Science fiction is a revered literary genre. Not many can write it and only a few can write it well. Personally, I struggle to come to terms with the idea of fantasy. I cannot imagine what many authors try to construct when they write a scientific fantasy. I try to hang onto trace amounts of commonsense I possess when I read/watch fiction. Unfortunately, I have not read even some of the best science fiction and that would include Carl Sagan’s Cosmos. By general standards, it wouldn’t be fair to consider that as fiction. However, from what I could remember from the episodes I had watched from the famous video series based on the book, it qualifies as fiction in my book. I still remember a scene where a boy travels on a scooter close to the speed of light and experiences bizarre changes in time. Fortunately, I learnt to admire Carl Sagan very early in my life.
Dr Sagan dreamed of watching 400 million suns (the milky way) rising on the eastern horizon and I am sure he would have jumped to the moon had he seen what I am going to describe here.
Planets outside our solar system, those orbiting other stars, also called as ‘Extra solar planets’ have been in the reckoning for several years. Astronomers have discovered several super-duper giant planets in the universe, some twice as large as Jupiter. Gas giants are not the place for any life forms, as we know. The good news is that recently a bunch of new earth like, rocky, extra solar planets have been discovered and their physical properties are reliably estimated.
Earth is an exception in the solar system not only for obvious reasons but also in not having a Greek name, although people do use the Greek word ‘Gaia’ (name of a Greek goddess) to refer to it with a special meaning and context. Sadly, extra solar planets don’t come with glamorous Greek names. Nonetheless, at least one of them labelled as GJ1214b is a super-earth, with a size three times and a mass seven times that of our Earth. Based on empirical data, it is hypothesized that GJ1214b is made of liquid water and is supposed to have a thin depleting atmosphere made up of hydrogen and helium. It orbits around a 7 billion year old dwarf star, which has a mass 1/10th that of our Sun. Many more fascinating facts about such planets are being added to a growing list as I write here.
Going back to their names, if I were given a chance I would call an extra solar super-earth as a ‘Doddi’. The reasons are the following,
- The word ‘Doddi’ is a Kannada word originating from another Kannada word called ‘dodda’ (meaning ‘big’). It serves as an alternative to the prefix ‘Super’.(Plural form of ‘Doddi’ is ‘Doddis’)
- The word ‘Doddi’ is feminine. Earth is considered to be a female. Any extra solar super earth should also be a female.
- The word ‘Doddi’ also crudely refers to an open-wild place in rural Karnataka (India). It is always placed outside a house (Extra terrestrial).
There is one more reason why the word ‘Doddi’ is appropriate here. I shall touch upon that at the end.
The reason Carl Sagan would have been excited is the fact that planets like GJ1214b water the idea of a habitable universe.
Recently, I participated in an online survey for potential visitors to an exhibition on ‘Exploring Space‘ to be organized by the American Museum of Natural History. The survey asked the participant to rate on a scale of 1 to 5, how interested s/he would be in having some suggested topics explored in this exhibition (with 1 being extremely interested and 5 being not at all interested). Among the questions asked, the following are relevant here,
- A possible manned mission within the next decade that would potentially take humans a million miles from Earth and back within 30 days
- Missions in the distant future to land humans on Mars to set up colonies to live there
- Theoretical manned missions within the next 500 years to colonize space, even beyond our own solar system
Will we be satisfied with just knowing the existence of Doddis or will we venture into a voyage towards them?
Economists, activists and policy makers may disagree with an idea of manned space mission but Astronomers would continue to say “never say never”. There is some merit in the argument that by aiming for a human space mission we would be indirectly increasing the chances of successful unmanned space explorations.
There is no doubt that future unmanned missions (100 years from now?) to Doddis would tell us more about our own existence. By then, hopefully the earth we now have will still remain habitable. I think in the heart of his heart Carl Sagan knew the importance of what we have and where we are. We should remember that.
On a lighter note, if manned space missions do become affordable in the future, then travelling between the Earth and other Doddis might become a routine. In Kannada, the word Doddi also refers to a place that has a remote/quick access when one needs go there. You know what it is…