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Has the Kepler spacecraft found an ‘alien world’?

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Published: 15 December 2011 (GMT+10)
Kepler spacecraft

Courtesy NASA / Ames / JPL-Caltech

News reports are awash with spectacular claims that NASA’s planet-hunting Kepler spacecraft has discovered an extraterrestrial world called ‘Kepler 22b’.1 It is so named because it orbits the star Kepler 22, which is classified as a ‘G-type’ star, as is our sun, although ours is slightly larger and hotter.

Such hyped-up alien reports seem to be a regular feature nowadays, and as such, it certainly convinces the public into thinking that our universe must be replete with intelligent life. Indeed, NASA would love people to believe this (it’s certainly what NASA pushes). Because they are a publicly-funded agency, they rely upon being relevant in the public mindset. Indeed, US Congressman Lamar Smith, indicated that “Funding should match public interest … ”.2 The most popular entertainment genre today is science fiction, and most science fiction has evolution occurring on other worlds as its central theme (think Avatar, Star Wars and especially Star Trek, for example). The claims of alien-hosting worlds is actually in the realm of science fiction, not science fact.

The Kepler observatory launched in 2009 and cost $US 600 million. But has this massive investment actually spawned anything useful for mankind?

NASA’s Origins program is dedicated to looking for habitable planets that might harbor life. Their endeavours spawned a new field of research called ‘astrobiology’, which is to specifically search for the evolution of life wherever it might occur in the universe. Even in this area, a public relations agenda supports their research. Former Head of NASA’s Astrobiology Institute, Bruce Runnegar, once stated about their astrobiology efforts, “It’s a mission that the taxpayers can understand and support … . Everybody wants to know where we came from and whether or not we are alone in the universe.”3

It seems ironic then that NASA spends millions of dollars looking for microbes on Mars as a means of trying to figure out how life might have evolved on Earth. Yet the earth is replete with billions of fully-functioning biological organisms, each containing encyclopedias of complex coded information in their DNA, and NASA can’t figure it out from these. Even the simplest organism on the earth—a bacterium called Mycoplasma—has 580,000 specifically-arranged DNA ‘letters’!

Planet hunting … but why?

The public relations machine only aids the real agenda behind the planet-hunting. In a word, it’s ‘evolution’. Quite simply, because they believe life evolved on the earth they also believe it must have evolved elsewhere, particularly if they believe the universe is 14 billion years old based on their belief in a big bang.

The Kepler observatory launched in 2009 and cost $US 600 million. Before it started searching the heavens, only about 700 extrasolar planets were thought to exist. At time of writing, it is claimed that Kepler has found 2,326 potential planets. But has this massive investment actually spawned anything useful for mankind?

What did they actually find?

Although many extrasolar planets are assumed to exist, we should keep in mind the methods used to detect them. They are presumed to exist through indirect methods of observation. In the case of this latest find, Kepler 22b was detected using the transit method. This is where the planet’s host or nearby star’s light is seen to dim when the alleged planet passes in front of it and between our line of sight from the earth. We have not seen the surface of a planet directly. In fact, until recently, not seen stars as anything but points of light. Only in 1996 did the Hubble Space Telescope see “the first direct picture of the surface of a star other than the Sun”—the red supergiant Betelgeuse, 1000 times the sun’s diameter. However, in 2008, a planet was observed from direct light reflection around the big, close, white star Fomalhaut.

The reason for the excitement in this latest find is its presumed potential to harbor life. Most extrasolar planets are massive (which makes them easier to detect), and the enormous gravity on these planets would make life impossible. Many of these humungous-sized planets (many times the size of Jupiter) might even be gas giants and not Earth-like rocky planets at all (we can’t tell). However, Kepler 22b’s size is presumed to be approximately 2.4 times the mass of our Earth. And its distance from its host sun is about 15% less than the earth is to our own sun. This puts Kepler 22b right into what is called the ‘Goldilocks zone’. This means it is just the right size and distance from its star, just like the earth (which is assumed to be in the right spot by accident). News reports are going as far as to say that “This new Earth could have oceans and continents.”4

At the time of its discovery 581 G was believed to be the planet with the greatest likelihood of having conditions suitable for life. Now it is believed not to exist at all!

However, this is not the first time that ‘Goldilocks zone’ planets are said to have been found. So, much of what we could say about such claims has been written before. We recommend you read the following short articles for insights into the problems.

  1. Hosing down the hype. New planet find has ET hopefuls in a frenzy (about planet Gliese 581c).

    In the case of 581c, much of the hype has indeed been watered down, although we only ever hear of the spectacular initial claims, and not the later retractions. Researchers now believe that 581c is uninhabitable and has temperatures similar to Venus.5

  2. Extrasolar planet 100% likely to have life? (about planet Gliese 581g).

    At the time of its discovery, 581g was believed to be the planet with the greatest likelihood of having conditions suitable for life. Now it is believed not to exist at all! See Doubts about hyped-up planet. Does Gliese 581g exist at all?

Should Christians be concerned by this?

Absolutely not. There is no reason to presume that God created astronomical objects differently elsewhere in the universe. Most of our own solar system contains other planets of varying sizes besides the earth and they are all uninhabitable. In fact, our own Mars is in a better ‘Goldilocks’ range than any of these other hopefuls and there is no life on it.

Furthermore, on theoretical grounds, there is no reason for an ‘Earth-like’ planet to be anything like Earth. Dr Bruce Fegley, professor of earth and planetary sciences at Washington University in St. Louis, has run computer simulations on extrasolar planets. He concluded, “I think that the atmospheres of extrasolar Earth-like planets would be more like Mars or Venus than the Earth.”6

The farther out we look, it only affirms what the prophet Isaiah said a long time ago in Isaiah 45:18:

For this is what the LORD says—he who created the heavens, he is God; he who fashioned and made the earth, he founded it; he did not create it to be empty, but formed it to be inhabited—he says: “I am the LORD, and there is no other.

We can deduce from Scripture that indeed the earth is unique and that there will never be any finds of intelligent life (in the order of mankind, that is, morally self-aware). We are aware that most Christians probably have no problem with the idea that God may have created life on other planets, but we need a careful application of Scripture here. We therefore feel it is important to read Did God create life on other planets? Otherwise why is the universe so big?

Christians should not be concerned that the Bible can be falsified (proved wrong) on matters that we can absolutely deduce from Scripture. The search for life on other planets stems from an evolutionary scientific rationale that seeks to explain how the universe came to be without God anyway.

References

  1. Pullout quote A ‘major milestone’ in search for Earth’s twin, www.msnbc.msn.com, 7 December, 2011. Return to text.
  2. Quoted in: Search for Life Out There Gains Respect, Bit by Bit, www.nytimes.com/, 8 July 2003. Return to text.
  3. Astrobiology Isn’t a Dirty Word Anymore,” www.the-scientist.com/yr2004/jan/prof2_040119.html, January 19, 2004. Return to text.
  4. Kepler 22b—the ‘new Earth’—could have oceans and continents, scientists claim, www.telegraph.co.uk/ , 7 December, 2011. Return to text.
  5. Gliese 581, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gliese_581, 7 December, 2011. Return to text.
  6. Computer Models Suggest Planetary And Extrasolar Planet Atmospheres, ScienceDaily.com, 19 June 2007. Return to text.

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