Wednesday, February 22, 2017
On February 22, 2017, all eyes turned to TRAPPIST-1.
And then squinted a lot. Because this star, you can’t see it. It likes about 40 light years away in the constellation Aquarius.
The water-bearer. Remember that.
Because orbiting TRAPPIST-1, NASA has identified 7 planets, three of which may be warm enough to be home to liquid water.
The planets orbit in a tight group around their star, all well within a circle representing the orbit of the planet Mercury, in a clumpy, resonant configuration similar to that of the Galilean moons of Jupiter.
And I’m not surprised at all.
And worlds without number have I created; and I also created them for mine own purpose; and by the Son I created them, which is mine Only Begotten.
We know there are worlds out there. That some have been found is exciting. But not surprising.
And yet so distant.
Who can visit them? No one, not form our solar system. Not with our present technology, not with our present lifespans. We haven’t been back to Earth’s own Moon for more than 50 years, and it lies a mere 248,000 miles away. The fastest objects ever created – the Voyager and Pioneer Probes, along with New Horizons – are barely beyond the orbit of Pluto, or barely beyond the shock wave that marks the beginning of interstellar space.
We are no closer to these planets than were our ancestors, starting up at the lights in the sky and watching them dance.
And it does not make me melancholy. Because they are not ours to have.
Nor are our planets for others, perhaps looking up at our distant star, much bigger than theirs. They may imagine life in a hostile solar system, where the light and energy put out by our star is so much more intense than theirs. Maybe they look at that third, possibly the fourth planet, as places where water and life may exist.
But they, too, never will visit. All life is held home by the vastness of the spaces between the stars.