Like all MMOs, a lot of STO players get distracted by things like DPS and currency-grinding. But I also know there are a lot of players who play because it’s Star Trek, and all the trappings that make Star Trek such a beloved franchise. I would love to be able to fly around the galaxy, to boldly go where no one has gone before, just for the sheer sense of wonderment of exploring and discovering new things. For better or for worse, STO has never been able to accomplish that satisfactorily, but that’s an inherent problem of the MMO environment rather than an issue with STO game design.
It’s funny that sometimes, you can find wonder in real-life that you can’t find in a game that’s designed to fulfill fantasies.
For the longest time when I’m asked the “If you have one wish” question, my unrealistic yet sincerest answer is (no, it’s not World Peace) and has always been this: “In my lifetime, for humanity to obtain proof that extraterrestrial life exists.” I just really, really, really want to know. This may well be the reason why I’m fascinated by Science Fiction that explore the unknown, but decidedly less so with post-Apocalyptic SF settings or other genres (such as Fantasy). Obviously I enjoy Star Trek, but some of my favorite movies and TV shows have been Jodie Foster’s “Contact”, “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”, and BBC’s docufiction “Alien Planet”, to just cite a few. Even if it’s so unlikely that we’ll find extraterrestrial life in the near future, speculating what they might be like still fires my imagination and curiosity.
So imagine my excitement at the recent announcement of Project Breakthrough Listen.
For the first time in history, significant funds are funneled into a concerted effort to “listen” to alien messages, with some of the most well-known luminaries in the scientific community participating. A few names should be familiar to most: Frank Drake, founder of SETI (Search for extraterrestrial intelligence), and Geoff Marcy, astronomist well-known for discovering a great many exoplanets, are two of the project leads, and of course everyone knows Stephen Hawking. The project revolves around dedicating a lot more observation time of two major radio telescopes, the Green Bank Observatory in West Virginia and the Parkes Observatory in Australia, to the search for alien signals. As Hawking said at the project’s public launch: “In an infinite Universe, there must be other life. There is no bigger question. It is time to commit to finding the answer.”
A man after my own heart.
Funded by Russian billionaire Yuri Milner for 10 years, at a $100 Million (he has even said he would continue funding the project if nothing turns up in the first 10 years). He estimates Breakthrough Listen will generate as much data in a single day as other SETI programs have previously generated in a year. If this estimate is true, we have just accelerated our search for alien life by a factor of 365. All of a sudden, it feels like we actually have a chance of finding something.
Hot on the heels of this news, last week NASA announced the discovery of Kepler-452b, via the Kepler space telescope. This is evidently the closest thing to Earth that NASA has found so far (but by no means the only one — they’ve found thousands of potential candidate planets). It orbits a sun much older than ours, 1.400 light years away from us. Kepler-452b lies within the star’s hospitable zone for 6 billion years — longer than Earth has been within our own sun’s H-zone, and is about 60% larger than Earth. Because of its size, NASA scientists predict it has a rocky core, which is critical to holding an atmosphere for life to appear. It’ll take decades for research to continue and more information to surface, but I have to admit this is exciting news.
I am totally geeking out on these recent news, but for once Real Science just trumped Science Fiction. Imagine the day when we can actually confirm extraterrestrial life, it’s going to so fundamentally change how we see ourselves as a species. It will impact everything we do, socio-economics, geopolitical divisions, religions and faith, and yes, even Science Fiction and Star Trek. Once again, I hope I live to see that day.