Summer Homes ~ June 17, 2005

A colleague of mine when I was in the Navy used to do a joking thing about answering a telephone at a summer resort. He’d say, “Ajax Summer Home, som’er home and som’er not.” In the Northern Hemisphere we stand on the edge of the Sun’s appearance at the Tropic of Cancer on the 21st. For those Down Under, this same combination of geometry between Earth and the Sun marks the low point of light, or the first day of winter. But we know this. It happens every year. So?

Philosophers of the past longingly gazed into night skies asking one another what the odds were that other bodies in space could support life as does Earth. The answer, if one works the odds would state, “Som’er home, som’er not.” Since 1995 astronomers located planets around other stars. This began with the star 51 Peg, located in Pisces. Now, there are 147 confirmed planets known to be around other stars. Several of these stars sport multiple planets. Some of these stars are neutron stars, more or less stellar corpses of what once burned as a radiant sun. These we assume could not support life. Another fly in the ointment of other life origin comes from the fact that most of the planets observed are larger, thus generally gaseous like Jupiter or Uranus and they are not likely candidates for life - not carbon-based life anyway. Of course, the final snare points out that all these assumptions work with the idea that life would be like us and what we have on our planet. After all, God did create us in his image, hopefully not from narcissism or a lack of cosmic mirrors.

Australian astronomers concluded there are something like 400 billion stars in the Milky Way alone, that’s only one galaxy. The total assumed runs at 70 sextillion stars plus or minus a couple. That’s a 7 followed by 22 zeros. What odds of life exist in that number of stars? To dust the stardust off an aged, tired joke - astronomical.

Just this week astronomers revealed their awareness of a planet assumed to be more hard core because of its smaller size. The lack of resultant gravity keeps the atmosphere clear of some of the gases. Does the planet support life? It’s a hot planet and not orbiting a viable star. The orbit runs regulated by a neutron star, not assumed to render the sunshine necessary for living things. But then again, we don’t know.

The “star” here is Gliese 876. This M4 V spectral class star is only a third the size of our Sun. But for years it’s been known to have planets. Planet Gliese 876 b maintains a mass of 1.89 times that of Jupiter and orbits the core in 61.02 days. Gliese 876 c is 0.56 the mass of Jupiter and whips about the gravitational nucleus in 30.1 days. The new entry, Gliese 876 d, appears as the runt of the litter thus far weighing in at only 0.023 the mass of Jupiter. “d” makes up for it in speed, though, maintaining a revolution of 1.94 days. Just think how old you’d be if you lived on that planet (this intended for all of you gone amuck with the life expectancy e-mail that I’ve received about fifty times this past week).

Astrologically, all these planets, because of our distant vantage of 4.72 parsecs (one parsec equals 3.26 light years), appear conjunct the star. Gliese 876 can be found at 9 Pisces 10 (epoch 2000.0), just south of the ecliptic. Wait! That’s about where Uranus hangs now, right? Yep. Within about a degree and a half or so. Given this “discovery” has been in the works for a spell, it all fits nicely.

Reviewing for a moment, the first extra-solar planet discovered appeared in Pisces. Now we have the first planet we believe to be solid enough to sustain something that resembles life though the planet is probably four to eight times hotter than Phoenix in the summer. And we observe Uranus there. One might assume a rather bohemian planetary culture if our mythical metaphors mix fluidly. What is the point of all this to each us in our mundane existence on Earth in this reportedly troubled time?

Perhaps the message observes the need for acceptance. Life can theoretically exist on “d,” but not life as we know it. The consciousness of the Sith Ants promulgated by the last Star Wars film reminds us of something widely discussed following the first Star Wars way back before we held any conscious awareness of any planet outside our solar system. All the critters we observed might have prepared us for looking at what other life might be like without assuming that God created all creatures in his likeness, or like we look. What about messages of judging that which stands outside our tiny spheres of consciousness? How open are we? Truly, we’ll find out. Pluto does near the Galactic Center and will make that brilliant awakening tour during 2007; Uranus squares this insightful nucleus in 2010. Great portals of awareness intend to open and support a magnificent holistic understanding of the way it all works. This is just the tip of a hot planet in space in the summer heat.

Of course to get there, Gliese d and others suggest opening an embrace to possibilities, life forms, cultures and consciousness that exceed our ability to comprehend. For starters consider we are not alone. When we look out into space, it’s a huge som’er home. Just think, other life forms look back at us with similar expectation. And here on this planet, certainly we know, som’er home and som’re not.