Like the Earth, only super
April 26, 2007
In galactic news: scientists peering through a massive Chilean telescope have found “the most Earth-like planet outside our Solar System to date, a world which could have water running on its surface”. It’s the first exoplanet ever detected that might support life-as-we-know-it. They call it . . . super-Earth! ((The paper [pdf]: Udry et al, “The HARPS search for southern extra-solar planets XI. An habitable super-Earth (5 MEarth) in a 3-planet system.”)) An “artist’s impression”:
It’s inspiring to imagine a planet stuffed with super-aliens, like Superman, as long as they don’t embark on any kind of interstellar “migration” to come here and steal all our jobs.
But then I began to worry: surely a “super-Earth” is exactly like the real Earth, only super? In which case, as a super-parallel-world, it must already boast figures such as a super-“Melanie Phillips” and a super-Cheney, frothing demagogic evilists at least twelve feet tall. Cosmic terror-flash! But here the language is, thankfully, deceptive. Reckoned to have a radius 1.5 times that of Earth but a mass five times greater, ((And hence, to be boring, the designation “super”.)) “super-Earth” will have much stronger gravity, which ought to mean, ceteris paribus, that its inhabitants are in general smaller. So with any luck, to us, super-“Melanie” would look like a tiny frothing dwarf. As with so much astronomical news, that puts things in heartening perspective.