Thursday, October 31, 2013

Lava planet, and the trope of the certain nature of death/entropy.

The astronomy world (and my facebook feed) was all atwitter today regarding the discovery of a new world. Kepler-78B is 400 lightyears away, and possesses extreme temperature conditions and a surface composed of molten rock (lava) due to its miniscule distance from its sun. In fact, it is so close to its sun that it completes its orbit completely in about 8.5 earth hours.

But it is this proximity that also signs the planet's death warrant. Like a terminal patient, this proximal orbit will, according to astronomers, eventually cause the planet to be drawn towards and eventually become engulfed by the sun.

This planetary fate stirs many emotions in me as a writer of speculative fiction. Something about situations of certain death stir within me feelings of the inevitability of not only my own demise, but also of the universe itself. You can't beat entropy.

This concept is far from a novelty in science fiction. Isaac Asimov wrote one of the most famous treatments of the certain death of the universe due to entropy, in a story titled The Last Question. This story, and its twist ending, is my single all-time favorite science fiction story.

I like stories like this because although there is something undoubtedly scary about certain doom, entropy or human mortality, there is also beauty. The universe, and indeed life itself, are spectacular, precious and limited. Instead of fearing inevitable demise, use it as an opportunity to cherish what you do have.

Back to Kepler-78B, I wish the planet well and sincerely hope that it can escape its unhappy fate. Hopefully, whatever unusual form of life is living amid the lava of that world shares this sentiment and wishes us well amid our own inevitable demise.

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