In the Jan. 7 edition of the Daily Republic (in the editorial section on the Opinion Page), there was an editorial that discussed the probability of astronomers finding one or more alternate “earths” out there in the cosmos. That is, planets like ours that would be able to sustain human life.
The editorial went on to explain that in order for this to work for us, the planet(s) must lie within what is referred to as the “Goldilocks Zone” – being not too hot and not too cold. Isn’t that adorable?
This shouldn’t be confused with the “Red Riding Hood Zone” – all the better to eat you with (AKA a black hole). Nor should it be confused with the “Hansel & Gretel Zone,” the “Rapunzel Zone” or the “Rumpelstiltskin Zone.”
Professional astronomers are confident that NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope will find an Earth 2.0 sometime this year. There are also myriad volunteer amateur astronomers that have made astounding discoveries by closely examining data from NASA spacecraft and files. They’ve already found evidence of 42 alien planets, including one the size of Jupiter (approximately 120 times the size of Earth), that could potentially be habitable for human life.
Basically, they’re searching for Earth’s twin. You know what’s going to happen if Earth discovers that it has a twin? That’s right, the two planets are going to quickly try to catch up on what’s been happening during the past 4.5 billion years (or 6,000 years if you’re a creationist). Then it’s inevitable that Earth and its twin are going to start dressing identically. They’ll do that really annoying twin-thing about finishing each other’s sentences. Heck, they’ll probably even start sporting the exact same haircuts. It’s going to be embarrassing, really.
I believe in UFOs and intelligent life on other planets. I really do, and I don’t think that that makes me crazy. No, there is a virtual cornucopia of reasons as to why I’m crazy, but I don’t believe that the UFO-thingy is one of them.
I’m a numbers guy, so let’s quickly crunch some numbers.
There are an estimated 50 billion galaxies that are visible with modern telescopes. So, the total number of galaxies must surely exceed that number. We’ll be conservative and double that number, making it 100 billion galaxies.
There are on average as many as hundreds of billions of stars in each galaxy, but let’s just call it an even 100 billion.
For those of you keeping score, that would mean that the total number of stars (suns) in the universe would be roughly 100 billion times 100 billion, which equals 10,000 billion, billion. This is a 1 followed by 22 zeros (or 10 sextillion).
Now, how many of those stars (suns) have planetary systems? Well, our sun has eight planets (nine if we could still include poor little Pluto). That’s quite a lot. Some have more, while some have none. For the sake of being ultra-super-uber conservative, let’s say that there is only one planet for every 1 million suns. This would still come out to 10 quadrillion planets (a 1 followed by 16 zeros).
The final equation would be to figure out how many of those planets are capable of supporting life. If we assume that it’s very rare and say that only one planet in a million can support life, then that still leaves us with 10 billion planets in the universe that are capable of producing and sustaining life.
Pretty good odds if you ask me.
The only logistical problem here is: how far away are these other planets? Yeah, those pesky light years are a real pain in the neck. But it was only a mere 66 years between the Wright Brothers’ first flight to Neil Armstrong walking on the moon. Forty years later we’ve got a rover on Mars and we’re taking pictures of the four corners of the universe. Can you imagine what we’ll be doing 100 years from now?
What if another planetary civilization had an evolutionary jump on us by 1,000 years? Or perhaps even a 100,000 years?
Even though there are more questions than answers here, I think it’s really not a matter of if, but when. The really important question is, when we do find Earth’s twin, what should we name it? Maybe Starbucks? Bieber? I’m voting for Plunkett.
What do you think it should be named?
Reach C.W. Plunkett at firstname.lastname@example.org.