The news of the discovery of a solar system with possibly several exoplanets within the habitable-zone was just announced. For many of us in the scientific community that study biology, chemistry, astrobiology, etc, this is Wonderland. Thoughts and questions are added and manipulated in our brains like ingredients of a gourmet stew. And we are ready to eat.
From NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope and several other ground based telescopes,have measured that these planets from the TRAPPIST-1 Exo-Solar System, some 40 light-years from Earth may have the right ingredients for life. Liquid water being one of the most important ingredients and the fact that this star is in the Aquarius constellation will I’m sure be featured in your local crazy...I mean astrology column. The idea of water being found is always intriguing to scientists. It’s huge.
Though I suppose I’m preaching to the choir here and most science fiction readers know this. With the real possibility of multiple planets in the same solar system having life, it raises many very important questions and gives us dreamers/scientists pause to let our imaginations run around with scissors.
Imagine if in our own Solar System, let’s call it Sol, we had three or four sister planets within the habitable zone, the Goldilocks Zone. From a completely Biological frame of mind, what would the differences in evolutionary rates be. Considering the timeline our own planet had and the different eras that could be observed at a single moment.
On one planet there may be humanoid creatures in the hunter-gatherer stage. Another the aquatic life may be just crawling from the sea and breathing oxygen without gills. And still on another, the stuff of my nightmares, fully aware arachnids may be building their first Rocket to orbit their world. However, what if there were at least two worlds where the species evolved at the same rate. If along with Earth’s technological advancements there was another planet about to climb out of the well.
It reminds me of the images from the movie Another Earth from Artists Public Domain released in 2011. The plot is set around the life of a woman who kills someone while drunk driving but the background story is the appearance of another planet. I won’t give anything away because I think you should probably watch it very soon. The reason I mention it is because of the scenes where astronomers on Earth view the cities and civilization on the other planet. Kind of puts a new perspective of astronomy as being a form of cosmic voyeurism.
Now imagine the uniqueness of the civilizations. From a sociological and anthropological view, what kind of societies would emerge? Would one have religion while the other doesn’t? Would one be as childishly divided as we are or have one or a few global governments? Would the views on work, love, sex, and everything else we take for granted be the same to them?
These are interesting questions whose answers would produce even more profound questions about our own civilization. The mere thought of life being not only found on this planet would shatter the ideas on many religions and philosophies. How would our first encounters be handled? I’ll circle back to that shortly. Even more interesting to me is what does that mean for the basic structures of society as we know it, if there were more than one world where we could actually live, want would keep communities together?
Consider for a moment the idea of communities, resources, human rights, law, and other social constructs we have a hard time managing now. In the book series The Expanse, by Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck, the dynamics of a species spanning our solar system and beyond, tackles these questions in an incredibly entertaining way. I could not read these books fast enough and the SyFy TV show does a great job getting most of it right, I have high regards for both.
Want kind of life would you imagine you would want or try to obtain if you were not limited to the well of Earth? Perhaps we would find that every ideology had room to not affect the opposing. Would we be able to keep from making our lust for regional dominance from becoming our lust for intrastellar domination? How long would an overabundance of resources last. As our history has proven time and again we don’t seem to collectively have the ability to say, “This is enough”.
Our intrinsic need of exploration is almost always driven by economic and religious motivations. The terrible plague of atrocities we have wrought on each other across the globe and throughout time is a testament to our nature and what we would offer a more or less advanced civilization. Would the rivalries of the planets climax to the annihilation of the other. It would seem a large portion of the industrialized societies now have not quite figured out how to share to survive and our primal instincts are just barely under the surface. As the saying goes, “You are 4 Billions years of evolutionary success, act like it”.
We barely have a majority of people that understand and accept that there is a large human factor to global climate change. What would we expect from a rival more advanced civilization? Would they pat us on the head and tell us how dumb and cute we are? If you believe we have been visited by extraterrestrials (I haven’t seen anything to suggest we have), perhaps that is why they haven’t greeted us. They may be waiting for us as a civilization to mature. And right now things are looking grim and there seems to be a void of maturity.
When we have important guests come over for dinner, or you are going out on a date, or you have a job interview, we tend to put our best foot forward. Perhaps now there is a possibility that when we are within the limits of generational spaceships able reach within our cosmic neighborhood, we will now truly contemplate first contact. Science Fiction has been doing this for years, perhaps from the beginning.
We are living in exciting times and we always seem to be on the cusp of true greatness. Only through our empath for one another, our priority of education and science, our drive to explore, and our persistence to survive will we have earned the right to venture from our home. “This pale blue dot…...on a mote of dust, suspended in a sun beam” said by Carl Sagan.
The TRAPPIST-1 Exo-Solar System seems like it is now going to be the focus of many coming science shows, books, and talks. Likewise the science fiction community will I’m sure have a barrage of stories with TRAPPIST as the destination, antagonist, and victim. I’m looking forward to seeing great writers tackle this trope and sadden that we will miss the insights of Asimov, Clark, Smith, Abe, etc. What would their minds have imagined?
Science Fiction is often driven by the interpersonal relationships on a canvas of science marvel. We can look to some of the most poignant stories to find the strength but mostly weaknesses of humanity. This works better to science fiction than in another genre because the protagonists and antagonists can be represented by allusions and the conflicts abstract in design only but relevant to current or pertinent events. Often we look to science fiction stories for the “What If?”. Often we see how ugly humanity can be.
However I am more hopeful than that. New opportunities usher the possibilities for new beginning and we bring to the table our own self worth. As the last words spoken by Carrie Fisher in Rogue One “Hope”, maybe we can be the vehicles for hope. We have the open road of the ‘verse to explore and we had better not be seen as a threat to the other natives. Let’s stop making the same mistakes we have been.
Finally consider this. What would the science fiction of other Earth-like planets be like? Would the intelligent moles on one planet dream of the ape-like creatures living on the surface? Are they obsessed with dystopias? Do they imagine there are deities laying in supernatural judgement? The possibilities are endless. Let’s see if humanity lives long enough to find out.