was one that was shared with more people. It tells me that no matter what ups and downs life brings, there is always something left to be discovered.
However, if that isn’t more exciting than a Bieber arrest or announcements about when the next season of your favourite HBO drama begins, I’m not sure what is. Are these things too big for us to truly appreciate and get excited about? It gets bigger: The Exoplanet Data Explorer at exoplanets.org says that there are 4241 Total Planets combining both confirmed and unconfirmed possible Kepler telescope candidates.
Is this all too “nerdy?” Is it not exciting and big enough for us? What if even a fraction of those planets were real and perfectly capable of supporting life? What if it were possible that many planets were able to sustain societies just like ours, full of drama and “more exciting” headlines? Yes, this is all ridiculously hyperbolic of me but apparently that’s what people want.
Perhaps this week’s announcement would be the biggest news story all month if headlines read “NASA Says Thousands Of Justin Biebers Could Exist.”
Would it then be “important” enough? Would it then be on the front page of the local newspaper, talked about non-stop this week on the late night TV circuit and fill our social media feeds? We can only hope.
(PS – apologies for the headline and multiple mentions of Canada’s least favourite export)