By David Kittredge
In our present situation amid the ongoing novel coronavirus pandemic many of us have strived to remain safe from harm by creating safe spaces and places. This drawing inward is an anathema to our inherent human nature. For most of human history our calling has been to explore, to see what is over the hill, to peer into the unknown. In our present state we have been shackled by the irons of COVID-19 and in some cases fettered by mere words, with many schools appointing safe spaces sheltering any students who may have been hurt by these words. Our world has been veiled with an aura of emotional grief and pestilence, driving us into isolation.
This month, astronomers from the University of Insubria in Italy have released a report regarding their search for the safest place to live in the Milky Way. I would imagine that these scientists spent many moons pouring over snapshots of our galaxy taken by the mammoth telescopes in observatories around the world. Mathematicians joined in, inventing new equations to explain their convoluted hypotheses involving supernova explosions and resulting killer radiation which can travel up to 100 light years from the source. Or in other words, sunlight from which no amount of Coppertone, sunbonnets, or parasols can protect humans from.
From their endeavors astronomers have deemed that there are an estimated 4,000 or more planets that are habitable in the Milky Way, with an estimated 24 planets in the galaxy that are “superhabitable,” or that present even greater possibilities for human habitation than our Earth. This probably means not having to waste money on sunblock, sunbonnets, or parasols. But it sounds a bit like the false narrative used by Viking, Eric the Red, many years ago by naming his place of banishment, Greenland, to lure more settlers to the glacier ridden island. Planets more suitable than ours for habitation, the concept is ludicrous. If our future astronauts who have traveled to these “superhabitable” planets are lucky, they will have on their new planetary menu, giant cockroaches sizzling on the barbie or perhaps a nice sushi consisting of a gelatinous life form. Just make sure you bring a set of extremely long chopsticks! At the very least, the food pyramid would need to be dismantled and restacked. Our explorers would also need to tote along a lifetime supply of One-A-Day vitamins, oodles of “Tang,” and a mountain of water filters.
I have no idea what telescopes were used by the astronomers from the University of Insubria or for how long, but I did find that to use the Keck Observatory in Hawaii for a single night, costs $58,000. Most observatories are used by researchers who have applied for and have received grants to fund their endeavors, but the cost to use the telescopes is so high that no fee is charged. Observatories rely on support from taxpayer funded international science agencies and educational institutions whose research projects are funded by taxpayer dollars.
I’m not sure how many euros were spent on this study to find the safest place in the Milky Way, or time spent using big, butted telescopes peering far out into space, but I think time and money could have been saved with a very simply solution. Instead the scientists could have used another type of ocular device to find the safest place in the Milky Way. As they peer into this simple device, they could ooh and aah at the beautiful prismatic rainbows, splendiferous sunsets, or a blanket of life sustaining morning dew. This device is an elementary school cardboard periscope, which can be built in about an hour using materials costing under ten dollars. Of course the device is not even needed, but constructing a cardboard periscope might satisfy the scientist’s cravings to engineer something.
Yes, we humans were designed with imbedded curiosity and with the need venture forth, but this search for the safest place in our galaxy is overlooking a basic idiom coined by the poet Ovid 2,000 years ago: “The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.”
In other words, another planet may seem more suitable for humans than our present situation, but if you go there you had be packing a giant economy-sized bug zapper along with a set of very undiscerning tastebuds.