Pondering life in other worlds
GATEHOUSE NEWS SERVICE
One of the biggest questions you will hear about the universe is if there is life on other worlds. I suppose it depends on your definition of life. Known as “exobiology,” the study has become a serious sub-field of both astronomy and biology. What is most unique about the study is, to date, the subject remains completely hypothetical. There may not even be anything to study.
Despite this possibility, “life on other worlds” is often heard as a prime motivation for space travel and supposedly is meant to help us understand life on Earth. What is your opinion? I have my own.
One of the exciting fields of astronomical research today is the search and study of exoplanets. Before 1995 we had not detected any planets beyond our solar system. We assumed they were out there, orbiting other stars, but the means to detect them were only slowly being improved to the point where we could safely say, we had one. There are currently over 350 known exoplanets. Only one has been directly imaged. Various indirect means are utilized to perceive the effects of the unseen planet, whether in the minuscule tug it makes on its parent star’s motion, tiny dip in brightness as a planet crosses in front of the star, as or signs in the colorful spectrum of starlight.
Naturally, the largest of planets and the ones orbiting stars relatively close to the our solar system, have been detected first. As observing techniques improve and observatory searches expand, the quest for more Earth-like planets proceeds.
Exobiologists start by assuming the best chance to find life will be on worlds similar to Earth. The Rare-Earth Theory, however, holds that conditions that exist to support Earth life are scare indeed. By all accounts and faiths, we are blessed (some object to “blessed,” but I said it anyway). We have a world of just the right balance of water and land and composition of atmosphere. We have a moon that takes most of the hits by asteroids and meteors for us. We have a protective magnetic field warding off harmful solar and cosmic radiation. Earth is tilted just right to give us reasonable climate. We have just the right distance from the sun, a star which also is just the right type with no significant variability. We have just the right spacing of other planets and far off giant planets that also capture a lot of missile attacks (comets and asteroids). We are placed in a good spot in the galaxy, away from the central black hole.
Those taking a Biblical approach consider if Earth is the only abode of life. As others, I suspect there may very well be a wonderful variety of life forms in the universe, a further sign of God’s handiwork. Cognizant, mortal beings such as humans, however, may very well be limited to this planet, when seen from this perspective. Again, this is the writer’s opinion and you may have another. Your viewpoints are welcome.
Except of course for Mr. Spock. I have yet to comfortably master his hand signal and consistent logic but the Vulcans are pretty neat.
Enjoyment of the starry skies, however, need not dwell on this issue. The stars above, as certain as our own world’s natural bounty, are certainly a gift for all on Earth with eyes to see.
WIN A STAR CHART
Here’s your opportunity to win a rotating star map, which shows the evening sky for different seasons and will aid you in identifying the constellations.
The star chart is a “planisphere” containing a disc with all the constellations printed, and the North Star right by the center. An outer covering has a large window to show the sky for any night of the year.
No, you won’t get on any mailing list and all we will mention in print if you win, is your name and general location (no specific address). There is no entry fee.
1. Name the closest star system to the sun.
2. Which winter constellation is known for its three stars making up its “belt’?
3. Who was the Italian astronomer in the early 1600s who was the first to use a telescope to study the sky?
4. Which planet has a moon with rain and seas of liquid methane?
5. Name the first man to walk on the moon, and the date it happened.
6. A telescope that works with mirrors is what type?
7. What sort of sky conditions are best to see the Milky Way Band?
8. Name the famous galaxy that is so bright it may be seen with unaided eyes.
9. Name one of the moons of Jupiter.
10. Which north sky constellation is shaped like a “W” or “M” depending which way you see it?
Feel free to look up the answers!
Last-quarter moon is on Nov. 9.
Keep looking up!