Monday, 22 November 2100
That morning, Noordwijk residents, a small and quiet town in the Netherlands, woke up by the pandemonium caused by a large group of journalists gathered at the European Space Agency’s headquarter. They were shadowed by scads of uniformed police officers. News trucks, each bearing the logo of their agency, with their satellite dishes opened and ready to send their reports back to their head office, clotted the streets surrounding the space agency. Excluding sports and fashion news channels, there were representatives from almost all news agencies around the globe. No one wanted to lose this important announcement by the European Space Agency.
Finally, at 8:30 AM, the space agency’s doors opened, and through tight security measures, the journalists were allowed into the building. Security officers were instructed to direct journalists and cameramen to the allocated place in the building’s large amphitheater.
Again, as expected, the four prominent news agencies, which had offices in most countries, the powerful and wealthy agencies that they literally were in control of news broadcasting, were positioned in the front row close to the temporarily erected large podium. Smaller and less known or newly established newsgroups were placed at the amphitheater’s bottom end or left outside of the building as the salon became full.
The arena’s air was stalled and heavy. The air conditions couldn’t cope with the number of attendees. The atmosphere was filled with a loud buzz, as spectators asked each other about the nature of the European Space Agency’s announcement. The agency was tight lip and kept the press release, whatever it was, secret up to that day. Spectators all were in the dark, but it didn’t keep their wild imaginations contained. Each of them had his own opinion and speculation, but none were based on any fact. The only tangible thing they knew was the agency had an important announcement. What was the news? Did they encounter aliens? Did something happen to their astronauts on the surface of the moon or Mars? And many other similar wild speculations.
Finally, after a long time waiting, the door opened, and Leo Charpentier, the head of the European Space Agency, and Dr. Lisa Larsson, an astrobiologist and the head of the agency’s planetary science division, walked on the large podium. By their arrival, everyone stopped talking, and the loud noise of the crowd’s chatter was instantaneously replaced by a deafening silence. The only sound echoing in the large arena was the click-clack thud of Dr. Larsson’s footsteps, caused by her high heels touching the podium’s polished wooden surface on each step she took.
Leo Charpentier stepped closer to the microphones, which resembled a large bunch of colorful mushrooms growing out of the lectern’s wooden surface. After briefly observing the large group of spectators, mainly journalists and cameramen from various news agencies, he said, ‘Good morning, everyone.’ Then he briefly looked at his smartwatch, which was showing 11:50 AM. Then he added, ‘Rather, I should say, good afternoon.’
A burst of soft laughter filled the arena’s air.
‘I apologize for keeping you waiting.’ Then he sipped some water from the pet bottle that was left on the podium and continued. ‘I know, you are all asking yourself what the European Space Agency’s announcement is, and some of you have already made your guesses. In last night’s Four Corners program, I am sure everyone is familiar with the program.’
Someone interrupted his speech and curtly shouted, ‘we know Four Corners.’
Leo ignored the rude comment and continued, ‘I am sure you all know the Four corners, but I am explaining for our spectators who are watching us remotely, from the sanctuary of their homes or from their workplaces.’ He stopped and again observed the sizeable crowd in that large salon. They were all silently staring at him. Their gaze made him uncomfortable. ‘Yes, in Four Corners show Laura Patterson, which you are all familiar with her face and work, speculated that our astronauts on Mars are in danger.’ After a momentary pause, he resumed, ‘which is not true. All our astronauts on Mars are safe and sound, and the business there is as usual. So, you might ask, what is our big announcement?’ He scanned the crowd. He could see the frustration and impatience in their faces. They all waited long for the agency’s announcement. He knew he should not keep them any longer. After clearing his chest, he stated, ‘about twenty-five years ago, European Space Agency launched an unmanned space probe, the Endeavor, to Proxima Centauri b, the closest Earth-like exoplanet to us. This exoplanet is orbiting a red dwarf star, Proxima Centauri, which is 4.25 light-years away from us. Last week we received the first patch of data from the Endeavor. It has safely arrived at the orbit of the planet.’
The large amphitheater suddenly filled with loud applause and followed by the spectators’ chatter. They barely could hear the last part of Charpentier’s speech.
