Thursday, July 23, 2015

Why should I care about Kepler-452b?

Why should I care about Kepler-452b?NASA announced earlier today that they have identified a close cousin to Earth, named Kepler-452b. The sun it orbits is similar to ours. It's orbit is only a few days longer than ours. Being larger than earth, 452b's gravity is estimated to be about twice that of Earth. All the information we've received so far indicates it's the closest match ever found, but at 1,400 light-years away why should we care?

The Distance
Whenever distance is measured in thousands of light-years it's safe to assume nobody alive will live long enough to get there. Given our current top speed, a mission to this planet would take at least 25 million years. In fact, given that it's been less than 60 years since the first laser was invented there's no way any human message will reach Kepler-452b for over a thousand years, and it would take over a thousand more for a response to get back to Earth.

So if we can't send messages there and going there is impossible, at least for the foreseeable future, then why should we care?

Climate Change
With all the focus in recent years on climate change and debate about how much of it is within our control, the opportunity to observe a planet that is so similar to Earth and further along in it's evolution could be invaluable. Further study of Kepler-452b could provide valuable insight into how our own planet will change over the next thousand and million years.

Extraterrestrial Life
We may not be able to send them messages, but as we gather more information about Kepler-452b we hope to learn whether life has existed there. Considering it's similarity to Earth, this is the single greatest opportunity we've ever had to discover life on another planet. Even if we never meet them, just knowing they exist could alter humanity's perspective towards our own existence.

One Small Step
Just as our voyage to the moon was just one small step in the great journey of space exploration, the discovery of Kepler-452b is an inspirational moment that can help to propel us forward towards further discovery. What other Earth-like planets might exist much closer that we simply haven't identified? Is it possible to create a method of communication or transportation faster than the speed of light, thereby opening up the possibility of reaching these far-off worlds.

If one thing is certain, it's that this news is just the beginning of an exciting new chapter in space exploration.

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