We picked out planets that are just the right size—between the size of Earth or twice that—and all are within the ‘habitable zones’ of their stars, at distances where there’s the best chance for liquid water—and possibly life—to exist.
— Dan Wertheimer, space sciences lab astrophysicist
There is no place more wonderful than this. There is no place more marvelous than here.
Starry night. All along the horizon, telescopes rotate, staring at the night sky. In the Atacama Desert, where the skies are transparent like no other place on earth, free of the pollution of city lights, and of temperate zone moisture.
The human race is looking for planets. Hungry for planets in our own image, in the image of Gaia, of Earth. Planets near enough yet far enough from their distant suns not to burn up, not to freeze. Planets which show signs of water in their atmospheres. Planets that revolve around the maybe 50 billion stars in the local galaxy, in the neighborhood we call the Milky Way, and in the narrowest possible tranche of it, 1,235 planets have been sighted that correspond to such spacial parameters, and of those 1,235, 86 stand out, 86 which answer within reasonable limits to those conditions: sufficiently distant from their suns (but not too distant) to entertain the possibility of water.
Imagine 86 watery planets, each with its own orders of life: its own set of one-celled organisms, of invertebrates, of phyla inherited from a primordial past, of the first cone bearing trees, of the first flower bearing plants, of mammals, of insects, of trees, and shrubs and flowers. Imagine 86 planets with their own hereditary, evolutionary lines culminating or perhaps on the way to culminating in sentient, intelligent beings with appendages to hold tools, to compose music, to create dance, with tongues to bend around the syllables of languages structured entirely other than any Earthlings can begin imagining. Eighty-six planets with their own dynasties of composers, choreographers, writers, poets, singers of songs. Take all the sounds of all the languages of 86 planets, and all the sounds of all the music of 86 planets, meld them together, imagine the chorus. Now turn down the volume to a whisper: the whisper of the sounds made by the sentient beings of 86 planets. That is only 1/600,000,000th of the sounds of all the neighborhood galaxy’s planets, and, of the universe’s, a fraction so unfathomable, human cognition cannot imagine it.
But this one, this Earth, this Gaia is the one you have. This one, and only this one. Its rocks, its fossils, palimpsest of times more ancient than time, its petroglyphs of a mankind more ancient than language, more ancient than writing, its horsetails and ginkos, survivors of an unfairytale age of dragons, of cone bearers, of spore bearers, of molds, of microorganisms, of nematodes, of annelids, of the lowliest of beings without which none of our living, none of our songs, or our musics, or our dances, or our writings or our tongues could ever have been possible.
This Gaia is all you have.