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18 new planets – and one question

Keck 'scopes discovered the 18/Rick Peterson, W.M. Keck Observatory

From “Astronomers Find 18 New Planets: Discovery Is the Largest Collection of Confirmed Planets Around Stars More Massive Than the Sun” (ScienceDaily, Dec. 2, 2011) , we learn:

Discoveries of new planets just keep coming and coming. Take, for instance, the 18 recently found by a team of astronomers led by scientists at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech).

“It’s the largest single announcement of planets in orbit around stars more massive than the sun, aside from the discoveries made by the Kepler mission,” says John Johnson, assistant professor of astronomy at Caltech and the first author on the team’s paper, which was published in the December issue of The Astrophysical Journal Supplement Series. The Kepler mission is a space telescope that has so far identified more than 1,200 possible planets, though the majority of those have not yet been confirmed.

So many of them might not exist?

By searching the wobbly stars’ spectra for Doppler shifts — the lengthening and contracting of wavelengths due to motion away from and toward the observer — the team found 18 planets with masses similar to Jupiter’s.

Question: These planets are unlikely to support life, and no one has suggested they do. But what if we find 18,000 planets that don’t support life and none that do? Would it be time for a revisit of the basic “They’re Out There” hypothesis?

“They” may very well be out there. Or not. But at what point would we be justified in using cold analysis – as opposed to brave, faint hopes – to make a decision?

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29 Responses to 18 new planets – and one question

  1. “They” may very well be out there. Or not. But at what point would we be justified in using cold analysis – as opposed to brave, faint hopes – to make a decision?

    What decision? To stop doing astronomy?

    But what if we find 18,000 planets that don’t support life and none that do?

    What if there are 10,000,000 that don’t for every one that does? A sample size of 18,000 isn’t enough is it.

    You also have to remember the method of obtaining samples – it will always be easier to detect larger planets, and they are the ones, as far as we know, that are least likely to support life.

  2. GCUGreyArea – to make a decision about whether it is true – as many astronomers have claimed – that the galaxy is “teeming with life.”

    But we think you knew that that is what was meant. It just doesn’t fit into your agenda.

    Astronomy did not get started in order to find life-friendly plants and we are sure astronomers would find plenty to do if none turn up.

  3. But we think you knew that that is what was meant. It just doesn’t fit into your agenda.

    No, what I meant was exactly what I said – what decision?

    You answered. Thanks.

    Now perhaps you had better tell me what my agenda is?

  4. I have to agree with GCUGreyArea. A sample of 18,000 would still be several order of magnitude from the number we would need. The sampling bias also has a very strong effect on our ability to detect “Earth-like” planets.

    I think it is also really important to realize that not all astronomers believe the universe is “teeming with life.” How much life the galaxy contains is something this is constantly being debated within the community as more data comes in.

    Another very important point is that there are many types of life that we could probably never detect remotely. For example any life forms under the ice sheets that cover Europa, would be nearly impossible if detect without getting though the ice. Along the same lines, on exoplanets that have only had life on them for a very short period of time, that life may not have had time to change the atmosphere around the planet in any appreciable way. This means that there could be a lot more life in the galaxy than we ever find.

    Astronomers are not currently basing this search on “brave, faint hopes” , but instead on the simple fact that we don’t know. We haven’t even scratched the surface on this one. Science is interested in questions. I think we can all agree that this question of “is there life in our galaxy?” is really interesting. If that is the case, then lets keep looking.

  5. 1. The decision to be made was quite clear in the OP:

    Would it be time for a revisit of the basic “They’re Out There” hypothesis?

    2. You did not merely say, “What decision?” If you had stopped there, someone might have suspected that you’d simply missed the above and pointed you to it. Instead, you continued with:

    To stop doing astronomy?

    Given both of the above, a reasonable inference would be that your agenda was to paint the OP as anti-science. This may not be the correct inference, but it is a reasonable one.

  6. I think GCUGreyArea is right – 18,000 planets is a microscopic sample.

    If there are 100 billion galaxies and each has 100 billion stars – and even if only one galaxy in 10 million galaxies had life, there’s still the possiblity of 10,000 life-supporting planets. Our search sample represents something like 0.000018 of the total possible population (assuming each star has one exoplanet). I’m not a statistician but I suspect those who are will tell us this is not much of a sample. It’s probably akin to searching a football pitch for a particular size of grass blade, and only searching a single square centimeter. But I’ll let somebody else do the math on that!

