Only hours ago, I sat listening to NASA scientists discuss the discovery of a planet they’re calling Earth’s twin, or older cousin. Kepler-452b is eerily similar to our own planet, being only 1.6 billion years older and slightly larger. Its orbit around its sun is even 385 days – that’s only 20 days longer than Earth’s.
In the news conference, scientists suggested that there had been “considerable time and opportunity for life to arise, if the ingredients exist on this planet.”
The implications of this information are enormous for every asset of our daily lives to scientific exploration and future policy. And while listening to this historic moment, headlines regarding tar sands, wolf culls, wildfires and fresh water sales piled up in my inbox.
We were just told by some of the smartest people alive today that there’s another planet very similar to our own that could actually support life (as we know it). For me, everything just changed. For millions of scientists and geeks and historians, everything just changed.
We are living in an age of science fiction turned reality. It was less than 150 years ago that a maniacal Frenchman thought that a ship travelling under the ocean or an expedition into the centre of the planet would make for a good story. It was less than 60 years ago that a writer and producer had the fantastical idea of a ship travelling through space, meeting new life and discovering new worlds. Even today, small children are picking up glow-in-the-dark sticks and having epic battles for the fate of planets we’ve never heard of.
We, as a species, dream and imagine incredible things. And today, we’re being told that some of those things – very ideas that were once considered preposterous and impossible – are now a part of our lives.
But we cling, so desperately and pathetically, to the way things were. And it might very well be the end of us.
This morning, before the universe changed its colour and shape around me, I watched video of the aerial assassination of wolves in British Columbia. I read an article about the massive leak of bitumen and polluted water flowing into once-pristine landscapes in Alberta. I spoke about a man sworn to conserve our environment being punished for not killing two innocent baby animals. I had to explain why and how a piece of steel crushed the life out of a family’s beloved dog.
How is it possible that this day, this incredible day when science fiction turned science fact, our planet became a horror story?
Earlier this week scientists announced that the rate of sea levels rising was greater than previously estimated. Federal environmental policy was ignored while leaders talked tax breaks and hair products. And a little rabbit died in the clutches of a trap called humane.
That last point seems small to most, I’m sure, particularly in comparison to the larger, pressing environmental issues of the day. But for me, it’s what hits home. It’s what keeps me up at night, knowing that across my country, hundreds of thousands of animals are being killed by lifeless steel traps for the sake of a few dollars. And then today, Kepler-452b.
I don’t know how to wrap my mind around this dichotomy. We are just now learning about the possibilities of life – actual living organisms – on a planet that is so like our own, it’s called our twin. And in the same day, we’re killing animals, drilling into our planet’s crust and wasting our precious water for slight economic and political gains.
Today, our existence changed. I can only hope that we change with it.
Artist's rendering of Kepler-452b by NASA/JPL-Caltech/T. Pyle
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