austin_dern (austin_dern) wrote,
austin_dern
austin_dern

Solar system brings us wisdom

Astronomers report that they've discovered a solar system that's a near duplicate of our own. Had you heard of one missing? But I suppose that sort of thing will happen, what with people moving to new places, and undoubtedly things are being unpacked in the wrong room or abandoned in boxes.

I wouldn't be surprised if the problem is those planets and moons and stuff just rolled away. If you can lose marbles to the awkward little spots under the cabinets then surely you must be able to lose planets in the same way. I assume we're still able to lose marbles to the counter. I don't have any anymore. But the same principle's bound to apply to planets rolling away. You can't tell me that those spots where one continental plate gives way to another aren't just perfect spots into which to lose things. You could roll under a subduction zone and never be seen again until you move out of the solar system.

The newly found solar system is about five thousand light-years away, so it must have got rolling away a long time ago and you can't blame anyone for not noticing it before. Worse, its star is named OGLE-2006-BLG-109L, so from that basis you have to admire the determination of the astronomers who looked there at all. Just at the OGLE-2006 I'd have suspected the star was a practical joke slipped into the List of Names of Actually Real Stars, and the BLG-109L doesn't help matters. That looks like the serial number someone made up for the Millennium Falcon. I wonder if they looked at that star on purpose, or if they were playing a prank on the newest employee, telling him or her that they were sure that star had something neat about it. And then when it turned out there was something to look at, everyone else probably felt like fools. It's no fun playing a practical joke under those conditions.

Although they say it's a duplicate to our solar system (STARE-2038-CKL-896Q, I'll call it, which will turn out to be wrong) it's actually more of a model: it's got a planet about half the size of Jupiter, about half as far away from the star as Jupiter is from the Sun; and it's got a planet about half the size of Saturn about half as far away as our Saturn is. At half-scale I imagine it looks particularly cute and youthful, and I bet this encourages surrounding full-grown solar systems to look after it protectively.

Now, wouldn't a half-scale model of the solar system be a neat thing to have? That's still not quite small enough that you could bestride Connecticut with a natural stance unless you're at one of its corners, but it's closer. Every little bit helps. I'm sure the closets on their half-size planet Earth must be packed pretty full, but otherwise there's all sorts of benefits that just happen to escape my mind right this minute. That's assuming it's a full-up working yet smaller Earth. It might just be there for display purposes and have no moving parts.

Still, the effort for a half-scale model of the solar system is hard to underestimate. You'd spend nearly all your life painting just the model Earth -- never mind really big projects like Saturn -- and it's hard enough to find time to paint a little 1/144 scale model Space Shuttle (white on top, black on bottom). And then there's all the time you spend assembling it. There must be billions of pieces, and for a while that's going to be fun, but eventually, you'll end up looking at ``oh, gee, another highway with those awful traffic line decals?'' and decide to leave it unfinished.

Maybe it just isn't finished. While the astronomers are pretty sure they have a model Jupiter and Saturn, they aren't able to tell yet whether there's an Earth. I hope they can look around to see if there are large partly-emptied boxes or unassembled pieces laying around nearby. It's an exciting time to be an astronomer.

Trivia: The Washington Monument sank about six inches between its beginning in 1848 and its completion in 1884. Source: Remaking the World: Adventures in Engineering, Henry Petroski.

Currently Reading: The Great Radio Heroes, Jim Harmon.

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