Kepler-22 b

When news of the newly discovered exoplanet Kepler-22 b broke around the 5th of December, a DpSU titled something like Another ‘Goldilocks’ Planet Stirs ET Hopes was inevitable. Unlike what we saw in Planetary Evolution, Mr Thomas is at least not denying that the planet itself exists – merely trying to argue that it’s unlikely that there’s life on it, which he claims is the primary reason that people are interested in it and exoplanets in general.

Plot of known exoplanets - Kepler 22 b is at the upper left

In late 2010, news media were abuzz about a very distant planet that astronomers thought might be just right for life because it appeared to be orbiting in the “habitable zone” of its star. Headlines referred to it as a Goldilocks planet, because it was possibly “not too hot and not too cold” for liquid water on its surface.

After the initial interest waned, however, the find was largely forgotten. Now another planet is at the media forefront as the latest hope for life beyond earth.

The media is, yes, rather fickle in this regard. Part of the reason is that Gliese 581 g – the planet being referenced there – may not actually exist, and if it does it is probably tidally locked and thus not all that habitable. Two problems, I might add, which this new planet doesn’t seem to have. The other reason why the interest waned is, obviously, the novelty value on any scientific discovery.

Astronomers using NASA’s $600-million Kepler telescope—launched in 2009—examined “2,326 potential planets in its first 16 months of operation.” Of those, Reuters reported that the researchers confirmed that “10 are roughly Earth-size and reside in their host stars’ habitable zones.” One is named Kepler-22b, and its radius is about 2.4 times that of earth.

The orbital period of the planet is around 290 days, and interestingly the first detection of the three required to confirm its existence was made just days after the launch of the Kepler ‘scope – if it took until now to be able to say that it exists when the transits that are used to detect it are 290 days apart, that means that if Kepler was looking at a planet identical to Earth in every way we still wouldn’t know. That we found this one so fast is strong evidence pointing towards the idea that such worlds residing in the habitable zone of a star are very common. To quote the space.com article B.T mentions elseware:

Kepler’s finds should only get more exciting as time goes on, researchers say.

“We’re pushing down to smaller planets and longer orbital periods,” said Natalie Batalha, Kepler deputy science team lead at Ames.

And that only increases the chances of finding a planet like our own. Back to Thomas:

“If Kepler-22b has a surface and a cushion of atmosphere similar to Earth’s, it would be about 72 degrees Fahrenheit,” according to Reuters. And if the planet has a rocky surface, rather than gas like most extrasolar planets, then it might hold liquid water near the surface.

But even if this were verified, which is not currently possible, liquid water would be only one of hundreds of conditions required for life. Given enough outer space objects to investigate, it makes sense that at least some of them would inhabit the habitable zone. So, why all the excitement over this particular planet?

The claim that there are “hundreds of conditions required for life” is sourced to an old DpSU which mentions the following factors:

  1. the presence of water
  2. sustainable atmosphere
  3. appropriate temperature ranges
  4. appropriate pressure
  5. the right atmospheric composition
  6. appropriate available elements
  7. “biological machines capable of producing new generations of machines that can perform all of the thousands of tiny tasks needed for life’s big processes such as metabolism and reproduction.”

That’s not ‘hundreds’, and the last one isn’t a prerequisite for life – it is life. He also mentions a paper called Habitable Zones in the Universe authored by Intelligent Design proponent Guillermo Gonzalez, which may contain a few more (but from what I can tell, the paper was never actually published – that link is to arXiv.org). Many of those are interdependent, and it should be added that they only apply to our own kind of life – if we consider the possibility that life generally could adapt to various atmospheric compositions then that condition disappears, for example.

Note also his comment that “Given enough outer space objects to investigate, it makes sense that at least some of them would inhabit the habitable zone.” There are plenty of allusions to the Goldilocks zone spread across the ICR’s website – will they remove references to arguments along the lines of ‘earth is exactly the right distance from the sun therefore God’?

The answer is the possibility of “intelligent aliens.”

Funding from the U.S. Air Force recently put the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) program back in operation. Now, SETI will focus its Allen Telescope Array on NASA’s Kepler discoveries. SETI director Jill Tarter told Reuters, “As soon as we find a different, a separate, an independent example of life somewhere else, we’re going to know that it’s ubiquitous throughout the universe.”

And that would essentially vindicate evolution and nullify creation.

That’s something worth remembering – what he’s saying is that if extra-terrestrial life of any kind anywhere in the universe other than Earth, that’s game over as far as young-Earth creationism is concerned. Let’s see why he thinks that…

This is because the Bible describes only the earth as being habitable: “For thus saith the LORD that created the heavens; God himself that formed the earth and made it; he hath established it, he created it not in vain, he formed it to be inhabited: I am the LORD; and there is none else.”

As we saw in IEE: The Origin of Life, none of the biblical verses that the creationists have at their disposal explicitly state that there is no life elseware in the universe. The above verse, as should be pretty obvious, is also completely irrelevant. But there’s more:

Extraterrestrial life would also contradict the Bible’s claim that “Christ died once for all” to pay for the sins of humanity (Hebrews 10:10), since to be fair, He would have to die as many times as there are planets inhabited with intelligent life.

He certainly didn’t die once and for all, if he managed to wake up a couple of days later. In all seriousness, I would say that if we are ever in direct contact with sentient alien life Christians of all stripes (YECs and others) will be trying to use that verse to say that “Jesus died for you too.” They’ll find a way, you just wait.

If the Bible is right, there should be no life that originated in outer space. If, instead, naturalistic theories are correct, then life should also have evolved elsewhere in the universe. So far, nobody is out there, and Kepler-22b looks just like one of “the worlds [that] were framed by the word of God.”

Ah, but Earth would count among those ‘worlds’, at least by my reading of the verse. So it could be just like us?

We still don’t know if Kepler-22 b is gaseous or rocky, because the system used to detect it does not tell us its mass, only its radius. But that’s not important – what is important is that we now have a world, that’s near Earth size, that’s in the habitable zone of its star. More and more of the constraints on the ability for life to be common in the universe are being shown to not be all that constraining. It seems, then, that if it is indeed true that creationists will throw in the towel upon the discovery of genuinely extraterrestrial life, that day is fast approaching. But I doubt that they will somehow – there’s always a way out when you’re interpreting scripture.

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One thought on “Kepler-22 b

  1. Pingback: Young-Earth Creationists Really Don’t Like ET Life « Exposing PseudoAstronomy

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