    So I think the “are they out there” hypothesis is still valid. Of course, it’s quite possible it will never be answered, but I think the search and study of exoplanets is still exciting and useful for understanding our universe – and of course while there are still curious people in the world, will still continue.

  7. I should add that the 0.000018% is possibly just the sample size in our galaxy alone! This sample size for the entire Universe (assuming 100b galaxies) is far smaller – something like 0.000000000000000018 of estimated population – give or take a decimal point!

  8. It is important to distinguish between two very different things: habitable planets and inhabited planets.

    Based on the small sample size to date, it appears that there are indeed billions and billions of planets in our galaxy alone. Based on the small sample size to date, it appears that the number of habitable planets (and by that we typically mean planets that could support large multicellular life similar to what we see on Earth, not just simple extremophiles) is at least a few orders of magnitude less, but perhaps still in the millions in our galaxy. It would truly be shocking if Earth is the only habitable planet, and I say that not on the basis of a philosophical commitment, but on the basis of looking at the numbers. There are probably lots of habitable planets in our galaxy (thousands, perhaps even millions?), with varying degrees of hospitability.

    However, whether life in fact exists on any of these worlds is a much different question. The idea that we should expect to see life on other habitable worlds because we see life here is not supported by the evidence. The idea that life is ubiquitous in the universe because it arose naturally here, and therefore (so the thinking goes), it must exist elsewhere because we can’t be that special, is wrongfooted, in terms of the numbers. The idea that finding life on another world will prove life can arise easily and naturally given the right environment is an unproven assumption that is unsupported by the numbers.

    One area where astronomers get wrongfooted is in believing the evolutionary biologists. When that happens, they can be deceived into thinking that the gap between “habitable” and “inhabited” is not very large, and as a result end up thinking that if they find a bunch of habitable planets then there must be at least several inhabited ones in the mix. When that happens, they tend to say things that conflate the two concepts, assuming that the former inevitably or easily leads to the latter.

    Astronomers are rightly looking for habitable planets, and have the experience and expertise to do so. That is their domain. But the gap between habitable and inhabited is not a question of astronomy, it is one of chemistry, organics, probabilities, engineering. If an astronomer looks to traditional evolutionary theory, including abiogenesis, to bridge this gap, she will be quickly misled into thinking this gap has been explained, or solved, or largely resolved, and that real remaining challenge is finding the habitable planets (the astronomer’s domain). In fact, the real challenge is getting from the habitable to the inhabited. That is the gap that has never been closed in naturalistic theory even in our own back yard.

    All that said, the search for life elsewhere is certainly an interesting and exciting one. Scientists travel to ocean depths, mountain heights, desert extremes, sweltering jungles and the freezing poles to study, and often find, new forms of life. The search for life in the last great frontier is certainly a valid scientific endeavor and one that can be as exciting as any of the others, notwithstanding the fact that we can’t go there personally and have to carry out the search at a distance with the best instruments we have available.

    If life is found on another planet, it will go down as one of the most exciting and profound discoveries of the century. What the implications of such a discover would be is another question entirely . . .

  9. “If life is found on another planet, it will go down as one of the most exciting and profound discoveries of the century. What the implications of such a discover would be is another question entirely . . ”

    But of course, then you would would have to find out if that life was created or not!

  10. Well, that would certainly be an interesting question to pursue — if one could get ahold of a sample, or if that life were intelligent enough to transmit some data about their biology. We probably wouldn’t need a lot of data, however. Any kind of life of even modest functional complexity would be subject to the same proabilistic calculations that doom naturalistic origin scenarios in our own backyard.

  11. Hi Eric
    The only real problem at the moment is we have no evidence of life being’out there’.
    So for some scientists to say there has to be life out there, because of the vastness of space,is really a contradiction of what they are telling us. The reason is that they are saying for life to be on earth , was 1 to 1 and hundreds of zero’ shot,( how do they know how many 0′s to put behind this) a tremendous stroke of luck. So now their saying there has to be more of these strokes of luck. So which is it?
    They have not even figured out if life could happen on its own, here. This is one of those ‘if’ and ‘then’ statements.
    So ‘if’ life just happened here,’then’ there maybe more life out there. So now this is considered true and they spend big money looking for it. Like looking for Martians.
    This is how evidence is ignored by the main stream scientists.
    Now even a bigger thing would be when God comes knocking on the their door. At least there is evidence of God.
    We are already told through prophecy that, teachers would gather followers and say there is no God. So what we see today, was known thousands of years ago.It is important to follow evidence not our own day dreaming.

