Response to the Discovery of an Earth-Like Planet

August 26th 2016

Tricia Tongco

Citizens of Earth, scientists announced this week that they have discovered a "potentially habitable" planet much like our own, detailed in an article published in the journal Nature.

The still unnamed planet orbits Proxima Centauri, the star closest to our solar system, which is "4.25 light-years from Earth — about 25 trillion miles away," reports NPR. The "Pale Red Dot" campaign is aptly named after the red dwarf star. It was key to finding the planet in the first place, since the astronomers observed how it moved as the planet circled it. NPR describes how the planet has similar properties to Earth:

"All that's known about the planet is that it's a bit more massive than Earth and circles its star once every 11 days. Because the star is so dim, temperatures on the planet would be mild enough that any water — if it's there — would be liquid."

While the discovery is undoubtedly historic and exciting, some of the responses on social media carry a darker tone:

As these responses illustrate, the discovery of another Earth-like planet has struck a nerve with people who are worried and upset about climate change. With everything from extreme weather to the melting Arctic, their reaction seems valid.

It's certainly telling that more many humans considered moving to another planet more feasible than averting the climate crisis facing their current home.

Currently, Mars seems like the most viable inter-stellar travel destination for climate fatalists to hang their hopes on.

"If we ever needed to move to another planet, Mars is probably our best bet," Andrew Rushby of University of East Anglia told Mirror UK. "It's very close and will remain in the habitable zone until the end of the sun's lifetime - six billion years from now."

Given the distance between Earth and the this new planet, it's unlikely humans will be able to ever travel there. However, there's still a lot to be learned from studying it.

According to The Atlantic, the Pale Red Dot team is sifting through more data, but the ideal next development would be able to capturing the planet crossing in front of the star, of which there's only a 1.5 percent chance. This event could then help astronomers look at its atmosphere. Paul Butler of the Carnegie Institution for Science, a member of the Pale Red Dot team, told the Atlantic why this is important:

“That’s where the game becomes really exciting,” Butler says. “That’s when we go from ‘potentially habitable’ to something that has life.”

So, even as humans become more pessimistic about life on own planet, they can perhaps take heart in some exciting developments happening in a galaxy far, far away.