A conservative news and views blog.

Location: St. Louis, Missouri, United States

Monday, December 05, 2011

There's No Place Like Home

Timothy Birdnow

Nasa's Kepler mission has confirmed the existence of a planet in the liquid water band around a distant star.

Kepler 22, a G class star system roughly six hundred light years away, has a planet larger than the Earth in a closer orbit around it's parent star. Kepler 22 is a bit cooler than our sun, so the extra heat may make less difference. Kepler 22 has a 290 day year.

It also has a much higher radius than Earth; the planet has, in fact, 2.4 times the radius of Earth. This makes the world problematic; we can't say if it is a rocky planet like Earth, a puny gas giant, or some sort of ball of water like a giant version of Ganymede, only unfrozen. Perhaps it is a giant sea? Interesting thought.

If it is a rocky "terrestrial" type planet it would likely have a much higher surface gravity than Earth, meaning whatever life that could exist there would be strong indeed. It reminds me of Jinx in Larry Niven's "Known Space" stories; colonists five feet tall and five feet wide. A dainty young girl with the build of a bodybuilder, sinews bulging and no neck. Of course, the planet could be much less dense than Earth, meaning it would have relatively less gravity. Earth is denser than most of the planets in the solar system, and as a result Earth has the highest gravity of any rocky planet. In fact, Saturn would have a "surface" gravity of just about one G, despite being the second largest planet in the system. Saturn would float in water if dropped into some cosmic sea.

Of course, Jupiter outdoes us by a lot. The "surface" gravity would be over two and a half times that of Earth. (Surface gravity would be measured in a balloon floating in the atmosphere of the gas giants.) Still, given the much greater size of Jupiter, the fact that it is only 2.528 times Earth (or 24.79 meters per second squared) is illustrative of the density of Earth. So maybe our Kepler 22 B wouldn't be all that uncomfortable.

I wouldn't plan on colonizing it right away; six hundred light years is 600 x 5.87849981 × 10 exponent 12 miles or 30.87849981 x 10 exp 14 miles, which equals 3,087,849,981,000,000 miles (I think I did that right). That would be a LOT of "hundred bottles of beer on the wall" stanzas. It would mean going through more gallons of gas than can be supplied by Saudi Arabia. It would mean your Chevy Volt would need a few recharges. It would mean that, at the fastest speed ever attained by human technology (the Helios 2 prob at 252792 km/h, or roughly 157078 miles per hour) it would take you 195705951312000000 hours to get there. Divide that by 8 765.81277 and you get 22381176625000000 years to make your date. Either heat death or the Big Crunch will get you first. Whoopie! At least you won't have to pay those parking tickets...

At any rate, it's good to know that there may be places out there like home.

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