“We hit the jackpot here.”
— Astrophysicist Guillem Anglada-Escude, on a planet “more or less” like Earth orbiting Proxima Centauri, the star nearest to our solar system
AUG. 28, 2016 — An Open Letter to Our Friends on Earth II or Proxima b (or whatever you call your planet):
Greetings, fellow cosmos dwellers!
We were thrilled to hear the news that your Earth — we hope you don’t mind if we call it that — is a lot like our Earth. Slightly bigger, yes. And we’re told your year takes only 11 days (which means Christmas is always just around the corner, right?).
And since you’re so much closer to your red dwarf star than we are to the sun, the sky on your world is orange without a trace of blue, creating an eternal sunset effect (and, we suspect, excellent tanning opportunities).
Granted, our scientists haven’t actually seen your planet, which they call Proxima b. Rather, they’ve deduced your presence indirectly. Our astronomers theorize your planet may sustain life because it resides in the so-called “Goldilocks Zone” of the universe where water is possible. They think you might all live underground like Morlocks because your planet is bombarded by X-rays.
No matter. We think it is time to broach a cultural exchange and solicit your views on how the universe should be run, assuming that we are the only sentient beings in the celestial vicinity.
We’re sure you (a) aren’t hostile and (b, as in Proxima) have plenty of questions for us. We have a few for you. First, as Lois Lane asked Superman in the first movie: Do you … eat? (If so, we wonder if your world has a food so sublime as chocolate.)
Do you have poetry? Superheroes? Television? Grubby, can’t-look-away political races for top offices? Perpetually futile sports teams? Low-carb diets? Mean bosses?
Do you have any interest in visiting other worlds? If so, put Earth on your Must See list.
You’ll be bigger celebrities than Kanye (well, maybe not in his mind). You can expect humans to swoon at the news of E.T.’s arrival, except for the large chunk of the population that thinks you’ve been here for centuries.
We wonder if you saw our galactic postcard from our Pioneer 10 space probe, launched in 1972 and again the next year on Pioneer 11?
The one with the plaque that shows the nude figures of a man and a woman, along with diagrams of the solar system. Or maybe you came across the gold records (with cartridge and needle) that we launched into space on Voyager probes in 1977? If you played the record, you found sounds and images that portray the incredible diversity of this world.
Maybe you heard the message from President Jimmy Carter. “This is a present from a small distant world, a token of our sounds, our science, our images, our music, our thoughts and our feelings. We are attempting to survive our time so we may live into yours. We hope someday, having solved the problems we face, to join a community of galactic civilizations. This record represents our hope and our determination, and our good will in a vast and awesome universe.”
Yes, we’d love to visit your planet — assuming it has an atmosphere — just as soon as we invent a way to get there in less than the 78,000 years it would take at 36,000 mph.
Our world, as Carter hinted, is growing crowded. Sometimes we have trouble getting along. There’s some trouble with the climate. With protecting habitat for all creatures.
So Proxima b looks to us like a promising Plan(et) B, just in case things go really south on this blue orb. (Astronomers tell us our sun will burn out in 5 billion years or so. We don’t want that to sneak up on us.)
We hope you keep an open mind about living with humans, Proximans. (Proxipersons?)
And Merry Christmases!