Astronomers have discovered over 5,000 exoplanets in the last 30 years, and 2022 was a banner year. Exoplanets are planets orbiting stars other than our Sun. Astronomers are looking for potential life-supporting planets similar to Earth but orbiting another star like our Sun.
If you are going to find life in space, it would have to be on a planet with surface water and an atmosphere that provides oxidation and protects the surface from radiation and meteorite bombardment. Unfortunately, potential life-supporting planets are hard to find. Here is the breakdown of exoplanet characteristics so far:
*30% of all exoplanets are gas giants like Jupiter or Saturn.
*35% are like Neptune or Uranus, with densities so low that no life form could exist and no surface features that could sustain life.
*31% of all exoplanets are called super-earths which may have rocky surfaces but are too massive to support the chemicals needed for life. They lie somewhere between the mass of Earth and the mass of Neptune.
*Only 4% of all exoplanets are considered to be terrestrial, like Earth. However, many of them orbit the wrong kind of star, have no magnetic field, or have other properties that would be hostile to any life form.
The bottom line is that the study of exoplanets has shown the exceptional qualities of our planet and solar system. We must take care of planet Earth because we have no other potential life-supporting planets to migrate to if we make this planet hostile to life. God designed not only the life on our planet but also the conditions that allow that life to exist.
There are many possible explanations for why exoplanets exist. For example, they may be debris from the construction of our universe or the preparation for other life forms in the distant future. The message of exoplanets is that our planet is unique. The statement “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the skies show the work of His hands” takes on a special meaning in the light of what we see in space.
— John N. Clayton © 2023
Data from NASA/JPL-Caltech reported in Discover magazine January/February 2023.