Extraordinary! According to this story, astronomers are photographing alien planets in nearby star systems! In my opinion, the likelihood of astronomers finding an Earth-like planet are now quite high. 20 years ago, there were no such instruments capable of the amazing photos we’re seeing today–of actual planets orbiting other stars! I never dreamed such a thing would be possible without getting in a spaceship and traveling to other star systems, in Star Trek fashion.
This advancement ruins a lot of beloved science fiction stories today, in the same measure that NASA’s Voyager ruined much of sci-fi 30 years ago when it photographed Venus, Mars, Jupiter, the focal points of novels by so many “greats” in sci-fi, like Heinlein. The planet in the above-linked article is only 7 AU from the star, which is similar to the orbit of our Jupiter.. in other words, it’s within the realm of the inner system. Inside those 7 AU may very well exist rocky planets like Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars. The planet in the photo, beta pictoris b, is 10x the size of Jupiter. So, it’s possible that it has ignited and has a hot core, a miniature star, rather than being just a gas giant. But several gas giants many times the size of Jupiter have also been found elsewhere so perhaps that is just the norm.
I love the speculate. Not so I can look back and say “See, I told you so!” Although fun, that is intellectually dishonest because for every correct prediction one usually makes a dozen wrong ones. But nevertheless it’s fun to try to guess where things are going. I can see a time in perhaps the next 10 years when inner system rocky planets will be detected.
The instruments are improving every year. It was unbelievable and inconceivable 10 years ago that someone would photograph a planet orbiting another star! Here we are today, and I think it will be possible to photograph smaller rocky worlds within 10 years. If that happens, then science will also be able to analyze the content of those rocky worlds to find out of there is any water, find the mean temperature, and other factors. Enter SETI… they will pinpoint those most likely star systems and begin listening to them more closely.
I’ve read a theory that radio signals like TV and radio really don’t go much farther than about 1 ly beyond a star, because the signals degrade beyond that point. But who knows? It is not just likely, but inevitable that SETI will do this because they’re desperate to find something to keep their funding after fruitless work for two decades.
What if an Earth-like planet is discovered, photographed, analyzed, scanned, and then very faint but unusual radio signals are detected? What will that mean for civilization as we know it? How will it impact people of faith? The Catholic Church has already pre-empted the issue by releasing a statement already regarding alien life. The question many are asking is: why, unless they know something already?
I personally believe it’s inevitable that such a planet will be discovered, and that it will turn our civilization upside down…for a while. It will give people new hope, get their eyes off consumerism and war and get us looking to the sky once again with hope…because the world will have just gotten a lot more interesting. In my opinion, not only is this inevitable, but I think it’s needed. People need hope. Right now, we all focus on low-quality entertainment because the world is lacking anything substantial like a moon landing. Kids are kind of bummed out today because all they have to look forward to in life is going to college, getting a job, and doing the usual things expected of them in a capitalistic society. They want more. They want to believe in something tangible that’s greater than themselves!
Finding an Earth-like planet out there would be extraordinary, not just due to ramifications to science and religion (which, frankly, is overdue for a big shakeup), but it would give people HOPE, and something to strive for in life beyond just buying more crap.