In February this year, NASA announced the discovery of the new earth. Not one, not two, but seven habitable earthlike structures in outer space with conditions suitable for life. There was no fanfare made. No fuss. No burning of old books. No burying of old paradigms.
But there should’ve been.
A few hundred years ago, when our forefathers first looked up in the sky and saw the moon and the sun and Venus and Jupiter, they made gods of them. They built temples and invented myths around them that explained the relationship between themselves and the objects. Wars were fought over these created myths. For generations, these myths persisted. Known and unknown phenomena were attributed to the activities of these heavenly bodies. Our forefathers lived and died believing that their understanding of these objects and the parts they played in human lives were the final sacrament.
It looks foolish to us now but theirs was an advanced understanding from what the generations before them believed. To our forefathers, it was not just an advanced understanding of life, it was the final answer to the primary questions about who we are, where we come from, how we got here, and where we are going when we are done in this world.
If their belief sounds primitive today, imagine what it replaced?
Those who understand the complexity of the universe have always known that there exists somewhere in outer space a place where other life forms live. That it had not been located until now did not mean it wasn’t there all these while. That we are not yet in touch with other forms of lives out there does not mean that there are no other forms of lives.
It is a matter of time.
These new earths just discovered are orbiting a single star. The star is less than one tenth of our own star – the Sun. It is so cool that the planets have the right temperature to hold liquid water. Though not 100% certain, scientists are very optimistic. Those scientists that have been searching for life and other habitable planets think these are some of the most promising. Unfortunately, we cannot jump into a plane or a spacecraft to visit them. They are 39 light-years away.
That they are 39 light-years away does not mean anything in scientists’ world. In space, 30 light-years is considered close being that our Milky Way is 100,000 light-years across.
By the way, a light year is about 5,879,499,810,000 miles.
For our great-great-great-grandfathers who could not imagine a car or a plane, the moon could have been 39 light-years away. To wake them up today and tell them that man made it to the moon would be the greatest miracle unimaginable in their lifetime.
The people that will occupy this earth in the next 200 years will figure out how to travel beyond our known universe. They will shrink the distance between us and the world out there. There is no question about that.
The new earths and their sun are within the reach of the James Webb Space Telescope. It is set for launch in 2018. From the telescope we can detect the atmospheric components and thermal emissions of these new planets. We will soon see from close range if it is truly habitable and if it is already occupied by some life forms.
What does this new knowledge mean for all that we think we know now? What does it mean for our understanding of our place in this world? What does it mean for the future of mankind? Can we answer these questions without shaking up the fragile understanding we have about who we are as humans and how we got here? Can we contemplate these things without realizing that what we call the final answer of today is just a mere preface to tomorrow’s new exciting discoveries?
Before our 4.5 billion year old sun burns out and turns into a black hole in another five billion years from now, man will have a handshake with other forms of life in outer space. They may be the ones to come to our rescue or we may be the ones to rescue them. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that such encounter will mark a new beginning for us all.
Going by the astronomical rate that knowledge multiples these days, 200 years from now, what we believe today will look foolish to those who are coming behind us. What we consider advanced today will look so primitive. What we call the final answer will look like a primeval hypothesis. The generation coming behind will neither blink nor think twice before they replace everything we believe in.
When I say everything, I mean, everything. The final answer is that there is no final answer.
Rudolf Ogoo Okonkwo is the author of “This American Life Sef.”