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.
One of my favorite columnists is Bob Berman, who writes in Astronomy magazine. Mr, Berman is a science writer who doesn’t have an ax to grind and doesn’t stoop to ridicule or hostility toward Christianity or faith in general. In the September 2022 issue, he referred to recent articles hinting that astronomers have found exoplanets better suited for life than planet Earth and examines the probability of a life-supporting exoplanet.
Berman lists a few of Earth’s unusual features. He points out that a planet being at the proper distance from its star to allow liquid water to exist is not that difficult to achieve. If you get the appropriate distance from a fire, you can have just about any temperature you want. Five other cases that Berman mentions are not that easy.
They include… 1) …having a nearby moon that stabilizes the axial tilt over long periods. 2) …not having lethal surface radiation. 3) …not having overactive volcanoes. 4) …having atmospheric gases that are used and produced by living organisms. 5) …having the right temperature underground. On Earth, surface temperatures disappear at about six inches, and at 30 feet, temperatures don’t change no matter what happens at the surface.
These are only five of the unique qualities of our home planet. Each design feature appears reasonable, but the probability of a life-supporting exoplanet depends on more than a single feature. Many planets may have one or two of the required variables, but to sustain life, ALL of them must be in place. That means you would have to MULTIPLY the probability of each individual variable to find the odds for life, especially advanced life, to exist on a planet.
The bottom line is that the probability of a life-supporting exoplanet is vastly greater than the number of stars in the cosmos. This planet is unique because it was designed by God to sustain life. Wisdom’s words in Proverbs 8:22-36 eloquently describe the process that gave us this extraordinary planet. We need to thank God for what we have been given–and take care of it.
Reference: Bob Berman in Astronomy magazine, September 2022, page 12 See a list containing 47 variables that make Earth unique in “Evidence for Design in the Universe,” adapted from a paper titled “Limits for the Universe” by astronomer Hugh Ross. It’s available free under “charts” on our doesgodexist.org website at THIS LINK.
We have pointed out that recent reports from NASA reveal that astronomers have found more than 5000 planets orbiting stars other than our Sun. These extra-solar planets show that our solar system is a rarity in space. The unique design of our solar system strongly supports the idea that it is a product of intelligent creation, not a cosmic accident.
One might suggest that having a life-bearing planet is like trying to shoot something. If you shoot enough times, you will eventually hit the target. So likewise, if we find enough planets outside of our solar system, we will ultimately find one like Earth that can support life and even beings like ourselves. However, recent discoveries show that our solar system is so unique that it cannot be a chance production.
One discovery from the observation of exoplanets is the uniqueness of having a rocky planet orbiting this far from a star. In a study of 169 detected and confirmed rocky planets orbiting nuclear burning stars, more than 90% of them orbit their stars ten times more closely than Earth orbits the Sun. Being closer to their stars would mean that the lighter elements in those planets would be burned away, so those planets should be denser than our rocky planets. However, the data shows the exoplanets have a density of 4.472 grams/cc, while Mercury, Venus, and Earth are 5.395 grams/cc. What does this fact suggest?
The starting point for interpreting this data is the Sun. It has a very unusual lack of refractory elements (those elements which boil easily). That is especially true of lithium which is 170 times lower in abundance in the Sun than in the rest of the solar system. Scientists have advanced various theories about why that is, but it means that the Sun’s flaring activity is at a very low level compared with similar stars. Thus the Sun has an exceptionally low level of harmful ultraviolet and X-ray radiation.
As we look at rocky extra-solar planets orbiting other stars, we see they are very close to their stars. Since the stars would burn off the light elements with low boiling temperatures, we would expect to see rocky material left behind. The fact that our Sun has rocky planets that are farther away is because of the Sun’s unusually low levels of refractory elements and low levels of ultraviolet and X-ray radiation.
