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Posted at 02:54 PM ET, 12/06/2011

New habitable planet! The view from Kepler 22b.


Hello there! (AP Photo/NASA/Ames/JPL-Caltech)
Two astronomers are staring into a telescope, aimed 600 lightyears away.

“A new planet!” they exclaim. “Blue. Tranquil. Liquid water. Habitable, according to our instruments.”

“And it’ll only take us 22 million years to reach it,” one of them adds.

”Maybe it’s inhabited already,” the first astronomer observes. “The conditions seem proper. On average, the temperature of a beautiful early summer day.”

They sigh. “Maybe things are saner there,” one says. “Maybe they have figured out how to keep a large area of the planetary surface with variegated traditions, languages, and national habits under a single currency.”

“Maybe,” the first one says. “Maybe their presidential primary process is less embarrassing, not overloaded with people named after small reptiles and cooking appliances, and they are not planning a debate hosted by an entertainment mogul who resembles a loaf of bread with some fungus on it.”

“Maybe.” The second astronomer sighs again. “Maybe the aliens on that planet don’t have to spend all their time on social media pretending things are going well and tending imaginary farms.”

“Maybe, over there, blankets with sleeves that let you change the channel without the tiny amount of movement required to pull your limbs out from under the blanket are not a major sector of the economy.”

“Maybe they don’t have that mad rush for holiday sales that results in people being trampled and pepper-sprayed.”

“Maybe they are less paranoid about sexting.”

“Maybe they have figured out how to deal with income inequality, and there are no longer people tenting in their public spaces.”

“Maybe that’s a planet where they take the electoral process seriously and don’t try to brainwash the children with their liberal puppet movies.”

“Maybe they don’t start playing holiday music until a week or two before the holiday,” the other one says in excitement. “Especially not that song with all the synthesizer about what a simply wonderful season you’re having.”

“Or the drummer boy song.”

“Maybe the people there don’t know who Justin B13b3r is.”

They sigh again. “It looks so beautiful from space,” they say. “So orderly. Zerg knows that things here are a mess. But maybe over there, they’ve got things under control.”

“Maybe they look like giant space apes.” One of them scratches his forehead with a feeler.

“Don’t be ridiculous, H3rb,” the second one says, molting his hard exoskeleton. “Come on, let’s go figure out if we’re supposed to vote for M1tt R0mn3y or not. I hear D@n Qu@yl3 just endorsed him.”

“As long as we can spread the truth to them about Zerg,” H3rb murmurs. “(Blessed be His glorious exoskeleton.) That’s all I need. That and for you to stop molting in front of me. What planet are you from where you think that’s acceptable?”

“Kepler 22b.”

They hop into their hovercraft and buzz slowly away from the planetarium, feelers waving in the breeze.

“I bet they’re wondering something similar about us.”

In related news, astronomers have discovered another planet in the not-too-hot, not-too-cold “Goldilocks zone” of life — Kepler 22b, 600 light years away. It’ll only take us 20 million years to reach it. Give or take a million or two.

Its light takes 600 years to reach us, which means that if they’re watching us now they’re getting the highlight reel of the 15th century. I’m not sure what they think of it. “Too many Medicis!” they yell.

Some scientists suggest the planet is not merely habitable but possibly actually inhabited, which would explain why we are getting all those messages asking us to please stop building Gothic cathedrals so noisily. (Yes, I realize that sound does not travel through space.) But who knows what’s happening there now.

“All we ever see of stars are their old photographs,” as Alan Moore wrote. Kepler 22b. It looks nice in the artist’s rendering. Blue. Tranquil. Maybe things are saner there.

By  |  02:54 PM ET, 12/06/2011

Tags:  Science, NASA, planets

 
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