Scott R. Pelow
ITT Technical College
EN-1320: Composition one
Throughout the history humankind has looked to the stars and wondered if they are alone in the universe. Only in the past few hundred years have humans had the means to start answering this timeless and most important of questions and now that humans have begun to discover extra-solar planets in their galactic neighborhood they may soon find out. The sheer mathematical probability since there are hundreds of billions of stars that populate the Milky Way galaxy. Since 1995, more than 200 extra-solar planets have been discovered, demonstrating not only are those planetary systems are common, but also that planets may come in a large variety of flavors. As the number of detections grows, statistical studies of the properties of exoplanets and their host stars can be conducted to unravel some of the key physical and chemical processes leading to the formation of planetary systems (Santos, 2008). The study of extra-solar planets has become one of the most active fields of research in astronomy since the discovery in 1995 of several giant planets orbiting nearby stars similar to the Sun. There have been many unexpected results, and the progress has been remarkable. More than 100 planets are now known, many of them in systems of two or more bodies orbiting the same star. In one case it has even been possible to detect the atmosphere of the planet as it transits between us and its star. Although the number of detected extra-solar planets continues to grow at a steady rate, the frequency is still fairly low. Only a few percent of the stars surveyed so far are known to have planets. Presumably this fraction will continue to rise as search techniques improve and we extend the detections to smaller planets and wider orbits. But Doppler spectroscopy cannot be expected to detect Earth-like planets orbiting in the habitable zones of solar-type stars. Effects such as convective motions near the surface of the star, or star spots combined with stellar rotation, can cause spurious Doppler shifts much larger than the Earth would induce. Remarkably, a system of Earth-sized planets has already been discovered in orbit around a pulsar, the remnant of a supernova explosion, using the extraordinarily precise timing of the radio pulses to deduce the displacement of the spinning neutron star induced by the planets.
Of course, there is much more interest in finding habitable planets orbiting stars like the Sun. Perhaps the most promising technique for finding other Earths is to search for transiting systems (Lathman, 2003). As of 2010 about 500 planets had been discovered, and the 2010 Decadal Survey cited extra-solar planet research as one of the three pillars of modern astrophysics. The growth and interest in extra-solar planet research remains impressive for a field that did not exist 15 years earlier. (Butler, 2012) the Catholic Church has finally admitted it was in wrong in the Galileo affair. And the new pope has acknowledged the basic facts of evolution: the Big Bang event, the age of the earth, the fossil record, and genetic connections across species. Moreover, in 2009 the Vatican hosted a conference on astrobiology and the question of whether there is life on other planets (Fiala, 2013).
Religions will have to evolve beyond an exclusive focus on the earth. While some critics may hope that this phase in the evolution of religion may lead us beyond religion altogether, it is more likely that religion will develop in new directions. While the discovery of exoplanets finally confirms the fact that there is nothing special about our planet, defenders of the rare earth hypothesis can focus on the specifics of temperature differentials, gravitational fields, the chemical composition of the atmosphere, and the presence of liquid water to argue that intelligent life remains special. It is more…