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Scientists have finally discovered another earth. Well, sort of.
Earlier this month NASA's Kepler space telescope team announced the discovery of "Kepler-22b," located in what is called a "habitable zone," meaning an environment that's not too hot or too cold for the possibility of life. And just last week, the team unveiled two other earth-sized planets, Kepler-20e and Kepler-20f, although they are not in the habitable zone.
"This discovery shows that we Homo sapiens are straining our reach into the universe to find planets that remind us of home. We are almost there," said Geoff Marcy of the University of California, Berkeley, one of the world's leaders in the search for planets.
But apparently a lot of space exists between those two words, "almost" and "there." Being reminded of home and finding another earth is more than a world or an earth apart. Kepler-22b for instance, is 600 light years away. Traveling by space shuttle, it would take 22 million years to get there. And Kepler 22b's size, 2.4 times the size of earth, makes it too big for an atmosphere like earth's, according to planetary scientist Lena Noack.
Yet scientists are invigorated by the possibility of finding another earth: "You can bet that the hunt is on to find ... a true earth twin," said astronomer David Charbonneau of Harvard University.
Although I've never been a science fiction fan, the dreamer in me is fascinated with the concept of another earth and what it would be like.
The 2011 film "Another Earth" explored the idea of another earth as an opportunity for a second chance in life, a place where a parallel you exists with another, possibly better life. The producers used astrophysicist, Dr. Richard Berendzen, (author of "Pulp Physics") for the background voice asking the probing questions about a parallel earth and our place in it: "Could we even recognize ourselves, and if we did, would we know ourselves? What would we say to ourselves? What would we learn from ourselves? What would we really like to see if we could stand outside ourselves and look at us?"
The truth is, we don't have to travel 22 million years in space to find a place where we can ask those or similar questions. Standing on the precipice of a New Year is occasion enough to step outside ourselves and take inventory of who we are, really.
Do we know what to say to ourselves? Do we know the self to whom we speak? Are we strangers to ourselves?
C.G. Jung, the Swiss psychoanalyst, wrote about an inner dimension he referred to as the True Self. For Jung, this self, as author Sue Monk Kidd points out, doesn't refer to the ego, as in myself, but to the center of our being, the image of God within us. As we find and cultivate that place we discover our True Self.
It's the place Jesus of Nazareth described as being, "The Kingdom of God within you" (Luke 17:21), and when we reject it, we also deny our True Self. As Thomas Merton, the Trappist monk of Gethsemani Abby said, "My false and private self is the one who wants to exist outside the reach of God's will and God's love ... And such a self cannot help but be an illusion."
For Merton, the secret of our identity, our True Self, is "hidden in the love and mercy of God.
Sometime between now and the new year, I think I'll step outside, and peering into the universe, ponder the possibility of another earth, and then, I'll look within, and even though I'm not there - still without all the answers - I'll find comfort in the words of the young theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who before being martyred by the Nazis, concluded his poem, "Who Am I?" with the line, "Whoever I am, Thou knowest, O God, I am Thine!"
Knowing the same one who has me also has the universe and all that's in it, I'll then say "Yes," to my True Self, and taking God's hand, step boldly into another New Year.