So much is happening in the world of science these days with new claims of discoveries and inventions, breaking and formation of new theories, wild hypothesis. In an earlier age, people outside the academia could only get, often mistimed, almost always distorted view from the media.
Now, we have an almost immediate access to most of this information, in many cases, the original papers that describe the finding. There are many science blogs that provides background information and further reading guides. This has given me, and I am sure it is a shared feeling, a real glimpse into the process of science in action. Instead of discoveries and inventions being a bunch of static text in a text book or magazine, I can see each of these ideas evolve, painstakingly. It is like watching a live telecast of (substitute your favorite sports here) with continuous upsets and miraculous moves.
So, here is the short history of Gliese 581g, the earthlike, goldilocks planet from last couple of weeks. Here is one of the many overblown press reports (Gliese 581g).
It really was a wonderful feeling to know there is this planet that could potentially harbor life (well, other than say Io, Titan etc. We still have a problem defining the parameters of life, but that is another story). And the best part, it is only 20 light years away. Think about it, if there is a planet that can support life (as we know) right at our neighborhood, then chances are that there are many more around us.
The scientists Steven Vogt, Paul Butler and possibly a large unnamed gang of doctoral and post doctoral scholars analyzed 11 years of data available on Gliese 581 to arrive at the conclusion that there could be up to 6 planets orbiting this star with one possibly at the goldilocks zone potentially with liquid water. This planet could have a minimum of 3 times the mass of earth.
The frenzy followed this included someone in TV saying that it is only 20 light years away and if we trash earth, we could go there. This is true, if you have 180,000 years or energy equivalent of total earth consumption for several thousand years. So, we are not going there anytime soon.
Then came the shocking news. A SETI scientist from Australia Ragbir Bhathal had detected a strange pulse from this planet 2 years ago. This however did not impress Drake!
Speculations, stories, visitations from beings live in Gliese 581g, psychics who claim they are in communication with the great king Atutoao of Gliese 581g, and finally…
You know, there might not be a planet at all…
This is the problem with science. You cannot have faith in anything scientific. The moment you start believing something, there comes an experiment, an observation, a mathematical proof that force you to change.
Unlike religion, where it takes a few hundred years for a mistake to be admitted, and the only thing valid is faith.
Strangely though, I love the heart breaking, invigorating, wondrous feeling of awe, every day is a new day. Nothing remains unquestioned, no truths remain unchallenged.