Thursday, January 26, 2006

Terraforming the news

"So you're going to London?," I asked a colleague from Nanjing when I was there a couple of years back.

"Yes. Next week," she said. It was to be her first trip outside China and she feels a bit nervous.

"Don't worry about it. London's just like Nanjing," I said. British colleague looks up from his keyboard, wide-eyed. "They're both cities," I continued, deadpan. "Yes, and there's people in it," Brit bloke joins in. Nanjing colleague didn't get it, though. Language barrier. Or is it humor barrier? Maybe they laugh at different things and deadpan attempts at humor isn't one of them. Anyway...

I was reminded of this story by a news item I read that says scientists using the microlensing technique have found the smallest Earth-like planet outside our solar system. "An international team of astronomers has found the smallest Earth-like planet yet outside our Solar System." Earth-like! That means there are trees in it, too. And beaches. And weirdos trying to be the next American idol. Holy mother of pearl! I read the full article.

Turns out the planet, with the unlikely name of OGLE-2005-BLG-390Lb, is five times the earth's mass, and is so cold you'd see your words, in bold-face Times Roman, fall frozen on the ground the moment they leave your mouth when you speak. The article later admits, rather sheepishly since it knows it's guilty of sucking us in, that the planet "may therefore resemble a more massive version of Pluto." So it's not so Earth-like at all, is it? It's just a cheap publicity stunt to get us interested, eh? What, funding for more research running low? Shame.

"We found a planet! And it's just like earth!"

"No kidding."

"Yes. It's a planet, too."

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