outside in the garden
Friday, June 14, 2002
Outside, well beyond the garden
Astronomers see a planetary system similar to that of Earth 41 light years away. That sounds pretty close, but one of today's spaceships would take over a million years to get there! The article in today's NY Times said scientists were excited to find it even has a planet like Jupiter.
The host star of the planetary system, 55 Cancri, is much like the Sun in age and size. It has a newly detected planet that resembles Jupiter in mass and, of greater importance, has an orbit almost the same as Jupiter's.
In the dynamics of the solar system, Jupiter is pivotal in setting up conditions conducive to life on Earth.
They dont tell you why its important until much later in the story: That big planet on the outer edge of the solar system deflects most of the asteroid and comet bombardment away from the smaller inner planets.
Jupiter deflected the heaviest asteroid and comet bombardment away from the inner solar system, particularly the "habitable zone," where conditions were most suitable for life. The zone encompasses Earth and possibly Mars.
Let's go there in a couple of years, when air travel has improved... :-)