Search for intelligent life in the universe.
(SETI) Nearby Stars Discovered
That Might Support Life!
Religious & Life Implications.
Artist's impression of what the TRAPPIST-1 solar system looks like.
In a remarkable discovery made during late 2015 and published in the journal Nature during 2016-MAY, three planets were found revolving around a relatively nearby star. It is called TRAPPIST-1 (a.k.a. 2MASS J23062928-0502285) and is in the constellation of Aquarius. It is located a distance of 12 parsecs (39 light years, 230 trillion miles or 370 trillion kilometers) from Earth.
That is, a space ship traveling at 186,000 miles per second or 300 million meters per second -- the speed of light -- would take 39 years to reach the star. 2,3 Unfortunately, current spacecraft technology can only reach a very small fraction of this speed. Voyager 1, which left our solar system in 2012, is currently traveling at "only" 38,200 miles/hour. It is not going in the direction of TRAPPIST-1, but if it were, it would take 685,000 years to get there! 4
A second discovery was that the planets are somewhat similar to Earth. Some -- perhaps all -- of the planets lie in the habitable region of their solar system. That is, they have a surface temperature that would permit water to exist there in liquid form. Liquid water is generally regarded as a necessary precondition for the formation of life on a planet and its later evolution.
During 2003, the Spitzer Space Telescope was launched by NASA into an orbit that follows the Earth around the Sun. It later confirmed the presence of two of the planets and discovered five more. Additional planets may still be found. 5
The planets are believed to be tidally locked. That is, they have the same side always facing the sun. This would cause very strong winds to circle the planet. An article in Wikipedia suggests that:
"The best places for life may be close to the mild twilight regions between the two sides. ... Red dwarf stars are subject to frequent, intense flares that are likely to have stripped away the atmospheres of any planets in such close orbits. 6
TRAPPIST-1 is a dwarf star that is only slightly larger than our planet Jupiter. It has a mass of about 8%, and a diameter of about 11%, that of our Sun. Its planets' orbital periods -- the length of their year -- range from 1.5 to about 20 days. The planets' average distance from their sun range from 0.011 Astronomical Units (AU) to 0.06 AU. This compares to Earth at an average of 1.0 AU from our Sun.
Michaël Gillon, an astronomer at the University of Liège in Belgium, is the lead study author.
The planets were detected using transit photometry using the Transiting Planets and Planetesimals Small Telescope (TRAPPIST) at the La Silla Observatory in Chile. This technique involves observing how the light from the star dims as each planet passes in front of it.
Amaury Triaud, an astronomer at the University of Cambridge, is one of the study authors. He said:
"I don't think any time before (that) we had the right planets to discover and find out if there was (life). Here, if life managed to thrive and releases gases similar to what we have on Earth, we will know."
Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of NASA's Science Mission Directorate said:
"This discovery could be a significant piece in the puzzle of finding habitable environments, places that are conducive to life. Answering the question 'are we alone?' is a top science priority. ... Finding so many planets like these for the first time in their [star's] habitable zone is a remarkable step forward toward that goal."
Artist's impression of the view from one of
planets, showing a second
transiting the star and
to the right of the star.
2010-SEP: An Earth-like planet discovered "near" us:
The Gliese 581 solar system consists of a red dwarf star "only" 20 light years from Earth. This is 120 trillion miles, or 200 trillion kilometers from us, and is located in the constellation Libra. It has an array of at least six planets. About 400 other planets had previously been discovered elsewhere in the universe. However, for the first time, this planet was found that is both Earth-like, and is located in the star's habitable zone. That is, it is at a distance from its sun so that it could contain liquid water on part of its surface. It is called "Gliese 581g. It has a mass that is about three to four times that of earth, and is probably a rocky planet with enough gravity to hold an atmosphere in place.
Steven Vogt is a professor of astronomy and astrophysics at the University of California, Santa Cruz. He said:
"Personally, given the ubiquity and propensity of life to flourish wherever it can, I would say, my own personal feeling is that the chances of life on this planet are 100 percent. I have almost no doubt about it."
