The “two Earth” system of Kepler 62 has been hailed as the best candidate yet for human habitation: Twin worlds Kepler 62e and Kepler 62f in the horribly named “Goldilocks zone” (not too hot, not too cold) of hominid-friendly conditions. Ignoring for a moment the inconvenient 1200 light year distance, what might our brave colonists encounter? How accurate a briefing could we offer? The sun is smaller and cooler, gravity may be as friendly as 1.4G or as crushing as 40G. We’ve no idea about the atmospheres and the planets may be entirely covered in water. The colony ship is going to have to pack a lot of gear for contingencies.
[easyazon-image align=”left” asin=”B003L784LG” locale=”us” height=”160″ src=”http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51zr1S-LmoL._SL160_.jpg” width=”104″]It reminds me of a science fiction book I really dislike, but keep thinking about, Stephen Baxter’s “Ark”. I dislike the book because the characters, plans and actions are utterly ridiculous, yet the basic premise and plot are well done. I’ll write a proper review soon, but the gist of the story is that the Earth is quickly becoming an ocean world with no dry land. A colony ship is prepared and sent to the most promising destination which later proves to be no good.
How hospitable does a planet really need to be? Are Antarctic conditions acceptable for a long-term colony? Is any panet OK so long as you can directly breathe the atmosphere? What if there’s just a tiny slither of a habitable zone – perhaps a crater filled with water ice; or a perpetual twilight zone between perpetual night and day hemispheres?
What if there was a trace of a living slime on the planet? A good friend of mine is adamant that any sort of living creature even down to a bacterium would preclude us from ever landing on the planet. In wilder moments he will even declare humans should never go to any world because to disturb even a completely dead planet would be beyond our “cosmic license”. Hmmm, well we always have to agree to disagree there.
If colonists arrived at a purely ocean world would that be a viable option? Does it merely depend on the technology? If the colonists were able to extract resources directly from the ocean and create floating cities is that an acceptable outcome or would we demand green(ish) hills and a pleasantly toned sky? If humans could never freely breathe the atmosphere, or expose their naked body to the ambient temperatures, would that mean the planet was less of a home? Would we be naturally drawn to force a better fit?
There’s always terraforming, but should a colonization plan concentrate more on modifying the colonists rather than modifying the planet? If it’s an aquatic world then should we be trying to bio-engineer aquatic humans? Then if we did so are they really “human” at all? And what exactly are we trying to achieve if we start seeding world with hybrid humans? is the bigger quest just to spread sentience? In that case it might be easier to simply pepper IQ-inducing 1:4:9 monoliths on various worlds and come back later.
Some news links to the Kepler worlds:
NASA news release
How habitable are the Keplers?
Kepler worlds are ripe targets for SETI
Huffington Post: Klingon worlds
New Scientist: Water worlds bring us closer to find Earth’s twin (you’ll need to be a subscriber)
But please, not the waterworld!