Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Might You Be...Our Neighbor?

We may remember from science class that Alpha Centauri, at four light-years away, is the closest star to the Earth (other than that big one we see during the daytime). The spate of exoplanet discoveries in the last 20 years or so has yet to find a habitable planet circling that star, but recently a potentially habitable world was found orbiting a near neighbor, the star Tau Ceti. It's only 12 light-years away.

A "light-year," in case you've forgotten, is how far light travels in a year. Given that light ambles along at 186,000 miles per second, you can see that's quite a distance. We actually see these stars not as they are today, but as they were when the light we're looking at started. In other words, we see the way Alpha Centauri looked in 2008, and we see the way Tau Ceti looked in 2000. If anybody lives there, they see us in the same time frames. Such presumed inhabitants remain blissfully unaware of Justin Bieber, and the Tau Cetians enjoy the double good fortune to be unaware of Lady Gaga.

And there's some more weight to the possibility that there might be Tau Cetians, as a planet that's not too different from Earth has been found within the star's "Goldilocks Zone." Planets within such a zone have conditions that could support life like ours -- it's not too hot or too cold, but "just right," hence the name.

If there's such a planet, recent events might make me consider moving there. I don't mean the Newtown school shootings themselves. They are awful and heartbreaking, but we have unfortunately seen evil before and we will see it again.

No, I mean the folks who opine on the shootings, paying attention to them primarily because everybody is paying attention to the shootings and talking about them is a way to get people to pay attention to you. Bread for the World estimates more than 15,000 children die from hunger every day and I can't seem to find much commentary on that from either the "arm the schoolmarms" crowd or the "give up your guns or we'll have the police shoot you" brigade.

Piers Morgan didn't call anyone "unbelievably stupid" over it. Michael Bloomberg didn't demand the president act. John Lott didn't call to arm anyone. Neither did Newt Gingrich. The president didn't say their deaths put the fiscal cliff debate in perspective. And so on.

If there's a place that's twelve years away from any of these jackasses and their commenting kin who can't even wait until the last of the poor dead are buried before preaching from atop their headstones, I can't get there fast enough. I might even find a way to break that 186,000 miles per second mark.

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