  12. From known science, there is no way for life to ‘materialistically’ arise anywhere in the universe.

    Notes:

    The Privileged Planet – video
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JnWyPIzTOTw

    Privileged Planet – Observability Correlation – Gonzalez and Richards – video
    http://www.metacafe.com/watch/5424431

    The very conditions that make Earth hospitable to intelligent life also make it well suited to viewing and analyzing the universe as a whole.
    – Jay Richards

    We Live At The Right Time In Cosmic History – Hugh Ross – video
    http://vimeo.com/31940671

    Extreme Fine Tuning of Light for Life and Scientific Discovery – video
    http://www.metacafe.com/w/7715887

    Does the Probability for ETI = 1?
    Excerpt; On the Reasons To Believe website we document that the probability a randomly selected planet would possess all the characteristics intelligent life requires is less than 10^-304. A recent update that will be published with my next book, Hidden Purposes: Why the Universe Is the Way It Is, puts that probability at 10^-1054.
    http://www.reasons.org/does-probability-eti-1

    Linked from “Appendix C” in Why the Universe Is the Way It Is
    Probability for occurrence of all 816 parameters ? 10^-1333
    dependency factors estimate ? 10^324
    longevity requirements estimate ? 10^45
    Probability for occurrence of all 816 parameters ? 10^-1054
    Maximum possible number of life support bodies in observable universe ? 10^22

    Thus, less than 1 chance in 10^1032 exists that even one such life-support body would occur anywhere in the universe without invoking divine miracles.
    http://www.reasons.org/files/c....._part3.pdf

    Hugh Ross – Evidence For Intelligent Design Is Everywhere (10^-1054) – video
    http://www.metacafe.com/watch/4347236

    Hugh Ross – Four Main Research Papers
    https://docs.google.com/document/pub?id=1Sl5SCBtcO6xMjwgrkKysBYIOJzjZEcXX68qZ9rwh85s

  13. further notes:

    Non-Local Quantum Entanglement In Photosynthesis – video with notes in description
    http://vimeo.com/30235178

    Stephen Meyer – Proteins by Design – Doing The Math – video
    http://www.metacafe.com/watch/6332250/

    Signature in the Cell – Book Review – Ken Peterson
    Excerpt: If we assume some minimally complex cell requires 250 different proteins then the probability of this arrangement happening purely by chance is one in 10 to the 164th multiplied by itself 250 times or one in 10 to the 41,000th power.
    http://www.spectrummagazine.or.....ature_cell

    Professor Harold Morowitz shows the Origin of Life ‘problem’ escalates dramatically over the 1 in 10^41,000 figure when working from a thermodynamic perspective,:

    “The probability for the chance of formation of the smallest, simplest form of living organism known is 1 in 10^340,000,000. This number is 10 to the 340 millionth power! The size of this figure is truly staggering since there is only supposed to be approximately 10^80 (10 to the 80th power) electrons in the whole universe!”
    (Professor Harold Morowitz, Energy Flow In Biology pg. 99, Biophysicist of George Mason University)

    Verse and Music:

    John 1:4
    In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men.

    Nickelback – Savin’ Me – song
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jPc-o-4Nsbk

  14. I keep bringing up the point that there is very strong evidence occurring every summer in the fields of southern England (and many other places in the world) that there is at least one non-human intelligent species, and that it has been communicating with us for decades, if not longer. I refer of course to the phenomenon of crop circles, which simply cannot be explained as the result of human action under any reasonable assumptions. But my comments are consistently ignored. I think you folks are in major denial here.

  15. 15

    Several months ago I responded to someone here regarding crop circles or UFOs saying that that person was punching the heavy bag trying to get anyone at UD to pay attention to the evidence of extraterrestrial life. I’ve been at it for years and have gotten merely a couple of anecdotes out of the attempts.

    Although I would say many, if not most, crop circles are man made (especially the uber complex ones), simple circle formations have appeared in crops, trees, sand, and ice for hundreds of years, sometimes in very sparsly inhabited areas, including the 1678 “Mowing Devil” circle. I highly doubt people were hoaxing circles three centuries ago. Maybe it’s under 10%, probably, but it is still a real phenomena that should be investigated and not summarily dismissed (I happen to think it may be a geomagnetic phenomena, but no one will know unless proper science is conducted).

