Life — somewhere out there?
Could there be life elsewhere in the universe?
In the latest sign that the answer might be yes, NASA has discovered 54 possible planets outside our solar system whose distance from their respective suns could make them habitable. These likely planets, spied by the orbiting Kepler telescope in just a year of looking, occupy a kind of planetary Golidlocks zone: not too hot and not too cold.
It will take a lot more technology to figure out whether there really is life on these places, but of course what everyone wants to know is whether there is intelligent life in outer space.
Will we someday find space creatures who sit in traffic jams or engage in opaque tribal feuds or crave 900-calorie coffees? Will the folks in a particularly affluent sector of Kepler 10b need a financial control board to take over the public purse strings? Will their officials sue one another - at taxpayer expense - over the closing of a nursing home?
We can only hope that if there is intelligent life out there, it will be smart enough to avoid the kind of troubles we get ourselves into here on Earth. Then again, making a mess of things may well be the most reliable sign of intelligence. "As a general rule," the historian Charles R. Morris wrote in a book about the near-collapse of Earth's financial system, "only the very smartest people can make truly catastrophic mistakes."