Leo raised his voice and added, ‘it took nearly twenty years for Endeavor, which is the first man-made spacecraft able to reach the top velocity of a quarter of the light speed, to reach our closest exoplanet.’ Charpentier’s last part of speech was lost in the salon’s mayhem. The murmur of the spectators filled the arena’s atmosphere. They were all excited about the news and wanted to know more about the received data. Simultaneously, a lot of hands raised up to ask their questions.
Leo raised his hand and calmed the crowd down. ‘Please, let us finish what we have to say. Then you will have time to ask your questions. I ask Dr. Larsson, our top scientist, the head of the planetary science division and the Endeavor project, to give you further information. Dr. Larsson, please.’ He invited his colleague toward the stand.
Lisa stood on the podium, and after a moment of silence observing her audience, she started, ‘Greetings. Thank you to all who are here and those who are watching us remotely. As Mr. Charpentier had mentioned. Our unmanned space probe, Endeavor, around four and a half years ago, reached the exoplanet Proxima Centauri b, and since then, it has been sending valuable information from the planet’s orbit. And we have just received the first batch of the information.’
A young journalist interrupted her and asked, ‘If the spaceship reached the planet about four and a half years ago, why are you making this information public now?’
Lisa looked at him with disbelieve and responded, ‘because we just received the first batch of the information last week.’
‘Why last week?’ He asked again. His question turned many faces toward him.
‘May I ask your name and the news agency you work for, sir?’
‘James Queen from community science news.’ He promptly answered.
‘Mr. Queen, I should remind you that the Proxima Centauri b is about 4.25 light-years away from us. It means it takes 4.25 years for light to travel from there to Earth and vice versa. Therefore, we had to wait that long to receive the first batch of information Endeavor sent us on its arrival at the planet’s orbit.’
The young journalist realized his grave mistake and melted away by shame. He just learned how stupid his question was. By asking that silly question, he made a fool of himself in front of his colleagues and the people who watched this news conference live on their TVs and smart devices.
Lisa continued, ‘and the interesting part is that the received information shows that the planet has an Earth-like environment and ecosystem.’ She added. Then, with the push of a key on her tablet, a satellite picture projected on the big white screen hanged from the ceiling. ‘At first glance, this picture looks like a satellite picture from Amazon forest. Instead, this picture was taken by the Endeavor, from a region on the equator of the Proxima Centauri b.’ Then she changed the picture on the big screen with a new image showing the entire planet. ‘The previous picture was from this region of the planet.’ She pointed at a small square on the planet’s equator by an arrow-like cursor.
The announcement caused an uproar of excitement in the arena. It was for the very first-time humanity found an earth-like planet with complex life forms. It was just slightly over a decade before when scientists found simple life forms on the surface of Mars and deep liquid oceans of Europa, the smallest of four Galilean moons orbiting the gas giant Jupiter. But the life on Proxima Centauri b looked complex and very similar to what was on the Earth. It opened the possibility of facing extraterrestrial intelligent life forms on this exoplanet. Thrilled reporters began exchanging information with their agencies and give them a heads up. They all raised their hands up. The waving hands imitated the waves of an angry sea during a storm. They had millions of questions to ask.
‘You, sir, standing in the front, in the blue jacket, what is your question?’ Lisa asked.
‘Dr. Larsson, I am Peter Jenkins, from Globe News. Have Endeavor faced any intelligent life form there on this planet?’
‘Mr. Jenkins, we have just received a week’s worth of information, which we are still analyzing. But so far, there has been no sign of technology on the orbit and the surface of the planet.’
‘Sorry, interrupting you, doctor. Do you mean there isn’t any intelligent being on Proxima?’
‘Proxima Centaury b.’ She corrected him. ‘Mr. Jenkins, we are at the beginning of our quest. We had just received a week’s load of data. The first week when Endeavor arrived at the planet’s orbit. And believe me, we are inundated with the volume of the information. Our team is assessing the data we already have on our hands, and every minute we receive more and more information. We are slow in assessing the received data because we don’t want to miss anything. Back to your question, Mr. Jerkins, Endeavor hasn’t picked up any trace of technology on the orbit and the surface of Proxima Centaury b yet.’
‘Dr. Larsson, are you saying that there is no intelligent being on the planet?’
‘The only thing I can say with the limited knowledge of us is that either there is no intelligent being living on the surface of the Proxima Centaury b, or if they are, they live in the pre-industrial era. Next question?’ She looked at the crowd and pointed at a stylish reporter in a bright red color dress shined out of her colleagues who wore plain color clothing. ‘You ma’am, in a beautiful red dress. What is your question?’
