Discussions of Book of Mormon issues and evidences, plus other topics related to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Friday, August 23, 2019

There May Be Far More Earthlike Planets Than We Imagined

A Hubble photo of interacting galaxies from NASA.gov.
As one looks at the endless fog of stars dotting our galaxy and countless other galaxies, it's easy to believe that there must be other planets like ours out there. But is a planet like ours astonishingly rare, one that is similar in size and in a reasonable location relative to the star it orbits (not too far or too close), or are there just a handful of lucky candidates out there where we might have hope of finding life some day?

I was excited to see this headline at the BYU news section of BYU's website this week: "How many Earth-like planets exist in the universe?" Wonderfully, based on a new highly technical study just published by a team of scientists from Penn State with BYU's own Keir Ashby (Dept. of Physics and Astronomy), the answer has gone from "maybe a handful" to roughly 2.48 zillion. OK, that's my estimate, based on the actual finding that as many as 10% of stars roughly similar to our sun may have planets roughly similar to ours in terms of having a suitable size for life and suitable distance from their sun. See "Occurrence Rates of Planets orbiting FGK Stars: Combining Kepler DR25, Gaia DR2 and Bayesian Inference" by Danley C. Hsu et al., published July 9, 2019 at https://arxiv.org/pdf/1902.01417.pdf:
For planets with sizes 0.75−1.5 R⊕and orbital periods of 237-500 days, we find a rate of planets per FGK star of <0.27 (84.13th percentile). While the true rate of such planets could be lower by a factor of ∼2 (primarily due to potential contamination of planet candidates by false alarms), the upper limits on the occurrence rate of such planets are robust to ∼10%.
An FGK star, by the way, refers to stars of type F, G, or K, which I think are the classes believed to be suitable for sustaining a planet with life like ours (see "Stellar Classification" at Wikipedia).

In other words, the galaxy and presumably the universe may be teaming with planets where life could exist. Surely we are not alone. But wait, what about the Fermi Paradox? If there are so many opportunities for life to exist all over the galaxy, why haven't we heard a single peep from any other intelligent civilization from elsewhere in space? Surely there has been time for advanced civilizations to rise and spread throughout the galaxy -- how can there be such silence? A good discussion of this problem is offered by Seth Shostak for NBC News in "If space aliens are out there, why haven't we found them?" Some attempts at resolving the conundrum are found in the optimistic article, "Why Haven’t We Heard From All The Aliens? Because They’re All Dead!" at UniverseToday.com, which gently tries to remind us what an improbable miracle, or rather, coincidence, our planet is (cautiously avoiding, of course, any hint of intelligence in its remarkably ideal design). The suggestion is made that life might have evolved elsewhere, but rather than "life happened," it was soon "death happened" due to all the radical changes that can happen in climate, radiation, orbit, etc. Life is fragile, incredibly fragile, and it's one really awesome, gargantuan coincidence that all the right conditions just kept on happening one after another to keep this planet so ideal for life. So why haven't we heard from others in the galaxy?
The only possible explanations for this are that either life is far more rare than we think, or that we aren’t looking in the right places
But there's another possible explanation, while you're addressing all possible explanations. I think the perspective that our religion provides, coupled with cosmological speculation, may offer an interesting hypothesis. The unmentionable possibility here is that there is an intelligent species that pervades the cosmos, but chooses to let us live and be tested here on our own. If God is in charge and has many planets of His sons and daughters elsewhere, He may arrange for these planets of mortals to be in relative isolation from each other, and may ask that those who have moved past mortality (e.g., as resurrected beings) leave the mortals alone (with a few angelic exceptions) to protect our agency and keep conditions favorable for His purposes. The cosmos may be teaming with beings like us who are either in their mortal phase or have graduated (resurrected) into their eternal phases, and in both cases, alien contact with the primitives may be prevented.

Now that we can see a mind-boggling large number of planets may have conditions that could support life, I hope that all those opportunities aren't going to waste, and like the thought that there may be innumerable sites across the heavens where God's work and glory involving intelligent beings is taking place. I'm willing to bet that cosmos is rich with life with incredible, endless communities of knowledge, love, and wisdom waiting for us to join in their joy and excitement in the eternities ahead, all organized and subservient to the God of Gods and Lord of Lords, our Father and Creator.

In the Book of Moses, chapter 1, Moses saw that there are numerous planets with sons and daughters of God, but was told he would only be given information about our home here. God chooses to keep them veiled from us for now and perhaps visa versa. But how wonderful it will be when the restrictions are lifted one day and we can connect and learn from others who have been through related mortal journeys. The scriptures give us such wonderful things to look forward to, especially when combined with our minuscule but growing knowledge of just what a fabulous cosmos we are part of.

21 comments:

Anonymous said...

Sure, Jeff. Whatever you say.

— OK

Jeff Lindsay said...

Speculation, OK, but what's your answer to the silence of the stars? Do you think we are alone? Fermi's Paradox is a very thoughtful one that has been significantly exacerbated by the recognition of the VAST numbers of planetary candidates out there. So where is everyone? If there is a God running the show and free agency in mortality is a vital issue for Him, then letting us exist without direct, regular intervention from super-advanced others is just like not sending down angels to answer all our questions and correct our mistakes 24/7. If one can imagine the possibility of a loving God in charge of the cosmos, then in that framework, is allowing us to seemingly be on our own implausible?

Anonymous said...

