Earth’s Doppelgänger

Our ability to detect things lights years away from us seems to be increasing in leaps and bounds. Scientists are predicting that it will be only a matter of time, perhaps as soon as five years, before they are able to say they’ve discovered Earth’s twin, another planet in another solar system, circling another star, capable of supporting some form of life.

Momentum is building: Just last week, astronomers announced they had discovered three super-Earths — worlds more massive than ours but small enough to most likely be rocky — orbiting a single star.

Not bad. Three solid planets in one system. Apparently, since the 1990s, they used a detection method know as the radial velocity method, which looks for the interaction of the gravitational tug of the circling planet on the star. But with a new method, known as the transit method, they detect a slight change in the light of the star they are observing as a solid planet passes in front of it.

Both methods are limited by their ability to block out the overshadowing light of the host star. For instance, the sun is 100 times larger, 300,000 times more massive and up to 10 billion times brighter than Earth. “Detecting Earth in reflected light is like searching for a firefly six feet from a searchlight that is 2,400 miles distant,” writes a panel of astronomers recently in their final report of the Exoplanet Task Force.

With the hundreds of billions of stars in the observable universe, it’s becoming more and more of a statistical certainty that there would be other planets capable of forming and sustaining life. The type of life is still up in the air, but it would be life nonetheless. The fact that life spontaneously arose on this planet (as seems to be agreed by the prevailing theories, save one, and we try not to call that a theory) seems to point to the obvious conclusion that it could and probably did happen elsewhere. Given the fact that most of the matter in this solar system seems to be present in the rest of the universe, that this solar system arose out of common matter found everywhere, and given the immense passage of time involved, it is inevitable that life as it arose on this planet could also arise on others under similar circumstances.

I wasn’t aware of this, but you learn something new every day:

…computer models have shown that plate tectonics, the forces that move continents and lift gigantic mountain ranges, are key to life on Earth as we know it, and possibly to life on other worlds. That’s because as the rocky plates that form the planet’s outer shell move about, they also recycle carbon dioxide. This greenhouse gas keeps our planet’s temperature balmy, but not too hot. And the telltale signal would be certain levels of carbon dioxide, suggesting that just as on Earth, this other world relies on plate tectonics to cycle carbon.

The Earth is so infinitely complex, with so many systems and sub-systems needing such precise balance to continue to support life, it’s no wonder it took us thousands of years to understand it all, assuming that we fully do, which I doubt.

So let’s assume that we will ultimately find this doppelgänger. So what? What good will it do us, one might ask. Especially those who believe that we are the center of the universe, and whose core beliefs would be seriously threatened if we found another Earth-like planet.

My answer, and it’s certainly not the best one, is that this is what we do. We constantly stretch our minds in the search for knowledge. I personally would be quite heartened to find that there is another planet out there like ours, because one of my core beliefs is that we are not special, that we are not the center of the universe, and we are not some god’s chosen people. Wouldn’t it be nice to know that the formation of a planet with tectonic plates, recycled carbon and an atmosphere capable of supporting life actually existed light years away from here? Wouldn’t that confirm the natural explanation that such a planet could easily form, by itself, out of the stuff of universal matter, as an almost evolutionary process? Wouldn’t it tend to confirm that this planet we call home is the result of natural processes common to the universe, and not a special act of god?

I think so.

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11 thoughts on “Earth’s Doppelgänger

  1. That’s my thinking too SI.

    I’ve been taking part in a back and forth with some Christians in a comments thread at Atheist Revolution.

    One of the arguments I raised was that the creation account in Genesis clearly implies that everything in the heavens was created to provide for the Earth in some way, but when you consider that the Earth is just one planet orbiting a star in a galaxy filled with hundreds of millions of stars, each with their own planets, and that our galaxy is one of millions in the universe, each filled with hundreds of millions of stars with planets orbiting them, it really strains the credibility of the Christian claim that we are somehow the center of all that.

    One of the Christians sneered, “Well if the universe was just the Earth, you would argue that God must not be powerful if that was all he could create.”

    My response, “If we lived in a small universe, we would have no frame of reference, and therefore we would not be in a position to ask ‘Is that all there is?'”

  2. Of course, the incidents in the bible could have been played out exactly as stated in the text, on both the Doppelganger planet (let’s call it “Heart”) as well as on Earth. That would just go to prove … um … something.

    In any case, Heart was obviously predicted in the story of Jacob and Esau. That little tale is clearly meant to be interpreted as Christ’s love for both orbs, but for Earth just a little bit more. It’s the same reasoning that helped Christians decide that a sex poem like Song of Solomon is really about Jesus’s love for the Church.

  3. We can’t get everyone to accept the fact of evolution – with it’s enormous mountains of corroborating evidence. How many decades will it take after we discover other planets that could support life will it be until we have scientific evidence that the life is indeed out there? And then how many more until we get everyone to accept it? Nevertheless, I’m as interested in it as you are. But it won’t “prove” a thing to some people.

  4. Some people wouldn’t accept the idea of life existing on other planets even with a Klingon pointing a disruptor at their head. Hell, there are still bubblenuts out there who won’t even accept that the Earth is round, FFS! Sadly, there are all too many folk for whom no proof will ever be good enough.

  5. I think Christians would welcome the discovery of a new planet with open arms. They’d be so focused on having more people to convert that all else would pale.

  6. I think it would be profound because it would show that, if given the proper circumstances, life may be inevitable. Although shocked and thrown at first, eventually some religious type will claim that’s “evidence” of the power of the great design of the universe by their god and the game will begin anew.

  7. C’mon, Spanqi! I am too the center of the freaking universe. It’s as obvious as the brain in my head (watch it, watch it…). When I was born the universe appeared. When I die the universe disappears. How much more central can you be?

    I bet Ex can logic that out!


  8. You have to admit our knowledge for anything space/universe/life etc is still very limited. When religion started playing major roles in human existence they obviously needed something to believe in way back then. They had to put some kind of reasoning as to where we came from or why we were here because that is human nature – to question.
    Religion aside, having a belief is pretty useful. Some people believe in themselves, some believe in others, some believed the earth was square! Just having hard evidence gives us belief, although without sounding pessimistic, I think we have such a ridiculous amount of things to learn that it will take hundreds of generations to have worked out anything overly fascinating. How to travel through space without using a mechanical device would be a start. How on earth can we continously rely on mechanical sources to transport ourselves from one place to another. There is something out there that will allow us to shift through places and spaces and even time. Maybe that myth of us using only 10% of our brain is actually true and once we switch it on we can do many amazing things. A bit like god is reported to be able to do!

  9. Well the 10% thing is a myth. Generally, our problem is just a lack of knowledge and currently our problem is millions willfully denying real knowledge in favor of delusion.

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