Scientists have found seven planets that are like Earth, might have water and even life, raising questions about the universe and our place in it.
NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope has discovered “the first known system of seven Earth-size planets around a single star.” These planets are merely 40 light years (378 trillion kilometers) away in the constellation Aquarius. With some galaxies located 13 billion light years away, these planets are quite close to us. They might have water and, as we know, where there is water there may be life.
For centuries, science has grappled with a fundamental question: Are we alone? The answer to this question shapes not only our view of the universe, but also of our place in it. So far, we see ourselves as the most intelligent if not the only intelligent species on the only planet that hosts life. It turns out there may be life elsewhere and potentially smarter aliens as in science fiction.
At the very least, we now know for certain that Earth is not unique in its form. Even though we have scanned but a fraction of our own galaxy let aside the rest of the universe, we have found multiple planets like ours. Therefore, the possibility of planets with water and, ipso facto, life becomes highly probable.
NASA’s discovery of the seven planets is in the great tradition of Nicolaus Copernicus, Galileo Galilei and Johannes Kepler. The geocentric view of the universe that Judeo-Christian faiths have posited for the last few millennia has been buffeted by the scientific revolutions of the last few centuries. Even though Evangelicals might trumpet creationism, most reasonable people find Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution more plausible than Eve coming out of Adam’s left rib.
Discoveries of seven planets of the same size as Earth and conducive to life make it harder to tell ourselves that we are terribly special and that some god up there is presiding over our cosmically insignificant lives. Of course, religion is not dying anytime soon. It caters to human needs that go beyond reason. Besides, in a world of over 7 billion people, there will be plenty of radicals willing to blow themselves up or fight crusades for god.
When we wake up tomorrow, the world will largely be the same with depressing headlines, crowded cities and spluttering economies. Yet, in the days to come, NASA’s discovery of these seven planets will have similar consequences to that of Darwin visiting Galápagos Islands.
The universe is a vast, magical and mysterious place. It just became even more mysterious. And so did our place in it.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.
Photo Credit: Imaginima