In “Hot on Trail of ‘Just Right’ Far-Off Planet” (New York Times, December 5, 2011), Dennis Overbye reports,
At least four times in the last few years, astronomers have announced they have found planets orbiting other stars in the sweet spot known as the habitable zone — not too hot, not too cold — where water and thus perhaps life are possible. In short, a so-called Goldilocks planet fit to be inhabited by the biochemical likes of us.
None of these claims are without controversy, but astronomers who are making discoveries with NASA’s Kepler spacecraft are meeting next week in California to review the first two years of their quest, which seems tantalizingly close to hitting pay dirt.
In other words, we are still waiting for Pay Dirt.
Some scientists deplore the emphasis on animals like us, saying it is hopelessly parochial and unimaginative — the scientific equivalent of the drunk searching for his car keys under a street light because that’s where the light is.
That seems to be this week’s line.
The analogy is faulty, of course. The drunk knows that the keys exist and that he must have dropped them somewhere in the area. Looking for “life” without specifications is like seeking something that can’t be described, somewhere – and you will know it when you see it. Good luck with that.
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