… an ancient shrimp thought to have become extinct 50 million years ago…
Science fiction had long imagined “anaerobic” creatures that could live without oxygen. A team sampling the deep Mediterranean found three such species. These creatures, each the size of a pin head, live their entire lives hidden in sediment on the seafloor without oxygen.
The planet is tidally locked to the star, meaning that one side is always facing the star and basking in perpetual daylight, while the side facing away from the star is in perpetual darkness. One effect of this is to stabilize the planet’s surface climates, according to Vogt. The most habitable zone on the planet’s surface would be the line between shadow and light (known as the “terminator”), with surface temperatures decreasing toward the dark side and increasing toward the light side.
“Any emerging life forms would have a wide range of stable climates to choose from and to evolve around, depending on their longitude,” Vogt said.
The researchers estimate that the average surface temperature of the planet is between -24 and 10 degrees Fahrenheit (-31 to -12 degrees Celsius). Actual temperatures would range from blazing hot on the side facing the star to freezing cold on the dark side.
If Gliese 581g has a rocky composition similar to the Earth’s, its diameter would be about 1.2 to 1.4 times that of the Earth. The surface gravity would be about the same or slightly higher than Earth’s, so that a person could easily walk upright on the planet, Vogt said.
Walking down that path, I think that Peter is morally permitted to choose a career in science and a relationship with Mary Jane over a career as the wallcrawler. Most of us take seriously the importance of having the freedom to choose among various life pursuits. Given my argumentative inclinations, I might have made a great prosecutor and spent decades putting away guilty parties, perhaps some who otherwise would have walked and caused more harm. I chose education instead, as a professional philosopher. I like to think I’m doing good, but let’s suppose it’s not as much good as I would have done as a prosecutor. Am I doing something wrong by remaining a philosopher, then? It sure doesn’t seem so. Just as we think there is moral importance to bringing about good, we also think there is moral value to having the choice as far as what good we want to bring about, and how much sacrifice we’re willing to make in order to bring about that good.
Of course, having superpowers and not using them (or at least not using them as a superhero) may not be immoral, but it’s certainly less exciting. Except when Iron Man decides to dance:
But ultimately, these predictions are important because they provide testable cases for how well we understand the process of scientific discovery. If we can quantify the path of discovery well enough, then we should be able to predict its future path, and not simply characterize the shape of past discovery. By making such predictions, we, as scientists, are making the sorts of testable predictions that are important for developing models and mathematical theories of how science is done. The predictions then are the way that the science of science, or scientometrics, can move forward. And understanding how science is done can help us better move toward continuing progress in increasing our knowledge.
I have an essay in the Ideas section of the Boston Globe this weekend, entitled The Me-Sized Universe, about how to bridge the gap between the scale of the universe and the scale within which humans exist. It’s an exploration of some fun facts about the cosmos that are within our grasp and that don’t threaten to overwhelm us too much.