The Earth That Wasn't


ScienceNOW: “Closing In on the Next Earth” Astronomers have found another “Earthlike” planet outside of our solar system.

Known as extrasolar planets or exoplanets, most discovered to date have been distinctly un-Earthlike and (presumably) quite inhospitable. However, most of the study of exoplanets is based on conjecture because the methods to detect exoplanets are all indirect.

Scientists have already found planets orbiting the star Gliese 581.

Scientists have already found planets orbiting the star Gliese 581, in the constellation Libra. However, the new planet found there excites astronomers because it is lightweight, suggesting a rocky planet like Earth. Until now, most of the exoplanets discovered have been large gas giants like Jupiter—foreign to our concepts of life and habitability.

Unfortunately for astrobiologists, the new planet (Gliese 581 e) orbits far too close to its star to be habitable. In fact, its orbit is an astonishingly short 3.15 days (versus 365 for Earth), and thus the planet would obviously be too hot for life.

Encouraging the scientists is that neighboring Gliese 581 d, an exoplanet discovered previously, may lie within the “habitable zone”—neither too close nor too far from the star’s heat. The same team that discovered Gliese 581 e corrected previous calculations on Gliese 581 d and found that its orbit lasts 67 days rather than 83 days, as originally thought. This places it in the zone were liquid water could exist, thus making it “the first serious ‘water world’ candidate,” in the words of team member Stephane Udry.

The continuing search for exoplanets continues to fuel some astronomers’ hopes that, once we find a sufficiently Earthlike world, we will also find signs of life among the stars—a proposition thoroughly rooted in evolutionary dogma. For creationists, the expansiveness and beauty in space remind us of the awesomeness of God’s creation—and hint at the awesome extent of God.

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