Goldilocks Earthlings and the Mega-Earth

June 3rd, 2014

“Nature will do what she wants despite earthling theorists,” said Sara Seager, a planetary scientist at MIT who commented on the Kepler discovery, as reported in The Washington Post today.

Scientists are surprised to have discovered a huge rocky planet much larger than they thought possible without becoming gaseous. It is so many times larger than earth that the old ’super earth’ designation doesn’t work– it’s a mega-earth. The comparison to earth is made because of the rocky surface and because it exists in what the Post writer, Joel Achenbach, calls a “Goldilocks zone” and what the scientists call a “habitable zone”. That is an area not too close to its star to burn and yet close enough for warmth.

I remember Goldilocks as a young villain with blond curls taking advantage of the victim bears, thus turning the table (and chairs and porridge bowls) on many classic stories. And I began thinking of us earthlings on our habitable zone earth as perhaps being a little like Goldilocks. Most of us don’t just enjoy our Sunday stroll in the forest. We want to see what we can make of the situation, how can the earth serve us. And we don’t always think about or care about the consequences. I’m sure that Mr. Achenbach used the Goldilocks reference simply to emphasize a zone that is just right– like the bears’ porridge that she finally ate– not too hot, not too cold, but just right.

I wonder, though, if he hasn’t brought us greater meaning than he intended. In seeking things to be just right, what have we Goldilocks earthlings tossed aside, broken or disrupted?

Back to science, and understanding the rarity of habitable planets in habitable zones in the cosmos, I am pausing for more than a moment of gratitude and awe that Nature did what she wanted and that we are here on this beautiful planet Earth. Able to theorize and able to be surprised with wonder.

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