Ain't Nobody Home


Amid the feverish search for extrasolar planets that could harbor life, a scientist at the Harvard–Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics has spoken up about what seems obvious to us: the earth is uniquely suited for life.

The center’s Howard Smith is an astrophysicist who, according to his website, is a “traditional and observant Jew” interested in the relationship between science and faith.

Whether those beliefs have led Smith to be more critical of the methodological atheism that permeates modern astronomy is unclear. What is clear, however, is that Smith is taking a stand against the growing group of scientists and laymen who essentially take it on faith that extraterrestrials are out there. (We reported on such attitudes six and seven weeks ago.)

In a new analysis of 500 exoplanets discovered so far, Smith concludes that these other planets are even more diverse and less habitable than was once expected—making earth even more unique than some believed. “We have found that most other planets and solar systems are wildly different from our own,” Smith explained. “They are very hostile to life as we know it.” (National Geographic News reports this week on more threats to the habitability of exoplanets.)

Granted, current techniques for detecting exoplanets mean that the easiest ones to find are those least like earth: massive and super-hot, orbiting extremely close to their host stars. Astronomers hope more powerful telescopes will help them detect planets more similar to our own. But Smith points out that even if alien life exists, communication would be restricted to aliens on nearby planets—and would still take years to exchange messages.

It’s refreshing to hear a well-qualified astronomer challenge the status quo—and remind us of earth’s uniqueness.

What repeatedly catches our attention is the confidence so many astronomers have in their belief that alien life-forms exist—a confidence that defies the evidence. That’s why it’s refreshing to hear a well-qualified astronomer challenge the status quo—and remind us of earth’s uniqueness.

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