Researchers at the University of Hertfordshire recently discovered a new planet that may have an Earth-like climate. It’s far closer than other potential replacement Earth’s, which has astronomers wondering what a second inhabitable planet would mean for the future of humankind.
I’m what the Urban Dictionary calls an “apocaloptimist“: someone who knows we’ve really dug ourselves into a hole as a nation/society/species, but still thinks it will turn out OK in the end. We talk about saving the world, but what if we don’t? What if, instead of accepting the consequences of our actions and taking action to correct them, we continue to exploit the planet until there’s nothing left?
Although we’re not so good at admitting our mistakes, humans are pretty talented when it comes to technology and consuming things. While potential replacement Earths have been spotted before, they’ve been hundreds of light years away. The new “Earth” exists in the habitable zone of a perfectly quiet old dwarf star and is part of a six-planet system only 42 light years away. That’s only 246,902,265,673,711 miles!
The planet that’s of interest to scientists occupies the outermost orbit from the star, similar to the our own Earth keeps from the Sun. This orbit is why the presence of liquid water and stable atmospheres to support life are possible and, more importantly, the planet is likely to be rotating on its own axis as it orbits around the star creating a daytime and night-time effect on the planet which would be better at creating an Earth-like environment.
With a mass of at least seven times that of Earth, there’s no question that there would be enough room for the human race on its surface. But even if we can, should we?
For some reason, abandoning this Earth to die and then moving on to another seems like the ultimate act of consumption. It’s the “throw it away” mentality that poisoned the planet in the first place. It seems unfair that we might survive without paying the consequences for our wanton greed. What if, in a few short millennia, inhabitants of the New Earth find themselves in the same situation?
Despite the excitement over this new super planet, it’s important to keep our expectations on terra firma. Instead of looking for an escape plan, let’s plan to take care of the planet we’ve got. Rather than imagining a do-over, let’s roll up our sleeves and become good stewards, rather than exploiters, of this marvelous Blue Marble. On the off chance we don’t invent a space ship that can transport 7 billion people 42 light years away, let’s act as though this is the only Mother Earth we’ll ever have. Only then can we be trusted with another.
Image Credit: J. Pinfield, for the RoPACS network at the University of Hertfordshire