Remember the story of “Goldilocks and the Three Bears”—how a little girl wandered into a cabin in the forest and found porridge that wasn’t too hot or too cold but just right. Same with a chair that wasn’t too big or too little but just right. And a bed that wasn’t too hard or too soft but just right.
Since March, 2009, the telescope aboard NASA's Kepler spacecraft has been searching for “Goldilocks” planets—those that, like Earth, are capable of sustaining human life. Last week, Kepler added eight more exoplanets (planets that revolved around a star other than ours) to the already more than a thousand already discovered. Can you imagine? A thousand planets that could be habitable.
So what criteria do scientists use to determine a “Goldilocks” planet? It needs to be far enough away from its sun that liquid water would exist. To do that, it must receive as much sunlight as Earth—too much and the water boils away as steam; too little and the water freezes. Two of the most recent exoplanets discovered are the most similar to Earth.
Kepler is confirming what science fiction writers have assumed all along. There are worlds where life exists. What that life looks like is up to our imagination. So far. Like many s/f writers, my stories feature human-like beings as the main characters so readers can identify with them. Minor characters are another story. (pun intended) They could have fur, be short and squat with very large feet, or have scales. Each is a product of their home world. However, I don’t have “creepy” characters. No slimy, dripping Aliens. (bad pun, I know) Despite how they look, they all have one thing in common. Intelligence.
In many science fiction stories (movies and books), the characters are able to travel large distances through space. In my Outer Rim series (The Pilot, The Chameleon), my characters are out on the frontier of space. To get there from what I call the Central Planets, they use spacecraft capable of faster-than-light speed.
For us here on Earth, traveling to even one of the exoplanets discovered by Kepler is impossible. We haven't managed to travel to our nearest neighbor, Mars. Yet. But think about the huge advances made in our lifetime. In less than sixty years, we’ve gone from launching a small satellite into space to a man walking on our moon, to landing a robot on Mars. What could happen in my grandchildren’s lifetime?
I see s/f as hope for the future. That’s why I don’t write stories about the end of Earth. Some day, probably not in my lifetime, science fiction will be reality. We’ll travel to those exoplanets and either meet those inhabitants or establish colonies there. The possibilities are amazing.
If you’re interested in learning more about Kepler and its discoveries, here are some links.
What do you think? Could these planets be inhabited by beings like us?