Fun Space Fact #1: Though we’ve found many a solar system out there beyond the edges of our dear Sol, many other stars surrounded by a whirling skirt of planets, all these systems have had far fewer planets than our own.
Fun Space Fact #2: That isn’t the case anymore.
That’s right. Out there, circling a star oh-so-cleverly named HD 10180, there are nine planets. Which breaks the current solar system planet record, a record which previously belonged to our 8-planet system.
In fact, it was previously believed that the HD 10180 system had a mere seven planets, but thanks to re-evaluation by the High Accuracy Radial Velocity Planet Searcher (HARPS), it seems ol’ HD 10180 has two more little planets hanging out with it.
I guess HD 10180 is the most popular girl in school, and Sol is yesterday’s news. Too bad, baby.
HD 10180 is about 130 light years from us, which scientists say is “not within reach of foreseeable human space travel,” but hell, 1 light year isn’t within reach of foreseeable human space travel, so what’s another 129 light years, eh? Still, in terms of space distances, that’s really not that far away. A few interstellar blocks, as it were.
So, I guess it’s like that quiet, bookish girl with the glasses and the ponytail who lives down the street from the hot cheerleader (and probably used to be best friends with her when they were young, before social pressures forced them apart, because that’s how the world works in crappy teen films) suddenly discovered contacts and makeup and a new hairstyle and is now the hottest girl in the school. And everyone wants to be her prom date and poor Sol is left a bleach-blonde, sniveling wreck without the crown or the quarterback boyfriend.
Still, Sol can at least lift her tear-streaked face up and spit on HD 10180 and haughtily declare that at least she has a life-sustaining planet, unlike that suddenly attractive hussy. HD 10180 might sport two super-Earth planets, but both of them have orbits that place them much closer to their sun than our own Earth is, making those super-Earths too hot to sustain liquid water (and, likely, life as we know it). And despite the fact that these super-Earths are larger than our own little blue dot, they are some of the smallest planets to be found outside our own solar system.
Which begs the question… if we were able to downgrade Pluto because it was too small to be considered a “real” planet, when the time comes and we manage interstellar travel and our own little Earth seems tiny and insignificant in size compared to all those giants out there, will we be able to so heartlessly slash its status? And if we can’t, will it be based solely on the sentimental ideas that its life-sustaining properties and the fact that it’s humanity’s homeworld give it some kind of… je ne sais quoi that places it above other little rocky worlds? And if we do that, are we being true to the objective reality painted by science?
If we could do it to Pluto, could we do it to us?
I’m just saying.