Is Earth the only livable planet in the Universe?
NASA’s Kepler mission, to discover new planets around distant stars, has been finding more in the Goldilocks zone than they hoped for. The Goldilocks zone is where approximately Earth-sized planets are orbiting an approximately Sun-sized star at approximately Earth’s distance from that star. This is the zone where the environment is just right for life to evolve. The Goldilocks and the Three Bears story is the source reference for the just right quality in the zone’s name. Our planet supports life, which is obvious, but that simple unchallengeable fact proves that life can exist in our universe when the conditions are favorable. An attempt to quantify the basic necessities for a planet to evolve a high tech civilization is called the Drake equation. It attempts to calculate the probabilities, by combining necessary basic factors. The examination of early Earth geology suggests that when the astronomical conditions are right, the origin of life is near certain. The ongoing work of Felisa Wolfe-Simon – at Mono lake – has proven that life can exist in much more hostile conditions than previously thought possible. Her discovery expands the Goldilocks zone and makes life on other planets even more probable.
What complicates the facts that need to be verified?
Life is complex but every reaction is simple; chemistry and the simple actions of chemistry are as inevitable as gravity, under the right conditions. The recently discovered planet named Kepler-22b is in the Goldilocks zone, which verifies that other Earth-like planets are possible. The planets already discovered by the Kepler space-based telescope are large and near their sun because the the planet must pass in front of the distant sun three times before the scientists using the space-based research telescope are calling it a discovery. That means a planet the distance of our Earth from our Sun would only pass in front of its sun once a year, and thus it would be a minimum of three years before it would be counted. A further complication is that the alignment of the transit between a distant planet and the observer back here must be quite precise; that can be computed and corrected for, but it’s a rare event. These factors dilute the frequency by which we can observe these transits and will make us wait for decades before we will observe relatively small, truly earth-like planets, even though it is now as certain as certain can be that they are sometimes there to be seen. The truth is out there, and it is being revealed by the tools we now have working, but this revelation will take time to be fully exposed.
Why accurate data from Kepler improves our lives.
Words are wonderful things and we can use them to create fantastic ideas, but only those ideas that have a potential for impacting our lives need be thought about for substantial periods of time. Only those things which have a potential for being testably verified need to be factored into our life decisions. The search for distant earth-like planets does affect our lives because it clarifies our relationships with our universe, our Earth, our life support system and ourselves. With words we can claim other worlds exist, or deny that possibility, but when other earth-like planets are proven to exist, those honest people who deny that possibility must drop that idea and the derivative ideas that are dependent upon it and adjust their thinking to be in alignment with the new proven reality. These people will hesitate to abandon beliefs but the adjustment will improve their relationship with reality. We are discovering and proving that we are not alone in the universe and never were. It further affirms to us that we are responsible for taking care of the planet we live upon.
Our planet is not unique but it is a wonderful place to live.