question of the weekend: Does it freak you out to hear that scientists have discovered a “second Earth”?

artist's rendering of Kepler-22b

If you’re any kind of proper geek like me, you probably squee’d at the news. From The Washington Post:

The search for Earth-like planets circling other stars is heating up, but the latest discovery is not too hot at all. It’s not too cold, either. Instead, the temperature on the newly announced planet Kepler-22b could be just right for life — about 72 degrees, a perfect spring day on Earth.

Spied by NASA’s Kepler space telescope, Kepler-22b marks the best candidate yet for a life-bearing world beyond our solar system, project scientists said Monday.

If it has a surface, it ought to have a nice temperature,” said Kepler’s lead scientist, Bill Borucki, during a teleconference Monday.

“It’s right in the middle of the habitable zone,” said Natalie Batahla, a Kepler scientist, referring to the narrow, balmy band of space around any star where water can be liquid. “The other exciting thing is that it orbits a star very, very similar to our own sun.”

Of course, the “if it has a surface” thing is key. We have no idea what the planet itself is like — the artist’s rendering above may be lovely, but it’s pure speculation — only that it’s in the right place for really neat-o stuff to potentially be happening with it.

I think the thing about Kepler-22b that gave me the most wonderfully chilliest chills is the length of its year: 290 days. That’s so close to the one planet that we know is capable of supporting life.

Second most chills-inducing this: the planet probably isn’t tidally locked, which is likely also a requirement for life.

I wish I’d kept it, but I saw a tweet the other day that suggested that the reason why news of Kepler-22b’s discovery isn’t front-page news as opposed to geek science news is that the idea of other Earth-like planets really, really freaks people out. I don’t quite get that, except that I know a lot of people don’t have a good understanding of any sort of science, so that all the uncertainties about this discovery get ignored, and most people have no inkling of the massive distances involved, and most people’s notion of alien life comes from bad sci-fi movies, and many people also have religious beliefs that may be hugely contradicted by a confirmed discovery of a true “second Earth.”

No, I still don’t get it. How is this not super super exciting and awesome news to be celebrated?

What do you think? Does it freak you out to hear that scientists have discovered a “second Earth”?

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