Earth Is a Very Special Place

Earth Is a Very Special Place

As of May 9, 2024, astronomers have discovered 5,616 planets orbiting other stars. Of that number, 1794 are “gas giants” like Jupiter, 1,920 are Neptune-like planets, and 1,695 are “Super-Earths,” solid planets like Earth, but much larger. That means they will have denser atmospheres of gases that are inhospitable to life. That leaves 207 terrestrial planets, of which seven have unknown features. As the James Webb telescope gathers data, these numbers will change, but the message is already clear. Earth is a very special place, and most of the exoplanets we see are unsuitable for life of any kind. By life, we mean the usual biological definition – that which can move, breathe, respond to outside stimuli, and reproduce.

Hollywood, TV, and books have given us some creative fantasies about space travel, but there are specific limitations on where humans can go. The closest star to Earth is 4.3 light years away, meaning that if you could travel at the speed of light, which is impossible, it would take 4.3 years to reach that star. The closest major galaxy to our Milky Way is Andromeda, 2,480,000 light years from Earth. That means the light coming to us from Andromeda left there 2,480,000 years ago. Humans traveling to Andromeda at the speed of light would need that long to get there. The return to Earth would take just as long, and the Earth would have aged 4,960,000 years while they were gone, even though time would have slowed for the travelers.

All of this is to say that traveling to another galaxy and back is pure fantasy and not an option for any of us. It also says that alien visits to the Earth are another fantasy that may make good movies but are not supported by evidence or common sense. Some people suggest that we are not alone and that aliens are affecting human activities, but that is a fantasy we cannot seriously consider.

The ancient psalmist wrote, “When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and the stars, which You have ordained, what is man that You are mindful of him, and the son of man that You visit him?” (Psalms 8:3-4). Another Psalm says, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of His hands” (Psalms 19:1). The ancients wrote about what they could see, but now we can see so much more. We are blessed with a whole different picture of the size, power, and wisdom of God’s creation as we realize that Earth is a very special place.

— John N. Clayton © 2024

Reference: Science News June 1, 2024, page 21.