In a sense the discovery of a potential life-supporting planet isn’t news.
What do I mean by that sub-heading?
Many (and I mean ‘many’) years ago I was a student at Faraday House Electrical Engineering College in Southampton Row, London. The College was closely associated with London University and one year there was an invite to attend a lecture by the famous British astronomer, Sir Bernard Lovell.
Despite that lecture being about 45 years ago, I still recall Sir Bernard explaining the statistics of the universe to demonstrate that the odds of another planet somewhere ‘out there’ that could support life were huge. (Just as an aside do read this interesting story of Jodrell Bank picking up signals from the Russian Lunar 15 just as Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin prepared to leave the moon’s surface.)
So with the positive identification of this planet some 600 light-years away, Sir Bernard’s speculation has been proved spot-on.
But in another very real sense, the discovery of Kepler 22b is astounding. Step outside the science of the find and just cogitate a little about the implications; the deep philosophical issues that Kepler 22b raises. Here’s an extract from Northern Voices Online news,
The excitingly named Kepler 22b, a planet believed to have been discovered orbiting a star a mere 600 light years away, is being hailed as a “New Earth”. But sci-fi fans shouldn’t get too excited just yet: as always with these stories, the likelihood is that we have not met the neighbours. Or, if we have, they probably aren’t very exciting conversationalists.
Talking about the likelihood of intelligent life on Kepler 22b, Dr Lewis Dartnell, of the Centre for Planetary Sciences at UCL, said, “There are big hurdles that life has to get over, and we don’t know how big a hurdle the origin of life itself is. You simply can’t tell with a single datum – you can’t do stats when N=1.”
The N that Dr Dartnell mentioned was earth: the only known planet inhabiting intelligent life forms, or better still, life forms of any kind.
Dr Dartnell further adds, “The interesting thing will be when we go to Mars and Europa and see whether there are bacteria there. It would be enormously significant if life is found there. But the next step, once Kepler has looked at a lot of planets, will be to see what their atmospheres are made of, using infrared spectroscopy.
“If one or two of them have oxygen in the atmosphere, it may be a transient thing – like Venus, undergoing a runaway greenhouse effect – but if we find, say, 20 Earth-like planets, all with the signature of oxygen in their atmosphere, then that would be very unlikely. Life would be the more reasonable explanation,” concluded Dr Dartnell.
Read the rest of this article here.
There are many news reports online but this short video caught my eye.
The latest NASA report is here from which is quoted,
NASA’s Kepler Mission Confirms Its First Planet in Habitable Zone of Sun-like Star
NASA’s Kepler mission has confirmed its first planet in the “habitable zone,” the region where liquid water could exist on a planet’s surface. Kepler also has discovered more than 1,000 new planet candidates, nearly doubling its previously known count. Ten of these candidates are near-Earth-size and orbit in the habitable zone of their host star. Candidates require follow-up observations to verify they are actual planets.
The newly confirmed planet, Kepler-22b, is the smallest yet found to orbit in the middle of the habitable zone of a star similar to our sun. The planet is about 2.4 times the radius of Earth. Scientists don’t yet know if Kepler-22b has a predominantly rocky, gaseous or liquid composition, but its discovery is a step closer to finding Earth-like planets.
Previous research hinted at the existence of near-Earth-size planets in habitable zones, but clear confirmation proved elusive. Two other small planets orbiting stars smaller and cooler than our sun recently were confirmed on the very edges of the habitable zone, with orbits more closely resembling those of Venus and Mars.
“This is a major milestone on the road to finding Earth’s twin,” said Douglas Hudgins, Kepler program scientist at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “Kepler’s results continue to demonstrate the importance of NASA’s science missions, which aim to answer some of the biggest questions about our place in the universe.”
So let me leave you with this tantalising thought. One day it will be confirmed that there is intelligent life on a planet out there in the universe. That is likely to be one of the astounding events ever in the history of man on this planet. Even trying some wild guesses about how that will change mankind’s self-perception is more than difficult – yet it will change the way we look at ourselves irrevocably!
I pray that I am still alive when that happens, as I’m sure many others must do.