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Monday, January 12, 2015

A Goldilocks Planet



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.

credit: NASA
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?

18 comments:

  1. Science fiction has always fascinated me and made me nervous at the same time. ET wigged me out. Aliens? Blergh and yuck. Although I loved Johanna Lindsey's s/f romances. I think life could be out there, for sure, but I don't like to dwell on it... unless it comes from a planet like Ly-San-Ter. lol

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  2. Fascinating information, Diane. My husband has always been a scifi enthusiast, so I've watched a lot of shows on the subject. Many believe we've been visited by "giants" from other planets. Maybe. I guess they would be Goldilocks. Question is: was earth too hard, too soft, or just right?

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    1. Since the "giants" didn't stay (that we know of--Bigfoot?), I'd guess Earth wasn't just right. :)

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    2. There could be another reason why they didn't stay. Years ago, a friend gave me a calendar for Christmas that had a different short-short science fiction story on each calendar page. While I cannot remember the title or the author, the plot of one story in particular stuck with me. Explorers from Earth land on a distant planet and meet its inhabitants who call themselves "the ethical people." The Earth explorers learned that The Ethical People once visited Earth. It was sunny and warm with lots of flora and fauna. They found it very suitable for colonizing. They weren't on Earth long before flowers began to shrivel and die, leaves began to fall from the trees, and every growing thing around them seemed to be dying. They assumed their presence was the cause and they were conscience-stricken. Being ethical people, they left Earth immediately before they caused any additional damage to the planet. Interesting story idea, isn't it?

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  3. I think some planets, perhaps many, will have life. Why should the life forms resemble us?

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  4. That's great that we do have the resources if something should happen. I know that science can put us in stasis, or maybe freeze us. Then we can visit the planet and move if Earth goes to the Apes!

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    1. LOL You're right, Melissa. We may need to leave this planet. It would be great if we had somewhere to go.

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  5. Have you ever heard of the book Chariots of the Gods? I remember reading it a long time ago; premise is that we have been "visited" all through Earth's history (the explanation for things like Stonehenge, as well as some things in the Bible). We recently started watching The X-Files from the beginning on Amazon TV, and like Mulder, I want to believe! Can you imagine how amazing it would be to discover we really aren't alone?

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    1. I haven't read Chariots of the Gods, but I remember hearing about some of the points. They also mention the Nazca "drawings" in Peru (Indiana Jones & the Crystal Skull). I started watching the X-Files, too. Got hooked on Stargate SG-1 and should vary my TV watching. :)

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  6. Truthfully? I've always believed in life on other planets. I also think the inhabitants are like us, just like us. I mean, a similar environment, how could they not be? I guess I just feel like there are universal truths about the way science works, and it holds true on all other planets the way it does on ours.

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    1. Thanks for your observations, Crystal.

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  7. I love the idea that there is life on other planets and really there must be. Look at the diversity of life on earth. The conditions that animals adapt to and learn to survive in. If that holds true on earth surely it must hold true on at least some of the many planets out there. I sure hope so, because if the human race truly is the most intelligent species lol, we maybe in for trouble haha

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    1. You make many good points, Joss. I keep remembering what Jodie Foster's character says in Contact--if it's just us in the universe, what a waste of space.

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  8. The actual idea of there being life out there boggles my mind, but then so did the idea of a microwave oven when it first appeared on the market!

    My dad always said humans were pretty arrogant to think we were the only game in town. And he was a smart guy, so if my dad said there was- there is.

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    1. LOL about microwaves, Elizabeth. I agree, your dad's a smart guy!

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