    Leslie Kean wrote a wonderful book, UFOs: Generals, Pilots, and Government Officials Go On The Record examining the 5% of truly unidentified UFO sightings, meaning they are definitely not planes or balloons or stars of venus or swamp gas. As I have said here numerous times, how many generals and police officers and pilots, astronauts, high level government officials, and other highly reliable witnesses need to come forward for the subject to even be taken seriously and not scoffed away? These people have nothing to gain and their reputations and jobs to lose by going public with their sightings.

    Fact: Something crashed in Roswell, New Mexico 8 July 1947.
    Fact: Radar reflector balloons crashed all the time, and included phone numbers to call the Army Aircorps to retrive them, so people in the area would know what wreckage from a balloon does and does not look like.
    Fact: The US government has come out with four official explanations for the Roswell crash, each one dismissing the previous ones as cover stories invented to protect classified material, prima facie evidence that the government is lying about the Roswell crash to this day.
    Fact: The material from the crash was reported as having properties no other material available at the time possessed (material memory, resistance to fire, resistance to mechanical stress).
    Fact: Witnesses reported seeing three four-foot tall bodies at the crash site. The government says these were crash test dummies dropped from MOGUL balloons, but those dummies were seven feet tall and were first used in 1951, three years AFTER the Roswell crash.

    Is this not enough to even begin to consider that the subject of extra terrestrial visitation of the earth is a legitimate area of study?

  16. I wonder if many consider God an ET?

  17. The OP is clearly anti-science. Or at least, anti-knowledge.

  18. I can’t speak for the moderators of this site, but I think that, notwithstanding the interesting questions that can be explored about crop circles and UFO’s, a reasonable decision can be made to not delve into those issues if that is not where the moderators want to take this site.

    Presumably there are plenty of other sites where people can discuss crop circles and UFO’s if that is their area of interest.

  19. The pro-ID book “The Priviledged Planet” tells us what to look for to find planets capable of supporting living organisms.

    If the people doing the looking don’t want to listen to reason and look where they should, perhaps it is time to change the people.

    On another note if the other life “out there” has any sense at all they will avoid being detected by us at all costs.

    Just sayin’…

  20. 20

    I’m not interested in debating UFOs or anything like that, I’m just pointing out that a site that daily focuses on the anti-ID bias in mainstream science and media has a lot of posts that are written with a very strong anti-ET bias.

  21. 21

    ^ That was meant to be a reply to 5.1.1 by Eric Anderson but I pushed the wrong button and I don’t know how to fix it.

  22. No, it is not a reasonable inference. I interpreted the ‘decision’ as relating to ‘should we stop doing this’ and asked if that was a correct interpretation. The inference I drew from the OP was that it considered astronomy as being motivated by the desire to find life. My query over ‘what decision’ was led by this.

    Clearly I misinterpreted the intention in the OP – but rather than assuming I was right, I asked for clarification – I am left with the impression that this is disapproved of by some around here!

    The question ‘Are there habitable planets in the universe’ is not one that can be definitively tested by observation so if the decision is to declare that there aren’t then it would be a bad decision.

  23. UrbanMysticDee: “. . . a lot of posts that are written with a very strong anti-ET bias.”

    Yeah, there has been that tendency. I’ve tried to counter it myself by pointing out that ET is not anti-ID, and I think we’ve seen a slight softening of the stance on this site recently, though still plenty of skepticism displayed.

    I think the sentiment against ET stems from three possible things:

    1. Conflating the main arguments in The Privileged Planet (1- the Earth is special, 2- our surroundings are geared for scientific discovery) with the idea that we are alone (something that Gonzalez and Richards do not argue in The Privileged Planet, but one has to appreciate the nuance).

    2. Many scientists’ comments and stories in the MSM talk about ET as though it is inevitable, because, gee, evolution works and we know we aren’t special. That is a philosophical stance, not an empirical scientific one, so I think there is a frustration, perhaps particulary on the part of Denyse O’Leary, with the constant barrage of “ET is inevitable we just need to keep looking” line of reasoning.