Other factors about exoplanet systems demonstrate the unique design of our solar system. For example, Earth’s chemical composition is unique. The extra-solar planets scientists have studied do not have the chemicals needed in the amounts required for advanced life forms to exist. Also, our Moon plays an essential role in the system that allows Earth to retain its atmosphere and hydrosphere.
With more data from astronomers studying extra-solar planets, it becomes increasingly clear that our Sun and our solar system are not typical products of accidental chances in space. The number of parameters that our unique solar system possesses speak of design. The unique design of our solar system shows that God’s creative hand has done much more than we imagined. This shows the truth of the old cliche that “the more we know of the creation, the more we appreciate the role of the Creator.”
As new space telescopes look out into the cosmos, astronomers discover more planets orbiting stars other than our Sun. NASA reports that known exoplanets number 5009. The process God used to create “heaven and earth” resulted in a lot of extra material in various forms throughout the cosmos. In 1999, astronomers discovered the first exoplanet, and since then, the number has kept growing.
At first glance, one might feel that since there are so many planets, some of them must be inhabited by sentient beings like ourselves. However, we find that is not the case when we examine the breakdown of the types of planets that astronomers have discovered. Even though known exoplanets number 5009, only 200 are worlds like Earth, made up of solid rock. The rest are gas planets like the Jovian planets Jupiter or Neptune, or they are huge solid planets with massive gravitational forces that would crush living beings. We should remind you that a world suitable for sentient life requires at least 47 other variables that we have listed in a chart you can see at THIS LINK.
When God “created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1), His methods involved forging massive amounts of gases and very few solid materials. Known exoplanets number 5009 now, but the number is sure to increase. Studies continue to show that our solar system and planet are unique. God’s wisdom in creating Earth the way He did becomes more evident as we explore space and realize how many resources we have available on this planet.
The “heavens declare the glory of God and the sky shows His handiwork” (Palms 19:1). We see more of His power and wisdom as our technology produces better images of the cosmos and how it was created in the beginning.
“Star Wars,” “Star Trek,” and other movies and television shows featuring space travel and alien life have fascinated people for decades. Yesterday, we examined how intergalactic travel would not be anything like what the movies depict. Other galaxies are many light-years away, and the laws of physics will not allow us to travel even one percent of light speed. Nevertheless, people are still concerned about exoplanets and life in the universe.
Regardless of whether we can go to other galaxies far, far away, or even solar systems within our own galaxy, astronomers are searching for “exoplanets.” An exoplanet is any planet outside of our solar system, and scientists are trying to find one that could support life. (We have dealt before with the question of why the universe is so large.)
Scientists look for planets orbiting stars that are so far away we can’t even see the stars with our unaided eyes. How is it possible to find planets that we can’t see, even with our best telescopes? They use at least three methods. When a planet transits in front of a star, it blocks a small amount of the star’s light. Very sensitive instruments detect that change. A star may wobble slightly because of orbiting planets, causing a detectable color shift due to the Doppler effect. Finally, astronomers sometimes use gravitational lensing to detect an orbiting planet if it causes bending of the light from a distant star.
Those are some methods astronomers use, hoping to find exoplanets and life elsewhere in the universe. However, unlike in the movies, the stars and their planets are so far away that we could never go there. Even sending a radio signal to those possible planets would take thousands or even millions of years, traveling at the speed of light. Getting a message back would take an equal amount of time.
There are so many requirements for life that the chances of any of those planets supporting advanced life would be almost infinitely small. If there is some form of life on any of them, how will we ever know? God could have created life elsewhere in the universe, but we have no evidence one way or the other. The Bible doesn’t tell us, and science can only look and hope for a clue. Whether or not life exists on other planets or moons, we believe the fine-tuning of Earth for life is evidence for God’s existence.
A subject that keeps drawing attention is the question of whether we are alone in the universe or could there be life on other planets. Many people seem to feel that this is a religious issue. They assume if science discovers life on another planet, it will discredit the Bible in some way. This has led some religious writers to try to prove that life exists nowhere but on the Earth.
