Looking Up: A galaxy full of planets
It's great to look into the sky to see our neighboring planets, but I wouldn’t care to live on any of them. Nothing beats the Earth for moderate temperatures, reasonable gravity, air we can breathe, water in liquid form and cell phone reception.
This is not meant to disparage any of these brother worlds; each has its own environment particular to them. We suspect it is possible that some lower forms of life could exist on some of these planets or certain moons.
That is why space scientists go at great lengths to sterilize spacecraft destined for other worlds. It would be a travesty to transport bacterial passengers and later confuse us with a false report of finding alien life curiously like what we have here.
We have just celebrated Earth Day; how about Mars Day, Neptune Day or 51 Pegasi b Day? The Earth remains our natural home, where we are learning we have to be good stewards of the abode we have been given. No other planet has been found that remotely comes near to being fit for human habitation, not that we have any immediate means to get there if we knew of any.
And what of 51 Pegasus b? This is the designation of one of the more than 400 planets that have been discovered orbiting other stars (in this case star 51 in the constellation Pegasus). There has been no official attempt to give names to them. Advancement in techniques and determination of observers have slowly revealed planets that are intriguingly closer to Earth’s characteristics. The vast majority of exo-planets, as they are known, are very large, in fact some several times the size of our largest world, Jupiter. This is no wonder, given the incredible distances to the stars and difficulty in discerning these planets.
Astronomers look whether or not an exo-planet orbits within the so-called “habitable zone” around the star, where the temperature as well as effects from neighboring planets would not prohibit life as we know it.
NASA has a lot more about the hunt for other worlds online at planetquest.jpl.nasa.gov/atlas/atlas_index.cfm.
Meanwhile, enjoy the view from your backyard this evening; Venus is glowing brilliantly in the west; Mars is high up and reddish; Saturn appears as a yellow-white, bright star in the east and Earth is right under your feet. Full moon arrives April 28.
Peter Becker writes for the Wayne Independent in Honesdale, Pa. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.