NASA Discovers Planet Within a Habitable Zone

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Looking for life in all the right places

NASA’s extrasolar planet-hunter, the $600-million Kepler space telescope, has “confirmed the discovery of its first alien world in its host star's habitable zone.”1 Over the past 16 months, Kepler has discovered 2,326 “potential planets” beyond our solar system. Kepler-22b is the first of these to be confirmed “in the habitable zone.” To be in the “habitable zone,” an exoplanet must appear to be neither too hot nor too cold for liquid water to exist and have the potential for holding onto an atmosphere. From an evolutionary point of view, where there is water, life as we know it could have evolved.

Exoplanets like Kepler-22b are first spotted by the “transit method.” In other words, because a planet orbiting its star should appear to fractionally dim the star’s light during its transit, anything that makes a star fade could be a planet. If the “candidate” continues to dim the light during successive orbits, it is classified as a full–fledged planet. The time required for the exoplanet to orbit its star indicates its distance from the star. And that information, combined with an estimate of the star’s energy output, is used to determine whether the exoplanet is in the habitable zone. In the case of Kepler-22b, the planet’s orbit is considerably closer to its sun than Earth’s to ours, but Kepler-22b’s sun is not as hot as ours. (There have also been at least two giant “habitable zone” planets discovered to date among the over 700 known exoplanets.)

Kepler-22b was one of the first exoplanets spotted by the space telescope; therefore, it is the first to be confirmed to be in a “habitable zone.” The presence of an atmosphere cannot yet be determined for exoplanets, and the atmosphere’s components would be a key factor in maintaining Earth-like temperatures. An exoplanet’s size—in this case only 2.4 times the radius of Earth—is compared to estimates of its mass to determine whether the planet is primarily solid, liquid, or gaseous. That information is also not yet known for Kepler-22b. Thus headlines referring to Kepler-22b as “Earth’s twin” may be a bit premature.

Evolutionary scientists believe life evolved by random interaction of water and chemicals on Earth and therefore assume the same may well have happened anywhere conditions are similarly amenable.

So why all the excitement? Why the 600-million-dollar interest in identifying planets in the “habitable zone” when planets 600 light years away cannot be reached for manned exploration except in science fiction? The reason boils down to evolution. Evolutionary scientists believe life evolved by random interaction of water and chemicals on Earth and therefore assume the same may well have happened anywhere conditions are similarly amenable.

The Bible does not say that God didn’t create life elsewhere, but the Bible does tell us God created all life on Earth during the first six days of Creation week about 6,000 years ago. God spent that week preparing a place for Adam and Eve, and He created them in His image. Despite the fun of sci-fi and the delightful discoveries in the heavens that “declare the glory of God,” (Psalm 19:1) neither mankind nor the universe evolved, and there is no reason to believe life evolved elsewhere.

Scientists have never observed life evolve from non-living components. Thus, finding the right chemicals and the right conditions for life to exist elsewhere should not suggest to us that it has. And yet, even if life were to be indisputably found on another world, its existence would not prove molecules-to-man evolution ever occurred. Such life would simply be another demonstration of God’s creative power to create life where He chooses. Meanwhile, recognizing the whole of creation was corrupted due to man’s sin (Romans 8:21–22), we continue to doubt the existence of sentient life elsewhere, despite the exultation expressed by SETI director Jill Tarter: “For the first time, we can point our telescopes at stars, and know that those stars actually host planetary systems - including at least one that begins to approximate an Earth analogue in the habitable zone around its host star.”2 The discovery is fascinating, but if we wish to know we are not alone, we’ll get more reliable results by getting to know the God of the Bible.

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Footnotes

  1. Mike Wall, “NASA Telescope Confirms Alien Planet in Habitable Zone,” Space.com, December 5, 2011, http://www.space.com/13821-nasa-kepler-alien-planets-habitable-zone.html.
  2. “Astronomers Confirm ‘Earth Twin’,” Great News Network, December 8, 2011, http://www.greatnewsnetwork.org/index.php/news/article/astronomers_confirm_earth_twin/.

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