News Thoughts

Earth 2

The discovery of an Earth-like planet coincides with the UK release of a film about …an Earth-like planet.

Back in January a film called Another Earth debuted to considerable surprise and acclaim at the Sundance film festival.

The central premise involves a student (Brit Marling) and music teacher (William Mapother) whose fates intersect amidst the discovery of another planet identical to Earth.

It was one of the most acclaimed titles of the festival, winning the Alfred P. Sloan Prize and getting acquired by Fox Searchlight Pictures for distribution.

Then in February, astronomers announced that the advanced Kepler Space Telescope had helped them identify around 54 planets, five of which were “Earth-sized” and where conditions could possibly sustain life.

Yesterday, NASA revealed further developments at the first Kepler Science Conference, where they confirmed the existence of an Earth-like planet.

Named Kepler 22-b, it lies around 600 light-years away, is about 2.4 times the size of earth and is the closest confirmed planet to our own.

Although it is unclear if it is made mostly of rock, gas or liquid, the main reason it has been dubbed an “Earth 2.0” is because it revolves around a star and circles around it every 290 days.

The Wikipedia entry does the numbers:

The planet’s radius is roughly 2.4 times the radius of Earth; it is 600 light years away from Earth, in orbit around the G-type star Kepler 22.

If it has an Earth-like density (5.515 g/cm3) then it would mass 13.8 Earths while its surface gravity would be 2.4 times Earth’s.

If it has water like density (1 g/cm3) then it would mass 2.5 Earths and have a surface gravity of 0.43 times Earth’s.

The distance from Kepler-22b to its star is about 15% less than the distance from Earth to the Sun, hence its orbit is about 85% of Earth’s orbit.

One orbital revolution around its star takes 289.9 days.

The light output of Kepler-22b’s star is about 25% less than that of the Sun.

Another Earth opened in the US at selected cinemas during the summer and got released on Blu-ray and DVD there last week.

It opens in UK cinemas this week and in an age where online agencies are desperately trying to drum up interest with phony virals, here is a genuine one that has fallen right into their lap with perfect timing.

IndieWire recently hosted a deleted scene from the film which shows a news clip of the discovery and there is another scene where Brit Marling’s character looks up the website for a chance to travel to Earth 2:

This isn’t possible in real life yet as 600 million light years presents a challenge for even the fastest rocket.

That said, this year did see the basic foundation of modern physics rocked by two experiments at CERN, which appeared to demonstrate that neutrinos may travel faster than light, even though some later cast doubt on that.

What this shows is that life can imitate art, as our technical realities catch up with our creative fantasies.

Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey seemed to predict the iPad and Siri, The Truman Show predicted the rise of reality TV in the 2000s and Minority Report foresaw multi-touch computing and the Kinect.

In terms of timing Another Earth seems spooky, but there are other films which had news stories dovetail with their release.

The China Syndrome (1979) – a drama about an accident at a nuclear power plant – was released on March 16th 1979, just 12 days before the Three Mile Island nuclear accident in Dauphin County, Pennsylvania.

In the film, someone actually says that the China Syndrome would render “an area the size of Pennsylvania” permanently uninhabitable.

John Frankenheimer made two political thrillers in the early 1960s – The Manchurian Candidate (1962) and Seven Days in May (1964) – which had creepy parallels with the Kennedy assassination and the Cuban missile crisis.

Wag the Dog (1997) – a satire about a spin doctor trying to cover up a presidential affair – opened just one month before the Lewinsky scandal blew up in January 1998.

Lars Von Trier’s Melancholia, which opened earlier this year, also featured a premise where there was another planet heading towards earth.

So whilst there are precedents, the news of another ‘earth’ in the same week Another Earth actually opens in the UK seems like viral marketing from a superior alien intelligence.

> Another Earth
> More about Kepler 22-b at Wikipedia
> Follow director Mike Cahill and actress-writer Brit Marling on Twitter