Breaking News: Seven newly identified planets orbiting a nearby star offer a realistic chance to seek signs of life beyond the solar system

So says the NYTimes headline.  It has been a long time since any planet searches have offered us hope – mostly because they aren’t Earth-sized or positioned relatively similarly to our diurnal orbit around their star.  But these are offering a realistic chance.

Seeking signs of life beyond the solar system sounds as if astronomers and astrophysicists have given up on finding signs of life in this old solar system.  No NYT headline reading to the effect, “Mars Rover Still Scratches the Surface and Reveals No Signs of Life,” nor reports for Venus.  Obviously Mercury is not inhabitable and the demoted planet we shall not mention definitely out of the question.

I wonder if this “nearby” star is similar to Our Mr. Sun, as the grade school science films depicted the star that provides our solar energy for life.  Is it a medium-sized, middle-aged star likely to burn out in a couple billion years?  Does it burn helium?

The real question here though is, how are we doing on seeking and discovering signs of life right on this planet?  I know the pioneering spirit will always seek new territories, but I think it is a fair question.  Are we just going to give this planet up as a toxic mess and send off a few hyper-bred humans to start life someplace else, in another solar system.  Yikes, in a different galaxy?

I adore the romance of space travel and love that we have space stations and the Hubble Telescope to see so far beyond our tiny conception of what is Out There.  But the line, “realistic chance to seek life” gets me.  Realistic with a budget of oh, say, 5 trillion dollars?  Realistic as a multi-generation program?  Okay?

But I just don’t see enough life-seeking behavior going on, at least not in American culture.  It appears to be death-seeking.  Life seeking could be a realistic improvement in the quality of life for the teeming numbers of children in poverty in the U.S. A. Life seeking could include a shift in viewing education as social engineering to feed the world economic machine.

Life is more than air in one’s lungs, after all.  More than something that wiggles and squirms on a petri dish.  I never thought there’d be life on Mars, nor Venus.  The ancient waterway stories were just that.  But I did always hope that life could hold promise and fulfillment, for each person who wants to be more than a consumer or TV clone.

We’ve got the green planet, the water, the oxygen and the technical know how.  What is missing?

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