    3. Some seem to have a religious objection to the idea of ET. It is unclear to me what the basis for that objection is, as it doesn’t seem to arise from any logical doctrine or specific scripture (without a lot of interpretive license). I don’t know why ET would be objectionable from a religious basis, but perhaps someone can enlighten me . . .

  24. This site has many posts on the subject of the possible presence of extra-terrestrial life. My point about crop circles is that they constitute powerful evidence that in fact, not only is there extra-terrestrial life, but it is intelligent and has been communicating with us for decades, maybe even centuries.

  25. “Although I would say many, if not most, crop circles are man made (especially the uber complex ones)”

    I disagree. It is precisely the “uber complex ones” which are most likely not man made. Don’t forget, these formations appear overnight in the late summer months in England, when there is at most 5 hours of darkness. The largest I know of appeared at Milk Hill in Wiltshire on 12 August, 2001. It was 800 feet in diameter, and consisted of 409 circles of varying sizes arranged in six spirals emanating from a central circle, all in perfect symmetry. No hoaxer has come close to being able to accomplish this in the dark during one English summer night. But this is just one of thousands of stunning, mathematically sophisticated, artistically elegant formations. There have been over 10,000 reported in the last four decades worldwide, 8,000 in England alone. Their very number makes the likelihood that all or even the majority were hoaxed extremely improbable. Who would go to that kind of trouble, year after year, decade after decade, virtually every summer night, in several places simultaneously?

    But there is more. The plants in a non-hoaxed circle are bent at a 90 degree angle to the ground, not broken or torn, as is the case with hoaxed circles made with planks drawn by ropes or garden rollers. Furthermore, there are scientifically verified biological changes to the crop that no known human technology can produce, much less a garden roller or wooden plank. In addition, there are a number of eyewitness accounts of people who witnessed the formation of a crop circle, and those were formed in minutes, not hours.

    I have only touched the surface of the evidence that this phenomenon is not human produced. There are a number of books that devote over a hundred pages each to laying out this evidence. One of the best is “The Deepening Complexity of Crop Circles”, by Eltjo H. Haselhoff, a Dutch scientist. Perhaps the best introduction to the subject, though, is just to take a look at these stunning formations. A good Web site for that is Temporary Temples.

  26. Eric:

    I think you have described and analyzed the situation very well. I agree with you.

    I have no strong personal opinion about these issues, but I am a little worried that specific opinions, certainly motivated but not necessarily universally shared by all here, be excessively connected to ID. That is not good.

  27. 27

    Bruce David,

    I agree that there is compelling evidence that non-human intelligences exist, and I think it would be fairly compelling to any reasonably objective mind.

    Crop circles are interesting cases in ID theory. Why did anyone think they were hoaxes in the first place? Weren’t they just another natural phenomena that needed explaining?

    Of course not. They were obviously intelligently designed; the only question was by who or what. If crop circles are hoaxes, they represent one of the oldest and best organized conspiracies in the history of the world, representing tens of thousands of man-hours over centuries of time and technological techniques that so far have eluded scientific examination.

    You can’t just rope up some planks and walk around a field to produce an authentic crop circle, and they don’t just appear in crops – the appear in snow without any tracks around them, fields of grass, brush and on other surfaces.

    Some in the ID community are have other human-centric ideological commitments that, it seems to me, in some ways bias them against a best reading and interpretation of such evidence. I have no such a priori commitments.

    I think intelligent life in the universe is only as rare as two conditions make it: (1) physical limitations as outlined in “privileged planet”, and (2) the wishes of that entity which designed life. I’m sure our creator could make privileged planets in other, similar areas in this galaxy and in other galaxies if it so desired.

  28. William:

    Good points. Especially this one:

    “Of course not. They were obviously intelligently designed; the only question was by who or what.”

    I can’t understand why our reductionist friends are so reluctant to apply their objections to specific cases like this. I suppose they should be consistent and state:

    a) That design detection is only a God of the Gaps argument, and therefore no scientifically inclined mind would be so silly as to believe that crop circles are designed, because they could well be the result of some natural explanation that we still can not even imagine.

    b) That design detection is impossible without knowing details of the designer, and it seems that in this case we know so little that we cannot be able to decide if the designer was some despicable human joker, or some intelligent but shy alien.

    Mark, your opinion about crop circles, please? Not about who designs them. Just about if they are designed, or more likely a natural phenomenon.

    But maybe my argument is circular, after all… :)

  29. William,

    I completely agree. Well put.

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