‘Thank you, doctor. I am Naomi Ito from NHK. If there are intelligent beings on the surface of Proxima Centaury b, how are you going to contact them?’
‘This is a good question. Endeavor is an orbital probe and cannot land on the planet’s surface. And if the inhabitants of the planet live in the pre-industrial era, we don’t have the means of contacting them. They might never notice Endeavor on the orbit of their planet. It can easily be mistaken as another star in the night sky.’ Lisa answered.
‘So, how can we contact them?’ Naomi asked.
‘We can send another spaceship with landing capabilities. But it may not happen soon. Even if one day we send a spaceship there, we should not rush in contacting indigenous communities on the surface of the planet.’ Lisa commented.
‘Doctor, can I ask why we should be cautious in contacting these aliens?’ Naomi asked.
‘What do you think would happen if a spaceship had landed in a tenth-century village on Earth?’
‘I guess it would scare them.’ Naomi answered.
‘Exactly. The question is, should we contact a technologically primitive alien race or not? We can cause lots of issues. They can see us as gods or, worse, as evil and demons. We can permanently change the direction of their social evolution.’
‘I think so.’ Naomi agreed. ‘Thank you, Dr. Larsson.’
Lisa pointed to another journalist, a young man in a neat formal dress, who stood at the back of the amphitheater, as said, ‘you sir, in a formal black suit. What is your question?’
‘Thank you, doctor. I am Mahmood Jaber Al Nesari from Al Jazeera. What is the prospect of colonizing Proxima Centaury b?’
‘Um…, I didn’t expect this question. I believe we will eventually spread in space, but not in our lifetime. With our current technology, it is near impossible.’ Lisa answered.
‘But, doctor, we have already colonized the moon and Mars.’ He responded.
‘If you call a few research stations with a few hundred personnel in them colonization, yes, we have already colonized the moon and Mars. But colonization means sending a group of people to a new place, or in this case a new planet, to start a new life, to live and prosper independently. Our research stations on the moon and Mars depend entirely on the supplies they receive from the Earth. Another issue is the distance. Compared to Proxima Centaury b, the moon and Mars are very close to us. With the top velocity of a quarter of the light speed, it took almost twenty years for Endeavor to reach there. If we build a spaceship able to travel with a quarter of the light speed, this means the settlers have to be over twenty years, in commute until they reach Proxima Centaury b. Just imagine the size of the supply we have to put in their ship, a sufficient amount of food, water, oxygen, medicine to last for twenty years’ journey, plus the other things and the machinery they need to start their life on the new planet. Imagine the size of the spaceship to accommodate the settlers and their stuff.’ She paused momentarily, ‘we still don’t know much about the impact of long-term exposure to cosmic radiation or zero gravity on the human body. In brief, we don’t have the technology to send people, either scientists or settlers, to Proxima Centaury b.’ She said and looked at the crowd of journalists who desperately wanted to ask their questions.
Leo Charpentier once more stepped forward and said, ‘we have already prepared a leaflet, with a Q & A, covering all questions you might have in your mind. We had already sent them to your email addresses. Please look at it first, and if you still have a question that is not mentioned in that leaflet, you are welcome to contact us, preferably through the link provided at the end of the leaflet. We are happy to answer all your questions. For our viewers who are watching this new conference live from their smart devices, you can also download the leaflet on our website. Thank you.’
That night, the news of finding an earth-like planet with complex life forms and its pictures, courtesy of the European Space Agency, circulated on all media channels. Though it was against their trend, entertainment channels also stopped their usual programs and covered this unique news.
At 18:00 GMT, people from all corners of the planet tuned on the Global network, the largest news broadcasting agency, to learn about the new exoplanet’s latest development. After reading that important news, the newscaster emotionally added, ‘the European Space Agency’s announcement changed our perspective about the universe forever. The 22nd of November 2100 marked the most significant day in human history. The day humanity found the first Earth-like exoplanet, a planet home to complex life forms-the Earth II. The day we find the answer to the most elusive question we have asked for millenniums, are we alone? We are not alone, and there must be more planets like Earth scattered around the Milky Way galaxy and even more in the universe.’
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