Have Other Habitable Planets Been Found?

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Have Other Habitable Planets Been Found?

Over the past few years researches have claimed to have found numerous habitable exoplanets, that is planets outside our solar system that could possibly support life.  But do we really know that other habitable planets have been found or does our amazing planet that allows life still stand as unique in the universe?  The idea of all sorts of planets out there with life on them is exciting, especially to someone like me who’s excited about introducing my younger daughter to the original Star Wars trilogy later tonight.  But when you consider the odds of so many factors coming together just right for life to exist, it’s not likely that many, if any, other planets like ours will be found.

DesignNow, first, I want to be clear that I don’t think that finding other habitable planets either proves or disproves Christianity, atheism or other world views. Certainly there’s nothing in the Bible that states that there couldn’t be other life sustaining planets or even life elsewhere. So where does this tie in to world views? Well, if atheistic naturalism is true, that a life sustaining planet like ours just came about by random chance, and life on this planet also came about without any intelligent agent directing it – if the odds against that happening on it’s own aren’t really that great, then you’d expect that it all happened multiple times in multiple places in a universe as large as ours.  Right? If it’s easy enough to come about by chance, you’d expect that it happened plenty of times in plenty of places. And so we put research and resources into looking for life elsewhere. But what’s really being said when researchers claim to have found a habitable planet?

What Does “Habitable” Mean?

tatooine sunset

Astrophysicist, Dr. Jeff Zweerink points out that, “Almost without exception, the term ‘habitable’ simply refers to the presence of liquid water on the exoplanet (even though we lack the ability to make this measurement). Yet assessing a body’s true habitability requires far greater knowledge of the exoplanet’s composition, atmosphere, and history than we currently possess. A wise response to ‘habitable’ planet announcements accounts for these research limitations and recognizes that life likely requires far more than just liquid water.”

He says that the term “habitable” conjures up images of “serene meadows or lush islands surrounded by deep blue oceans.”  We hear “habitable” and we imagine these planets have life or could support it, if transported there. But, while our ability to learn things about such planets has grown by a lot, there’s a lot we still can’t know. We can’t detect the presence of liquid water, continents or the atmosphere of these planets.

What Can We Know?

What can we know about exoplanets? Using the transit technique we can tell a planet’s size and orbit.  If the same planet is detected by the radial velocity technique, astronomers can also learn it’s mass and eccentricity (how circular it’s orbit is). Using other powerful telescopes has allowed partial measurement of the atmosphere of a few dozen planets.  Additionally the direct measurement technique provides some additional information from the light emitted directly from the planet but this only works for planets relatively far from their host star.

We can know some things but not enough

The bottom line is that we just can’t know enough at this point to be calling planets out there “habitable”.  Zweerink says it’s like determining an athlete’s NBA potential based on height and weight alone.  While you might be able to rule some candidates out relatively well with this information alone, there’s a lot more that goes into making someone a good basketball player. Likewise, there’s a lot more that goes into making a planet habitable and, while we will continue to make progress in this field,  we just don’t know enough to make that call yet.

Tatooine

Source:  Reasons.org

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Posted on by Reasons for Hope 315 in Design

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