Jeff -

Your answer appears to be similar to the fictional, but nonetheless philosophical master piece, Star Trek. There is few episodes that do not violate the prime directive. Your version of God is a Deist who eventually violates his own non-interference policy and sends extraterrestrial angels and artifacts out sight of the vast majority of humanity. Your answer is based on a massive assumption of a vague and poorly define concept called agency (not sure what is "free" about it) which appears to be more soft determinism than indeterminism, maintaining some sort of mystical balance between show running and agency permitting. It is far from clear if this agency thing even exists, if it does what is the right balance of interfering with it, etc. Hence your supposed answer actually raises way more questions than it answers.

Even in Bibical times the night sky was dark, which is usually the answer to Fermi's paradox. The dark night sky is evidence of space expanding faster than the speed of light, stopping the night sky from glowing with visible radiation. An extra-terrestrial intelligence would need a space ship to contract space (warp speed) to move faster than the speed of light. Superluminal travel violates causality, ergo is not thought to be possible.

Anonymous said...

There is also the possibility that I heard from Neil deGrasse Tyson the other day: It’s possible that they already showed up and found nothing of value and moved on. He also mentioned the difficulty of communication between species. Humans have not been able to establish any meaningful communication with even our most intelligent cohabitants on Earth. Why do we assume we could have an intelligent communication with an alien species?

Anonymous said...

Jeff, set Fermi aside for a moment and consider the Drake Equation. Our failure to detect extraterrestrial intelligence (after a mere few decades of trying) is easily explicable if some of the equation’s variables are at the low end of their plausible range.

Most people I’ve discussed this with fail to account for the vast age of our galaxy. Suppose a civilization sends out radio emissions over a period of 1,000 years (our own experience suggests technologically advanced civilizations are unlikely to last anywhere near that long, but go with it). The point is that there’s no reason to assume that 1,000-year period would have overlapped with our own present.* It could have elapsed at any time over the past several billion years. And a thousand years is just one-millionth of a billion years, so it’s quite plausible that the radio signals of thousands and thousands of alien civilizations passed us by at times when we weren’t able to detect them (or before we had even evolved as a species).

Isn’t this more plausible than your idea of a God deliberately keeping us ignorant?

— OK

* Actually, of course, for us to detect a signal from a planet that is X light years away, the signal would have to have been emitted X years ago, but let’s keep it simple.

Ramer said...

I kinda agree with OK on this one. How possible is it that, instead of there not being any intelligent life anywhere else in the universe, they're simply so far away that any attempt at contact hasn't reached us yet? Or that the time periods where it'd be possible for any of them to communicate with each other just don't overlap?

However, I wouldn't necessarily say that God is "deliberately keeping us ignorant" quite in that way; just that He doesn't feel it's a necessity for Him to reveal very many details to us right now. That's just temporarily withheld information (which we know is being withheld, as directly said in Moses 1:33 and 35). It's completely possible that He will eventually reveal more about other the worlds His sons and daughters inhabit.

(I love astronomy, by the way, and stuff like this fascinates me.)

Anonymous said...

Just for the conversation's perspective on Drake: On the high end there are only 400 billion stars in the Milky Way, many in the center where radiation is too high. Lets say 200 billion in the habitable zone. Then the electromagnetic field needs to not die off the way Mar's did. Then the proposed planets need an impact to create complex proteins out of amino acids. Then they need to begin to replicate. Then 3 billion years to go from single cell organism to multi-cell organisms, and then multi-cell organisms need to evolve an nervous system etc. To me it sounds like Earth is easily 1 in billion. But this post was about the universe, not the Milky Way.

The Mormon Moses scripture does question the Evangelical interpretation of Eve being the mother of ALL living.

In general, religion is ego-centric, science has shown us we are not special, Earth is not the center of the solar center, Milky Way, or the Universe, and most likely, and the universe is one of many.

RNA creation said...

What is the latest speculation in the scientific community on how the creation of complex macromolecules like RNA came about?

Anonymous said...

RNA - moon earth collision. The impact caused amino acids to form complex RNA

Anonymous said...

What are the odds of that? How many planets would need to sustain large impact collisions in order to bring about one case of macromolecule creation?

Anonymous said...

Exactly, but our solar systems composition turns out to be common. Massive gases further away outside asteroid belt, astroid belt was a massive impact, mars was very similar to earth but it's mantle stopped rotating and lost it's defense to solar winds. Therefore mar's co2 did not absorded slowly into limestone like earth, etc

Anonymous said...

Just want to point out that RNA is NOT made of amino acids. I suppose your hypothesis is that the collision caused nucleotides to form RNA?

Anonymous said...

Very good, nucleotides then later rna, but though I wish could take credit I am only poorly and roughly regurgitating others

Jon Miranda said...

This was designed so that we could never ever reach any other inhabited planet. The distances in space are vast in fact one just one light-year is roughly 5.8 trillion miles even with our best technology it would take 40,000 years to travel just one light year. The scriptures are replete with the fact that there are many many many worlds out there without number.

Anonymous said...

Jon you don't know what you're talking about.

Jon Miranda said...

Anonymous
Elaborate

Anonymous said...

Jon Miranda
No

Jon Miranda said...

Moderators
This Anonymous person likes to play games. Perhaps you shouldn't let people post anonymously.

Jeff Lindsay said...

Thanks, Jon. Deleted the comment with the links that normally would have been blocked by the Blogspot system.

Anonymous said...

Scientists find biology's optimal 'molecular alphabet' may be preordained

https://phys.org/news/2019-09-scientists-biology-optimal-molecular-alphabet.html

Jeff Lindsay said...

The research mentioned in the phys.org article is remarkable! Thanks!!