Discover magazine devotes much of the December issue to the question, “Could there be life on other planets?” The cover picture shows the parabolic reflector of a large radio telescope with the heading “Are We Alone?”
It is essential to understand that this is NOT a religious issue, and the search for life in space has no biblical implications. The Genesis account describes Earth’s history and gives no discussion of any other planets in the cosmos. A careful scientific study of the requirements for life to emerge from non-life shows complexity beyond the reach of any chance process. If there is life elsewhere, God created it.
Why would God do that? Why do all of the other stars and their planets and galaxies exist? God has not limited humans to where we can travel. It may be that in the distant future, humans will live somewhere else in space. It may be that natural resources on Earth will eventually run out, and we will need to secure those resources in space. The biblical message is intended for this planet (Mark 16:15), but the language does not exclude a relationship between God and any creature. For example, Hebrews 4:13 says, “There is not a creature that exists that is hidden from him.”
This discussion reminds me of a radio debate I had in Washington, D.C., with Larry King as the moderator. My opponent was a leader of the atheist group in Washington, and people could call in questions for the two of us to answer. A caller asked, “What would you do if a spaceship landed on the White House lawn, an alien got out with a Bible in his hand and said ‘Has Jesus been here yet?’” My atheist friend said, “Punt.” In reality, that proposal would raise many other questions, but the point is that life in space is not a biblical issue.
The Discover article runs through many familiar suggestions. One popular proposal says that we don’t see alien-inhabited planets because they have built a sphere around their solar system, trapping all energy and making it impossible to see them. Called a Dyson sphere, it demands a level of sophistication that is hard to imagine. Another popular suggestion is that aliens camouflage their space ships to look like asteroids. We saw that idea suggested recently when an asteroid called Oumuamua came through our solar system from outer space.
Aliens capable of building such technological wonders would not need to camouflage since they would have better ways to protect themselves. There are some newer and wilder proposals, but the question, “Could there be life on other planets?” is not a biblical issue. If life is out there, it is so far away that it is unlikely to be a threat to our planet in the near future.
As astronomical equipment gets better, the details of stellar systems other than our own show patterns that highlight our unique solar system.
The January 3, 2018, issue of The Astronomical Journal published a report on a study of 909 planets in 355 systems discovered by the Kepler Telescope. The study shows two major patterns in neighboring exoplanets. The first is that those exoplanets tend to have similar masses. The second is that their orbits are regularly spaced from one planet to the next.
Our solar system has inner planets that have mismatched sizes, and they are widely spaced. All models of solar system formation fit what we see in exoplanets. The evidence suggests that exoplanetary systems have not been disturbed since their formation. Our system is different because it shows evidence that it has been disturbed. Jupiter and Saturn seem to be tools that modify the normal pattern of solar system formation.
In 1996 an extraterrestrial rock fragment was discovered in Egypt called the Hypatia stone. The mineral composition of that stone is unlike any other known object in our solar system. Scientists think that it originated outside of our system. Our solar system seems to be unique in both structure and chemical makeup. Astronomers are discovering indicators of how God created the Earth and all of the things that allow life to exist on it.
One of the interesting scientific discoveries of the past decade has been that there are planets orbiting other stars (called exoplanets) and that many of these planets may have temperatures that would allow liquid water to exist on their surfaces. There has been a special interest in M dwarf exoplanets.
In theory, all stars could have a possible planet in a zone where the temperatures would be between zero and 100 degrees Celcius. However, that zone could be very small, and there are many factors required to make life possible, and many that would make life impossible. In an article in Science News dated June 24, 2017, (page 18) some of those factors were mentioned. They include stellar flares, gravitational locking, and especially the life expectancy of the star.
