NASA and the exo-planets of TRAPPIST-1

Wow. Just wow.

And here’s the press release I’ve been waiting all day for:  NASA Telescope Reveals Largest Batch of Earth-Size, Habitable-Zone Planets Around Single Star.

It wasn’t aliens, but I have zero problems with that right now. NASA has gifted us with a brand new universe of possibility!

Just the salient and most exciting points of this discovery – mostly from the point of view of a space/sci-fi geek

  1. That’s SEVEN planets! With three in the habitable zone. That’s practically an empire. Imagine it. Three central planets, with the other four providing resources or leisure destinations or even space “suburbs.” Take it anywhere you want to, but I’m calling dibs on this system as the locale for my great, as-yet-unwritten space opera!
  2. Also, SEVEN! Can you imagine a more mystical number?
  3. Also, it’s in Aquarius! That fact alone invests this discovery with so much augury and portent that I can’t help but break into song. When the moon is in the 7th House, and Jupiter aligns with Mars, then peace will guide our planets and love will steer the stars – this is the dawning of the age of Aquarius!
  4. “The planets also are very close to each other. If a person was standing on one of the planet’s surface, they could gaze up and potentially see geological features or clouds of neighboring worlds, which would sometimes appear larger than the moon in Earth’s sky.” This is the stuff of all space/sword*sorcery fantasy art! Everything from Boris Vallejo to Bryan Talbor ca. Luther Arkwright.
  5. On a more practical note, planets so close together literally brings inter-planetary society within reach – see No.1!
  6. Also, two of the planets seem to be caught in a tidal lock with the sun – meaning one side of each of the planets is in perpetual day, the other in eternal night. Can a diurnal life form survive on a planet like that (Riddick notwithstanding?) With imagination, I can envision a number of technological solutions, although the greater challenge would be to dream up plausible bio-organic mechanisms – like David Brin’s solution for arboreal aliens needing a means to reliably gauge depth (hint: lasers!).
  7. And speaking of Sundiver, these seven planets are orbiting an ultra-cool star. If that fact alone isn’t ultra-cool by itself, consider the possibilities! It must be really old, which opens the possibility of past civilisations; or, on the other hand, it is so old that any biological life on the planets before may have already gone post-biological, as astronomer Susan Schneider posited (click the link and download the .pdf – seriously).
  8. And finally TRAPPIST-1, the star of these seven new planets, is only 40 million light years (250 trillion miles) away! At that distance, it would take the Millennium Falcon only 4.3 years to get there (a Federation starship travelling at Warp 9 would take more than 27 thousand years tho). And while NASA itself has downplayed the possibility of developing an EM warp drive anytime soon, TRAPPIST-1 remains tantalizingly close; if not as an actual destination in the near future, then definitely as a for some future generation of humans!

Whew. That was a lot of exclamation marks. Considering, however, the momentousness of NASA’s announcement, I feel them all supremely justified. #SorryNotSorry.

And now, further to my calling dibs on this system …

Magellan’s Exit

In the year 2073, the starship Magellan launches from Mars orbit towards TRAPPIST-1 (named after the Transiting Planets and Planetesimals Small Telescope (TraPPiST) in Chile) on a 40,000 year mission to construct a worm-hole exit on the seventh planet, affectionately called Tatooine. Once completed the exit, which would exist 40 thousand years in the future, would connect with the worm-hole entrance already completed on Mars by the time of Magellan’s departure. The resulting bridge, if stable, would be then allow real-time exploration of the TRAPPIST-1 system, discovered in the year 2016.

The departure of the Magellan was celebrated the world-over as the fruition of the decades long peace and international scientific cooperation that characterised the post-discovery world. Expectations ran high for the worm-hole bridge and even as Magellan disappeared into the void, everyone held their breath for the worm-hole entrance to connect to Magellan’s exit.

Only it didn’t.

The fall-out from the failure was catastrophic. The consortium of nations that built the portal and footed the bill for Magellan fell apart. People wanted their money back, and opponents of the project seized the opportunity to wrest power from those they called “starchildren” – the idealistic dreamers who believed that Magellan would bridge the cosmic gulf.

Under the leadership of Bo Chang Ludd, the charismatic leader of those who opposed the Magellan project, humanity’s withdrawal into itself proceeded at a rapid clip. Funding for the Mars colonies dried up, leaving the scientists who worked on the Magellan stranded. A religious insularity descended on Earth, eventually leading to a severing of ties with Mars.

Fifty years on, the Martians clung to a hard-scrabble life. As resources dwindled, lawlessness grew and Mars came to closely resemble the Western frontier of the early 19th century earth. Much of the technology remained, but with factories out of fuel, whatever power could be harvested from the sun tended to be diverted to life-sustaining technologies.

On resource-rich Earth, the Luddites, descendants of Bo Chang Ludd preached a faith militant that strictly prohibited looking outward towards the stars. Earth society devolved into a quasi-agricultural state, with only a few remaining pockets of hyper-technological enclaves that jealously protected their knowledge from each other and the Luddite faithful.

And then, on the 51st year after Magellan departed for TRAPPIST-1, the worm hole entrance sputtered to life.

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