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on December 19, 2009

Astronomers may soon find more “Earth-like” planets—and with them, alien life?

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“The discovery of potentially habitable nearby worlds may be just a few years away,” claimed the University of California–Santa Cruz’s Steven Vogt, part of the team behind the news of two new “super-Earths” discovered outside of our solar system. Vogt, along with Carnegie Institution researcher Paul Butler and others, used observational data from the Keck Observatory in Hawaii and the Anglo-Australian Telescope in New South Wales in their search for new exoplanets.

The team found two new planetary systems, one orbiting the star 61 Virginis—just 28 light-years from Earth—and the other around a star called HD 1461, 76 light-years away. A highlight of the news is that both stars are considered similar to our own sun in size and age, fueling astronomers’ hopes for finding true Earth equivalents.

None of the planets the team detected are quite like Earth.

As with previously found exoplanets, none of the planets the team detected are quite like Earth. The smallest of the three found to be orbiting 61 Virginis is five times the mass of the Earth, while the one orbiting HD 1461 has more than seven times the mass. More importantly (and, again, as with other known exoplanets), the planets orbit too close to their parent stars to support life—for instance, the smallest planet found orbiting 61 Virginis circles every four days. Liquid water (and evolutionary hopes for life) is therefore out of the question.

Nonetheless, the scientists argue that their discovery paves the way for the detection of planets even more similar to Earth—which is to say, more habitable. “These sorts of planets [if orbiting stars smaller than our sun] actually would be in a liquid water zone,” Butler said. “So we are knocking on the door right now of being able to find habitable planets.” (Meanwhile, another team reports this week the discovery of an exoplanet claimed to “probably” have liquid water.)

Of course, for evolution-believing astronomers and astrobiologists, the existence of other “Earths”—and life on them—is effectively a forgone conclusion. In an article on exoplanetary discoveries soon to be announced, NASA’s William Borucki states:

The biggest impact has to be to support the idea that we aren’t alone, in the sense that there are other planets out there rather like the Earth. . . . We’re confident that they’re out there, but we don’t have any yet. [emphasis added]

Faith—evolutionary faith—is thus a cornerstone of the search for Earth-like planets and for extraterrestrial life. Earth “cannot” be unique; life “cannot” be special—no matter what the evidence suggests. It may well be that we discover genuinely Earth-like planets in the heavens, and such discoveries would not challenge the biblical view. Until that point, however, such news as this reminds us of how desperate evolutionists are to be comforted by finding signs of their alleged origins among the stars.

All that said, even while scientists throw the net farther and farther in search of habitable planets, they are also broadening the definition of habitable planets to include icy planets with possible subsurface oceans (with some salt, perhaps?).

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