Sunday, February 25, 2018

Planet Hunting

We have to move. I hate moving. But we’ve got to go. The world is broken. We broke it. We broke the weather. We broke the oceans. We broke the lakes and forests. We broke the animals. We broke the insects. We broke the dirt.
How the hell do you break dirt? I don’t know, but we broke it. And not in a good way. Not in the sense of making furrows or digging graves. We broke the dirt so that it doesn’t work. It’s exhausted. 75 to 85 percent of the world’s topsoil is lost to wind erosion, desertification, urban expansion and overproduction. What hasn’t been blown away has been contaminated by pesticides and chemical fertilizers. The rest is vacant lots and rats and broken glass.
We broke Greenland. We broke privacy and solitude. We broke silence and fog.
We broke the sky, that fantastic overarching dome of clouds and sunsets and the aurora borealis. The jet stream and polar vortices have gone insane. They howl their way around the world like Slinkys on methamphetamine.
The weather is having its revenge. Catastrophic floods in France. Eight years of draught in California. Snow in the Sahara. Iguanas dropping out of the trees in Florida. Puerto Rico slammed into darkness by hurricane Maria. Frost quakes in Ottawa. Cape Town, South Africa, dry as a bone. I don’t think we’ll be getting our deposit back. We’re leaving a mess. Over 76,430 metric tons of radioactive waste. Over 12.7 metric tons of plastic in the ocean.
So where are we going to go? Good question. I’m working on it. I’m looking at some planets. There’s a few possibilities. Let’s take a look.
First, the closest. That would be Proxima b. Proxima b is 1.3 times the mass of Earth and has an orbital period of roughly 11.2 Earth days. That means celebrating Christmas and New Year’s Eve once a week. Can you dig that? Birthdays, Thanksgiving, Halloween, Yom Kippur,  Ramadan and the Chinese Dragon Boat Festival all in the same week.
Another possibility is Alpha Centauri. This is a star system, not a planet, but astronomers put the possibility of habitable planets to be found there at 85%. And it’s only 4.37 light years away. You could probably get there via Greyhound. That is, if Greyhound ever invests in rocket ships and equips them with dinner theatre and plush velvet curtains.
If Greyhound doesn’t work out, there’s a project in the pipeline called Breakthrough Starshot. This is a research and engineering project intent on developing a fleet of “light sail” spacecraft named StarChip, which will be capable of making the journey to Alpha Centauri in twenty or thirty years traveling at a speed between 15% and 20% of the speed of light. You might want to book a seat asap.
I personally like the look of Trappist-1e. This is a solid, almost Earth-sized exoplanet orbiting the ultracool dwarf star Trappist 1 within the habitable zone in the constellation Aquarius. Trappist-1e is very similar to Earth. It has roughly the same mass, radius, density, gravity, temperature, and stellar flux. It has also been confirmed to have a compact atmosphere, though who knows what’s in it. Oxygen, hopefully. Trappist-1e is 40 light-years from Earth, so bring lots of trail mix and popcorn.
Also, the planet has a calculated equilibrium temperature of -16.7 Fahrenheit, so bring lots of sweaters.
There are probably a lot more out there. I can’t find any listings at Zillow, Trulia or Redfin. No need, however, to be discouraged. Astronomers report that there could be as many as 40 billion Earth-sized planets orbiting in the habitable zones of Sun-like stars and red dwarfs in the Milky Way, 11 billion of which may be orbiting Sun-like stars. I’m assuming that Sun-like means like our sun, that big old ball of hot plasma kicking out 1,368 watts per square meter.
I like the sun. I wish I could see it more often, but I live in Seattle, which is generally covered by clouds.
I’ve been meaning to spend more time on a spaceship, but other things intervene. I need to remove the popup drain in the bathtub, reattach the new modem after UPS makes its delivery, and watch some YouTube videos about rocketry and space travel. Things to bring. Things to leave behind.
Did I say I hate moving? I’ll reiterate: I hate moving.
I haven’t moved in 24 years. I don’t even know where to begin. My books, maybe. I can’t leave my books behind. Where in the world am I going to find Shakespeare or Arthur Rimbaud on an exoplanet? Well, Rimbaud maybe. Distinct possibility there. That guy got around.
But Proust, probably not. Proust stayed mostly at home, and mostly in bed. That’s why I like Proust. I like anyone who prefers staying in bed to busying themselves with the affairs of this world, which is mostly connected with making money.
And what about money? What kind of currency do creatures use in outer space? Will there be cash machines on the exoplanets? Will they accept traveler's checks? Who is they? There will be no ‘they.’ Just us.
Can I bring a city? Can I bring Paris? Can I bring Prague, or Dakar, or Chittagong? How do you pack a city? How much Styrofoam will I need? How much bubble-wrap?
I really don’t relish moving. But what are we going to do? Can’t stay here. I like eating. And being warm. And running water and electricity.
Where’s the landlord in all this? Don’t we have a landlord? God or somebody? Can we get somebody to fix the climate and put the polar ice cap back? Can we adapt? Are we done adapting? Can we evolve something useful, wings, or tentacles? A little more intelligence? I think we’d all like that. Maybe we’d all be a little more prudent in the future and not chop down so many trees, destroy so much dirt with industrial farming, and hunt and gather in the old, traditional ways, before civilization, before guns and barbed wire, before microwave ovens and SUVs. When we had candles, and painted horses on the walls of caverns, and buried our dead in the soft, welcoming dirt.

No comments: