Will the new space telescope find ET life?
High expectations come with the long-awaited James Webb Space Telescope (JWST, pictured) 10 billion dollars and 25 years in the making. Set to launch on 18 December 2021, it is the successor to the famous Hubble Space Telescope. But it should produce better images, due partly to its much larger mirror that can collect more light (6.5 m vs 2.4 m diameter).
The JWST’s primary mission objective is to examine the first light in the universe (evolutionist-speak for examining the galaxies which are furthest away.1)
But another aim is to study exoplanets (planets orbiting other stars), specifically to detect and analyze their atmospheres. It is hoped this will further establish whether a known exoplanet could be habitable to potential alien life.
The search for extraterrestrial life
The hunt for ET life today is fuelled by the evolution story. If life evolved spontaneously on Earth, the reasoning goes, then surely it will have evolved elsewhere, too. After finding no extraterrestrial life in our solar system,2 attention is now on exoplanets and exomoons.
Since the first exoplanet discovery in 1995,3 thousands have been detected. Special attention is being paid to those most like Earth.
Exoplanet news reports fuel speculation about ET life, with lines like ‘Earth 2.0’, ‘planet in habitable zone’, etc.
Of the 4528 confirmed exoplanets4 (as of Oct 2021), 60 are within the (conservative) habitable zone (HZ) of their star.5 This might suggest liveable worlds with oceans, landmasses, and alien creatures. But it simply means the planet’s orbit is the right distance from its star to allow liquid water to exist on the surface, which does not mean there actually is liquid water there.
Several other prerequisites for habitability are needed. E.g., the planet would need to spin on its axis, have a nearly circular orbit and have a stable host star of the appropriate size.
Having an atmosphere of the correct thickness is also critical to the question of liquid water. Too thick an atmosphere, like that on Venus, would retain too much heat. Too rarefied an atmosphere, like Mars, would give low surface pressures at which water cannot exist as a liquid.
Detecting and analyzing exoplanet atmospheres is difficult because they are very far away. Focusing on infrared frequencies, the JWST is expected to be capable of detecting possible thin atmospheres of rocky exoplanets in the HZ. But finding these would not enable researchers to say that liquid water is present on the surface.
Even if we could infer that a planet had liquid water, determining its actual habitability would require a huge number of other investigations, some of which have not been thought of yet. Planetary scientist Patrick Young says:
“Habitability is very difficult to quantify because it depends on a huge number of variables, some of which we have yet to identify.”6
When we compare the earth to all known extraterrestrial bodies, the earth stands out as completely unique, complex, and beautiful.7 While it is possible, it is unlikely that the JWST or any other telescope/space probe will find truly habitable planets.
Even if it did, finding life seems precluded. Known experimental science presents impassable barriers to any life just ‘happening’ from chemicals. In particular, water itself is a huge barrier to forming large molecules (like proteins and DNA) from small ones.8
Could God have created life elsewhere? That would be exceedingly strange, even for simple life, since mankind on Earth is the focus of His attention and creation—other creatures are part of our ‘life support system’ (Genesis 1:26–28). And the idea of Him creating intelligent ‘alien races’ is biblically ruled out; Christ will only have one Bride in eternity, the redeemed from Earth’s people (Ephesians 5:22–33, Revelation 21:2,9–10), all of whom descend from the first man and woman, Adam and Eve.
References and notes
- Rigg, A., Galaxy games, Creation 27(1):18–21, 2004; creation.com/galaxy-games. ‘Young’ galaxy is very orderly, Creation 43(1):11, 2021; creation.com/focus-431. Return to text.
- Mars, Venus, Enceladus, Titan, Europa and the large asteroid Ceres are all still being studied in the hope of finding extremophile microbial life. Return to text.
- Spencer, W., The existence and origin of extrasolar planets, J. Creation 15(1):17–25, 2001; creation.com/extrasolar. Return to text.
- NASA exoplanet catalogue, exoplanets.nasa.gov, accessed 12 Oct 2021. Return to text.
- Habitable exoplanets catalogue, phl.upr.edu, accessed 20 Nov 2020. Return to text.
- Young, P., cited in: ASU, Stellar makeup impacts planet habitability, asunow.asu.edu, 6 Sep 2012. Return to text.
- Harwood, M., Created to be inhabited: Amazing design features in planet Earth, Creation 35(3):38–40, 2013; creation.com/earth-design. Return to text.
- Sarfati, J., Origin of life: the polymerization problem, J. Creation 12(3):281–284, 1998; creation.com/polymer. Return to text.