Water, water everywhere…

Oh God – they’re at it again!

I lose patience. This week astronomers announced they had found water on another planet. It’s a very important discovery, they tell us. We’re going to learn a lot.

Like… how to construct a shower that runs at a constant temperature without wild, genital‑numbing fluctuations; or how to keep next door’s cat from peeing on the geraniums.

No? Silly me.         

They don’t actually tell us what we’re going to learn that’s so important. They probably have some problems with that – because this planet they’re talking about it 63 light years away, or in real terms, 598,500,000,000,000 kilometres.

Pioneer 10, the rocket that was shot off to Jupiter, reached 51,840km/h. This means that if we all piled into the fastest machine on the planet (assuming it could handle the payload of six billion people) we could be there in 1,317,938 years.

Naturally, say the astronomers, we’re not planning to go there. What’s so exciting is that if we can spot water on this one, we can spot water on planets that are closer and that we can reach in more reasonable time frames…

They don’t define ‘more reasonable’. I’ve already written and told them that in my case that would be three hours, otherwise I’ll be desperate for a wee.

But what are they thinking of! If I were one of these astronomers I’d consider it my duty for the protection of the entire universe to chuck this knowledge in the duck pond.

We already have a planet with water on it – and we can’t even manage that. We have climate change, drought, water shortages and it’s getting worse. Are we really suggesting that the solution is to go somewhere else that’s handy, to stuff up things there, too!

(And by the way, we don’t have a water shortage. There’s exactly the same amount of water on the planet that there was when dinosaurs were drinking it – we just don’t have it in the right places, is all).

And forgetting about the incredibly exciting news that somewhere wildly beyond our comprehension there is another place with water, why are we doing this?

People are dying for lack of water on the planet we’ve got. Isn’t that a more pressing need?

I’d have a lot more time for astronomers if they could tell me how to stop hair growing in my ears, or how to retrieve the 20-cent piece that has slipped between the gearbox console and the driver’s seat in every car in the world.

Yes, I probably sound like a Philistine, but really… just because a group of people with the same kind of nerd factor as trainspotters and eggcup collectors are excited about it, it doesn’t mean I have to be.

What’s more, I’m sceptical. How can they be sure? Did a drop fall on their head? Of course not.

They’re sure because the presence of this water made starlight wobble, and water is the only thing that can do that. They make this claim despite the fact that this is the first time it’s ever happened, so how do they know?

I know and you know that there are many more natural laws out there than the few we know about.

The 20-cent piece in the car is one. A know-it-all scientist would probably say… “Someone dropped it.”

In every car in the world? Not a chance. The fact is: we don’t have to know everything. The fact is: we are never in our wildest dreams going to know everything. For any other planet within striking distance that’s a very good thing. Otherwise we’d go and live on it, and we haven’t learned how to live on this one yet.