Sara Seager, an astrophysicist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said:
"It's both an incremental and monumental discovery. ... It really is monumental if you accept this as the first Earth-like planet ever found in the star's habitable zone."
Religious implications of life on other planets:
Professor Bill Nettles is the chair of Union University's physics department in Jackson, TN, and an Old Testament professor at Gateway Seminary in Ontario, San Bernardino County, CA. Referring to Heaven and Hell, he said that the:
"... excitement [among some scientists] over the possibility of extra-terrestrial life simply confirms [a longstanding assumption that] surely life must exist somewhere [else] in the universe. [That assumption] has been a theme of writers for centuries, and we shouldn't expect it to wane. ...For Christians, there is already a hope that there is life elsewhere, but we don't need to find it in some other planet. It is found in the promises of God, revealed in the human-divine person of Jesus of Nazareth."
The discovery of "... other planets around other stars should be no more surprising to us today than the discovery of rocky planets in our own solar system centuries ago. The Bible begins with the creation of the heavens and earth. These discoveries do not dispute that."
Scientists will attempt to study the atmosphere of these planets in the hopes of detecting the presence of gasses like oxygen, ozone and methane that might indicate biological activity. This study will likely take five years until 2022.
Professor Nettles commented that even if no such gasses are found, there:
"... will be no dashing [some scientists'] hope" of life in TRAPPIST-1. [Believers should remember the TRAPPIST-1 planets are governed by scientific laws] "... actively upheld by a powerful and loving God ... nothing about the discovery of Earth-sized planets around a dim star affects the Christian narrative of Creation - Fall - Redemption - Glorification."
The biblical creation story starts at the beginning of the Bible at Genesis 1. The King James Version (KJV) of the Bible translates the original Hebrew of Genesis 1:1 as:
"In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. ..."
The "Fall" that Nettles refers to is seen later in Genesis, at Chapter 3. It contains a story in which Adam and Eve violated the instructions of God by eating the fruit of The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. The first couple apparently had been created like the rest of the animals without a moral sense. They were driven only by instinct. By eating this magical fruit, their brains were rearranged and they suddenly developed a moral sense of good and evil. This is referred to by many Christians as "Original Sin" and "The Fall" of humanity. They further believe that the sin and its punishment were transmitted to Adam and Eve's children who were not involved in the eating of the fruit. It was further transmitted to their grandchildren, and continuing on hundreds of generations to present day humans -- a total of over 100 billion humans!
However, some liberal Christians and secularists refer to the event as a myth about the "rise of humanity" -- the time when humans first became motivated by ethics, and morality, along with instincts. They had become fully human. Most religious liberals and secularists reject the concept of Original Sin because it involves the scapegoating: the transfer of sin from one original couple to their descendents who were not involved in the eating of the fruit.
Related essays and sections on this web site that you might find interesting:
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
- NASA simulation, found at the Daily and Sunday Express (UK) at: http://www.express.co.uk/
- Ashley Strickland, "Astronomers discover 7 Earth-sized planets orbiting nearby star," CNN, 2017-FEB-22, at: http://www.cnn.com/
- Michael Gillon, et al., "Seven temperate terrestrial planets around the nearby ultracool dwarf star TRAPPIST-1," Nature magazine, 2017-FEB-23, at: http://www.nature.com/
- Hanneke Weitering, "TRAPPIST-1: How Long Would It Take to Fly to 7-Planet System?," Space, 2017-FEB-23, at: http://www.space.com/
- Image by ESO/M. Kornmesser at http://www.eso.org/public/images/eso1615a/ CC BY 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/), via Wikimedia Commons.
- "TRAPPIST-1," Wikipedia, as on 2017-FEB-24, at: https://en.wikipedia.org/
- David Roach, "Planets' discovery said to incite misplaced hope," Baptist Press, 2017-FEB-23, at: http://www.bpnews.net/
- Rabbi Goldie Milgram, "When Does Life Begin? A Jewish View," Reclaiming Judaism, undated, at: http://www.reclaimingjudaism.org/
Copyright © 2016 & 2017 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Original posting: 2017-FEB-24
Latest update : 2017-FEB-24
Author: B.A. Robinson