We are not alone: Outer space findings show earth-like planets


November 15, 2013 - 12:00 AM

Although I bemoan fall’s defrocking, I welcome the crisp, clear air that pulls back the curtain on night’s bounty — the stars. I’m a backyard gazer; the kind who gives up once I get a crick in my neck.
Still, a glance into the great beyond sends shivers down my spine and gets me to wondering, is someone out there? Like really out there.
Recent news from the Kepler space observatory has scientists excited about the recent discovery of earth-like planets out in space. Kepler is a space telescope launched in 2009 by NASA that relays images of exo-planets, the planets outside our solar system. From just a small patch of the Milky Way, more than  150,000 stars were observed that had planets, with about one in five — 30,000 — of the planets being of Earth-like size and temperatures.
To be like Earth, the planets need a “Goldilocks” zone: Not too hot by being too close to a sun-like star, and by the same terms, not too cold by being too far away.
What is not known, of course, is whether they can sustain life. Do they have water? Do they have a nearby moon that helps stabilize their spin? Do they have lakes and oceans needed to foster the biochemistry of fauna and flora?
Of the tens of billions stars out in space, there’s every reason to believe many do have planets with at least some of the conditions necessary for life.
Now that scientists have discovered these possible new neighbors, their goal is to detect any technological waves, any KIKS-like transmissions.

WITHOUT GETTING spooky, the outer space studies help keep us humans grounded. This recent discovery, for example, is from just a very small fraction of the universe. Astronomers say there are billions of stars out there, half of which have planets.
Our Earth is estimated to be 4.5 billion years old. Complex life systems have been around half a billion years. Intelligent life, a mere sliver of that.
To scientists, our relative “newness” hurts our chances of being discovered by the outside world before we become extinct, in a half-billion years or so. Then, the Earth’s core will have cooled to the point volcanoes will cease and the amount of carbon dioxide will fall to levels too low to support photosynthesis — the lifeblood of plant rejuvenation.
The takeaway?
The universe is a wonder. Be in awe.
— Susan Lynn

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