Over this summer, NASA went into overdrive to hype the discovery of Kepler-452b. The planet was touted as Earth’s twin or, more frequently, cousin. This was due primarily to the facts that a year on this exoplanet is roughly 385 days and that it orbited a star similar to our Sun in the habitable zone. But there were more than a few things that made Kepler-452b hardly an Earth 2.
For one, this exoplanet is 1.5 billion years older than our blue marble. This is the trait that has a lot of people’s imagination stewing concerning the possibility of life. Being a billion and half years ahead evolutionary is enticing. Then there’s the fact that it’s 60% larger than Earth, and its star shine about 20% more light upon it than our Sun does upon us.
All of these traits could be ignored and we could embrace the Earth 2 idea if not for one impossibility. At 1400 light years away (nearly 6 trillion miles), if we could travel at lightspeed, then “it would take the best part of a millenium-and-a-half to reach it.“
Given that the New Horizons probe is the fastest craft we’ve constructed traveling at just over 35,000 mph, best case scenario humanity could reach Kepler-452b in around 26 million years. For those of you really into speculative sci-fi, this is duration coincides with the mass extinction cycle on our planet.
No matter the limits of our current ability to determine the composition of Kepler-452b or its distance from us, it is an exoplanet that fires the imagination. It calls to us to ask questions and generate hypothesis. Most importantly, to wonder.
For this exoplanet that is so similar to ours yet older, I decided to explore one of the oldest languages on our planet, Sanskrit, to find inspiration. What I finally settled on wasn’t anything too conceptually profound; it was the Sanskrit word for cousin. Specifically, the word for a cousin who is the daughter of a mother’s sister was what I chose.
Why? My analogy was simple. The mother of our planet Earth is the Sun, the star of this distant exoplanet is akin to ours, a sister. We tend to personify Earth as a female deity (Gaia), so this ‘cousin’ of Earth could be thought of as its star’s daughter.
So the name I give you for Kepler-452b is”
Which I pronounce this as ‘s-vass-ee‘. I think it sounds pleasant, represents our initial knowledge of the world, and encourages us to continue to wonder.