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Tatooine On Repeat

by Dr. Elizabeth Mitchell on January 21, 2012

Nature: “Three tiny exoplanets suggest Solar System not so special Kepler: boldly seeking where life could have evolved

The mission of NASA’s Kepler space telescope is to “find terrestrial [nearly Earth-sized] planets . . . especially those in the habitable zone of their stars where liquid water and possibly life might exist.”1 Kepler scientists—and even lay volunteers—search for exoplanets2 by watching for periodic dimming of stars as planets pass in front of them. Recent discoveries have included a somewhat oversized habitable zone planet3 and two Earth-sized planets too hot for life.4 This month’s discoveries—Tatooine-like planets5 with binary suns6 and the tiniest known solar system—are also too hot for habitation, but by presumably expanding the statistical probability of finding habitable planets, they have raised evolutionary expectations for extraterrestrial life.

Kepler’s confirmation that binary stars can actually have planets in stable orbits calls Star Wars to mind. Astronomer William Walsh, author of the announcement in Nature, says, “The fact that circumbinary planets are not rare flukes means that nature likes to form planets, and can and does form planets around binary stars, even though these are very dynamic and chaotic environments. And more planets mean more chances that some will be Earthlike.”9

Circumbinary planets “can have really crazy climates . . . with huge temperature changes,” says co-author Jerome Orosz, and “the effects of these climate swings on the atmospheric dynamics, and ultimately on the evolution of life on habitable circumbinary planets,” adds Walsh, “is a fascinating topic that we are just beginning to explore.”7

The Lilliputian solar system has three hot planets much smaller than Earth orbiting close to a small red dwarf star, KOI-961. Finding planets thought to be rocky around a red dwarf tips the cosmological odds in favor of finding lots more according to Cal Tech astronomer John Johnson. “Because red dwarfs themselves are so common,” Johnson says, “the whole galaxy must be just swarming with little habitable planets around faint red dwarfs.”8

A new method—gravitational microlensing—will further increase exoplanet detection.

Kepler detects planets using the transit method. Exoplanets are also detected by noting the wobble of a star due to the gravitational tug of planets. A new method—gravitational microlensing—will further increase exoplanet detection. The three methods complement each other and should greatly increase the number of detectable exoplanets. Therefore, evolutionary cosmologists expect many habitable worlds will be found.

Many think life will likely evolve when water and organic chemicals exist in the same place long enough under ‘habitable” conditions. However, scientists have never observed life evolve from non-living components. Therefore, finding habitable places in space should not suggest it has. The Bible does not say that God didn’t create extraterrestrial life. However, “without Him nothing was made that was made” (John 1:3).

Therefore, if life were to be indisputably found on another world, its existence would not confirm molecules-to-man evolution. Such life would simply show God’s power to create life where He chooses.

And what if that “alien” life were intelligent? God created the entire universe. God’s Son Jesus Christ came to Earth as a human being, the “last Adam,” (I Corinthians 15:45-47) to die for all human beings who, like their real common ancestor—the first Adam—are sinners. We also know from God’s Word that the whole creation groans with corruption (Romans 8:21–22) under the Curse of man’s sin. Thus the theological position of extraterrestrial intelligent life would cast aspersions on God’s character, as such beings would be reaping the guilty whirlwind of man’s sin without access to the grace of Christ. (See Did God’s Plan Include Life On Other Planets? for more on this issue.)

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  3. NASA Discovers Planet Within a Habitable Zone
  4. News to Note, December 24, 2011
  5. If you need a refresher on this fantasy world from Star Wars, have a look at Somehow the billions-of-years cosmology and evolutionary history seem less offensive there than in real-life, since Tatooine’s universe is also a product of imagination!

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