New Planets Demonstrate Earth's Uniqueness

Cosmological evidence for the existence of God is a constantly changing area of study where new discoveries are always changing our understandings and perceptions. In the past several years, astronomers have discovered over 50 planets outside our Solar System. These planets have much to tell us about planet formation and our own existence.

 The traditional theory of planet formation is that a cloud of interstellar material collapsed gravitationally to form a star. As the cloud collapsed, pertubations in the cloud caused condensations at various points in the cloud, producing planets. Leftover debris is believed to exist in clouds around the system and at points within the system producing comets, meteorites, and asteroids. These objects are theorized to have produced rings, moons, and other structures.

 Long before optical equipment became technically capable of detecting planets in other star systems, astronomers knew there were some things in our own Solar System that were hard to explain. Neptune has a moon named Triton which goes around Neptune backwards, rising in the west and setting in the east. Venus' day is longer than its year (243 earth days versus 225). In fact, if you were to walk westward on Venus, the Sun would never set because you can walk faster than it rotates. Our moon does not revolve around the earth's equator as most other moons in the Solar System do, but rather orbits in the same plane as the planets. The proposals to explain these kinds of facts have always been creative and imaginative, but possible.

 As we look at other stars and their planets, things become much more difficult. Virtually all of the planets discovered so far have been huge objects located incredibly close to their stars with highly eccentric orbits. Recently, a solar system in the constellation Serpens was found with a planet 17 times as massive as Jupiter. Someone might respond with the observation that we can only see the big planets because these solar systems are so far away that earth-sized planets cannot be seen. This observation misses the point. These huge Jupiter-sized and larger planets are located close to their suns--as close 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. In January, 2001, two Jovian planets were found that whirl about their sun in perfect lockstep with one planet taking exactly twice the amount of time as the other for one orbit. No other functional planet could exist in this system because these two planets are linked so perfectly another planet would seriously upset the gravitational linkage.

 The other interesting fact about these new extra solar planets is that since 1995 when the first planet was detected, their orbits have turned out to be highly elliptical. figure A shows a non-elliptical orbit Diagram of a planet around its center (c). This is very close to what the earth's orbit around the sun looks like. We do not have radical variations in the amount of energy we get from the Sun because our distance from the Sun does not vary that much. In figure B, we see an orbit of great eccentricity. One of the basic laws of astronomy is that, when a planet orbits a star, the star will be at the focus (f) of the ellipse--not the center. If you stick two pins in a piece of cardboard, loop a rubber band around the pins (f), and draw a circular picture by moving a pencil around inside the rubber band, you will get an ellipse. The pins are called the foci of the ellipse

 In the case of the new planets that have been found, we find the star being orbited is at one of the focus points as the laws of science predict (Kepler's law), but the planets have a huge eccentricity--in other words, their orbits vary from being very close to their star to being very, very far away. If there were any earth-like neighbor in such a system, it would be sent flying off into space. The instability produced by such highly eccentric orbits of such large planets will make any such area sterile and void as far as life is concerned. All of this data show that our type of solar system is a cosmic oddball. Dr. Scott Tremaine, a Princeton astronomer, has said, "Not a single prediction for what we'd find in other systems has turned out to be correct.When your classification schemes start breaking down, you know you're learning something exciting. This is wonderful stuff."

 One of the convincing arguments that Earth was created by God and is not a product of blind chance is the number of properties of our planet, the Sun, the Solar System, and the galaxy in which we live that have to be precisely what they are for any kind of life (not ours necessarily) to exist. The galaxy has to be the right type of galaxy, we have to have the right position in the galaxy, our Sun has to be the right type of star and at the right age in its life process, we have to have the right size, mass, tilt, magnetic field, distribution of land masses, chemical makeup, atmosphere, distance to the Sun, etc. Now we have learned that the size, distribution, and orbital shape of the planets within the solar system are also critical to the creation and survival of life. Every time new variables are discovered that have to be precisely controlled for life of any kind to exist, the probability that these variables could be a product of chance formation becomes that much less.

 To calculate the probability of an event like this, you multiply the probability of each of the dependent variables you are considering together. The odds of drawing an ace of spades out of a deck of playing cards is one in 52. The odds of doing that twice in a row back to back is 1/52 x 1/52 = 1/2704. Every time scientists find a new variable that has to be precisely determined for a planet to exist that can sustain life, that probability is multiplied by all the other probabilities known. Science now knows of about 50 other solar systems, only one of which (ours) has the conditions needed for a stable planet. This makes the total probability 50 times less likely than it was before all this was discovered. That total probability is far beyond the number of possible atoms in the cosmos. "In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth" takes on a whole new level of credibility as we continue to gain knowledge about the cosmos.--Reference: Time, January 22, 2001, page 51 and Astronomy, July, 2000, page 94.

--John N. Clayton

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