NASA is playing with our tender hearts again. The quest for life beyond our planet captivates millions of people and astronomers know it.
They’ve announced the Kepler telescope found 10 planets that may be capable of sustaining life. Each planet contains water and is within the “Goldilocks zone” distance from their suns; not too far or too near to their suns, but just right.
NASA’s report was a dry list of thousands of planets the Kepler mission found in addition to the 10. It largely stuck to facts and avoided mentioning potential alien life.
But then Kepler mission scientist Natalie Batalha went and talked to The New York Times.
“The search for planets is the search for life,” Batalha said. “These results will form the basis for future searches for life.”
Her statement seems misleading by design. She cherry picked the hell out of the mission report, leading with the small bit that could titillate readers.
Stop toying with us, NASA. You’re the boy who cried aliens one too many times. Alert us when you’ve actually found something green with three heads and not a second before.
Recall the “alien megastructure” of 2015. Astronomers and media alike buzzed over the possibility of alien life. For weeks the internet freaked as everyone wore foil hats. Turns out it is most likely just a star recovering from having eaten a planet. Thanks, science.
The Russian butt-dial/alien radio wave of last fall is another example. The astronomers who discovered the signal tentatively suggested the signal might be of extraterrestrial origin but that it needed a lot more observation. Media outlets ran wild. For a few days, we all thought they had found our deeper cosmic meaning. Turns out it was, as NPR called it, a “butt-dial” from somewhere on earth, possibly Russia. Or maybe a signal from a member of the Starseed Alliance. You know, whichever.
Scientists are rightfully excited about Kepler’s discovery. Thousands of new planets means a wealth of exploratory possibilities.
And it can be exciting for lay people as well, without NASA depending on our fetish for gray bodies and giant black eyes. Planets like Earth are scientifically significant even if they don’t have another intelligent civilization. Studying them could help us understand our own planet and how Earth did manage to produce life.
This melodramatic science news is soul crushing. If finding aliens really is the thing that will unite humanity and bring world peace, à la Star Trek: First Contact, then every false alarm is a step closer to humanity ripping itself apart.
Hyperbolic? You tell me, astronomers who heard a microwave oven and thought it was E.T. for 17 years.