Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Gliese 581

Being abroad, I often find myself browsing through the Swedish news at Dagens Nyheter. Today this was well worth doing since I found an exciting article stating the discovery of the first earth-like exo-planet, orbiting the star Gliese 581. Since my undergraduate course in astrobiology back in 2004, I have only waited for this to happen.

With astronomers having discovered a few hundred exo-planets over the last decade, this is the first planet that potentially can harbour life (at least life which is compatible with our own carbon-based and oxygen-breathing bias). If followed by the detection of other planets with similar characteristics we can start to approximate one of the variables in the Drake Equation, ultimately giving us an indication of how common (intelligent) life may be in the universe.

All this points towards the future of humanity, towards all the things that will be within reach over the next centuries if we play our cards well. It is my belief that we urgently need to move beyond the current antagonistic paradigm of international relations and realise how fragile life on this planet really is. Instead of sectarian violence, imperial fantasies, and spatial chauvinism, I urge us all to join Carl Sagan in his hope that one day our descendents will “marvel at how vulnerable the repository of all our potential once was, how perilous our infancy, how humble our beginnings, how many rivers we had to cross before we found our way”.



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