In The Gutter, But Looking At The… Exoplanets

Like so many who find themselves sickened at the epic stupidity of American election politics, I often hear the reverberating echo of “If (dipshit candidate’s name here) gets elected, I’m moving to Canada.”

Just the possibility of a President Trump/Newt/Rick/Mitt is enough to make you pack it all up and speed towards Niagara Falls with your passport in one hand and a middle finger reflecting into the rearview on the other. But then you’d really be in Canada. Now, I’m a huge hockey fan, and all for socialized medicine and Tragically Hip reunions, but it’s still not enough to get me to settle in Saskatchewan where games are played on frozen ponds ten feet thick at 20 below.

So where does an unhappy American escape to? There are equal but different drawbacks for moving to almost every country on the planet. Timbuktu, for example, has a killer music scene, but the odds of tribal decapitation for white ex-pats are considerably higher, than say, New Zealand.

Kiwi-land is also lovely, but there’s an Orc problem on the North Island and it’s not easy to zip home for the holidays.  So where to go?  With Newt’s plans to colonize and rule the moon, I’d venture to say the only viable option the politically disgruntled have is outside of our solar system entirely.

Now our galaxy is vast: 100,000 light years across, with billions of stars. What we missed in the last few thousand years of staring up at all of them is the simple fact that there are planets are orbiting those stars, just like we orbit our sun. The reason we missed it?  They’re hard to see.  Stars give off so much light that they blind us to everything around them.  But we’ve made some miraculous discoveries as of late, of exoplanets, orbiting alien suns; over 2000, at last count.  And it’s truly the tip of the galactic iceberg.

The Kepler space telescope, which NASA launched in March 2009, is a super-duper exoplanet finding badass, and it’s succeeding like the older kid at an Easter egg hunt. Though none of the discoveries seem habitable yet, it’s only a matter of time before we find an exoplanet that is, and the odds of Newt ruling there are unlikely.

The discoveries came almost accidentally. Scientists were noticing that certain stars they were monitoring were wobbling. That meant that another gravitational mass was tugging at it just as we tug at our sun as we circle it– So there had to be a planet we weren’t seeing causing the wobble. The larger the planet, the bigger the wobble.

But it wasn’t until astronomers began noticing the small black dots crossing in front of these bright stars that they realized they had to be the planets causing the wobble. Verifying this took years in some cases, because that’s how long it took for the planet to make it’s orbit around the star. Three full orbits were required to be considered a planet, and that could take up to a decade for verification.

Now there are billions upon billions of stars. Astronomers claim there are more stars than grains of sand on our planet.Let’s settle on the round number of 100 billion. They estimate there are roughly fifty million planets orbiting these stars, one percent of which are likely in the Goldilox Zone– not to hot, not too cold, just right for life. Even if we lowered the bar to a one percent chance of life on all of those exoplanets, or less than one percent, it would still mean 500 million possibilities that one is like the Earth, and hopefully with a better health care system.

The brass ring in the exoplanet hunt isn’t just the Goldilox zone, but the right size and gas mixture as well. Too big and it’s bound to be a giant like Jupiter, too small, and it’s atmosphere will burn up like Mercury. In fact, the more we learn about how perfectly the Earth is placed– how ideal it’s size and gas make up is– the more of a mind numbing miracle it all seems.

The exoplanet of most interest at present is GJ667Cc and it’s a curious candidate. It’s located a stone’s throw of 22 light-years away from Earth, in the constellation Scorpius and it’s about five times as massive as us. Where we need 365 days to make our way around our parent star, this planet does it in 28, which would make for a very short Gingrich presidency, even if it were two terms. It also might knock it out of the “habitable zone”, but we’re not sure yet.

Most of the other planets Kepler is seeing are thousands of light years away, which means we’re a long ass way away from touching down on them and opening a fro-yo chain. Optimistically, we’re about a hundred and fifty years away from even sending a probe to take pictures of them. But we’re going to keep looking because this is the cutting edge of modern astronomy, and the only hope we have for getting away from the dipshits our country elects into office

Before the mid-1980’s, searching for alien planets around alien stars was so far off the beaten path it was laughed at by peers as the lunatic fringe. Which brings us back to Newt, who is fortunately almost out of the news cycle. After his announcement in Florida that we could colonize the moon, one could only begin to wonder, is Newt in cahoots with some alien civilization? It’s the most reasonable explanation for the inscrutable inner workings of this sociopath’s brain. One can only wonder, “What planet is he from?”

 

 

 

 

 

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