Over the decades, I find myself more and more convinced about the vastness of this universe with Carl Sagan's point on there being more stars out there than there are grains of sands on all the beaches on this pale blue dot. In fact, it boggles my mind even more now than ever before that there could be so many stars out there. It is way beyond my imagination, it seems like. Could earth be so unique, so special, that we are the only ones with life, out of a gazillion bodies floating around in this universe that has billions and billions of stars? It does not appeal to me one bit. There has to be life elsewhere.
Back when the internet was in its infancy, I naturally signed up my computer's time also to help with the search for extra-terrestrial life. Remember that project on distributed computing? Recall Jodie Foster's Contact, adapted from Sagan's novel?
You can, therefore, sense my excitement with the news about a home next door:
A potentially habitable planet about the size of Earth is orbiting the star that is nearest our solar system, according to scientists who describe the find Wednesday in the journal Nature.Yes, it does not mean anything for our life today and tomorrow. But, it is yet another step towards understanding who we are and what life is all about. The greatest mystery ever that haunts us: Where did all these come from? To those of us who couldn't care about the mumbo-jumbo creation stories that religions offer, this is one awesome mystery to solve.
The newly discovered planet orbits Proxima Centauri, a red dwarf star that's just 4.25 light-years from Earth — about 25 trillion miles away.
Were we to go – and were there to be life – there is so much this newly discovered world could potentially tell us about ourselves.Science will not be able to solve the mystery within the two decades that I have left on this pale blue dot. But, then stranger things have happened in very short periods of time. We couldn't even predict the Berlin Wall coming down! Heck, a year ago we couldn't even imagine this guy as a presidential candidate! ;)
We do not know how life began on Earth. We do not know if life has to be based on DNA. We do not know whether life can only exist in a narrow range of conditions or is resilient to a wide range of extreme environments. If – and it is still a big if – there is even the simplest microbial life on Proxima Centauri b, it would be a real chance to look for these answers.
The next few years are going to see an intense period of activity using ground-based telescopes to learn more about Proxima Centauri b.