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We Are (Probably) Not Alone

It always causes a stir when another potential earth is discovered. People either rejoice or despair at the rousing newfound knowledge or catastrophic waste of money. These are not the extent of the opinions on the matter, but they are perhaps the most extreme.

The most recent earth-like planet that the Kepler Space Telescope has discovered lies within – and not on the edges of – what is called the Goldilocks zone in its respective solar system. This means that, of the hundreds of exoplanets that Kepler has discovered, it is the most likely to host liquid water, land and, potentially, life.

This information won’t capture the imagination of everybody who stumbles upon it in the news this week, but it will certainly spark a discussion or two. Space exploration is a bit of a Marmite subject. The two distinct and well-populated sides of the fence can tentatively be defined as those who rank knowledge above money and those who rank money above knowledge.

In many cases, you often need the physical (money) to achieve the metaphysical (knowledge). Unfortunately, space exploration can’t happen without money, so money is a prerequisite of knowledge of space (assuming that space exploration always results in additional knowledge).

Scientists have to rank knowledge above money to spend money on gaining knowledge in the first place, but sceptics of space exploration must rank money above knowledge to sacrifice knowledge in order to save money. In this instance, of course, this only applies to a specific kind of knowledge, so it is probably more accurate to say that they rank money above science-related knowledge in particular. If only knowledge was a clearly definable term.

It seems that the leading argument on the sceptics’ side of the fence is that the money could and should be spent on this planet before it goes towards studying others. This is a perfectly reasonable argument and not one that can be easily contested, but it seems to me that space exploration is too beautiful a testament to the inquisitive nature of the human race to extinguish.

I think it’s only a matter of time until we see the words ‘We Are Not Alone’ on the front of every newspaper, on the homepage of every website and on the lips of every linguistic communicator on this tiny little rock in the deep, dark void of space.

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