Stars age and the period during which their habitable zone could exist in a stable form is very short. M dwarf stars are held up as having long enough lifetimes for water to exist and biological processes to take place. Since they are the most common type of star in the Milky Way (70% of all the stars in our galaxy) scientists are studying them closely. We have reported before on one of them called TRAPPIST-1.
As more data comes in, it is becoming apparent that although M dwarf exoplanets remain as they are for very long times, they are still not stable enough to sustain life. Scientists hoping to find another “earth” orbiting another star are learning that M dwarfs are not good candidates even though they have some of the conditions necessary for life.
We commented in a previous post about extra-solar planets (planets orbiting other stars), and whether those planets could have life on them. The media seem to convey the idea that there are hundreds of “earths” all containing life-forms similar to us. They suggest that if there are many Earth-like planets with life on them, then that indicates that Earth and the life on it came about by chance processes. In February, NASA called a special news conference to announce that they had found a star they call TRAPPIST-1 which had seven Earth-sized planets orbiting it in the “Goldilocks Zone.” The Goldilocks Zone is the area where water could exist in the liquid state. Many media sources were quick to announce that NASA had found seven planets that were “Earth twins” and almost surely would be inhabited.
Let us emphasize again that finding life in space is not an issue of whether God exists. If scientists find life in space, it will have been created by God and will have a purpose in existing. This particular find, however, is just another example of how quickly and irresponsibly the media will jump to promote an agenda that will sell. As more data has become available, it is becoming increasingly obvious that this seven-planet system is not an ideal place for life. In fact, any life form that happened to be there would be destroyed by the properties of the system.
TRAPPIST-1, the star that serves as the “sun,” is a very cool dwarf star. That means it gives off a very limited spectrum of light. The critical wavelengths required for photosynthesis and chemosynthesis are simply not present. The masses of these planets range from .4 to 1.4 times the mass of Earth. That means the smaller planets will almost surely not have an atmosphere since they are smaller than Mars. The length of time for the planets to orbit their star varies from 1.5 days to 20 days. That makes a very short year. They are all less than 6 million miles from their parent star. That means all activity on the star would likely be lethal to life-forms on the planets. For a comparison, Mercury, the planet closest to our Sun is separated from it by 36.8 million miles. Earth is 93 million miles from the Sun.
Earth is very different from any other planet we have discovered inside or outside of our solar system. One key factor that makes our planet habitable is our Moon. The Moon serves several important roles, including holding Earth in a stable rotation. The Moon can be a stabilizer for Earth because of its relatively large size. Other planets have moons that are much smaller in comparison to the planets they orbit. Also, other planets in our solar system have multiple moons which make conditions less stable.
Many of the planets discovered outside of our solar system are huge and located incredibly close to their stars with highly eccentric orbits. A solar system in the constellation Serpens was found with a planet seventeen times as massive as Jupiter. Someone might respond with the observation that we can only see the big planets because those systems are so far away. That observation misses the point. These huge, Jupiter-sized and larger planets are located as close to their stars as we are to our Sun or closer. If there is a small planet in the vicinity, it would be twisted and wrenched about by the influences of the large planet. The problem with highly elliptical orbits and life is that there would be too much variation in the amount of energy that the planet receives from its star. Earth’s orbit is only slightly elliptical giving us stable temperatures. If we had only one planet in our solar system with a radically elliptical orbit, there would be a danger of it crashing into our planet. Circular orbits are important for stability. The instability produced by highly eccentric orbits of large planets would make the area sterile and void as far as life is concerned. Everything we see indicates that our solar system is a cosmic oddball.
There are many properties of our planet, Sun, solar system, and the galaxy in which we live that have to be exactly as they are for any kind of life, not just intelligent life, to exist. The galaxy has to be the right type of galaxy, we must be in the right position in the galaxy, and our Sun has to be the right type of star and at the right age in its life process. Our planet must have the right size, mass, tilt, magnetic field, distribution of land masses, chemical makeup, atmosphere, distance from the Sun, and much, much more.