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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

A new Earth

Published: October 1, 2010
Section: Opinions

During the past 10 to 15 years scientists have been using state-of-the-art telescopes to discover exoplanets, which are planets located in another solar system.

Until recently, only gas giants and other planets unsuitable for life had been found outside our solar system. However, a few days ago planetary astronomers from the Carnegie Institution of Washington and the University of California, Santa Cruz announced an amazing discovery: The first habitable, Earth-like exoplanet has been found, called Gliese 581 G. Gliese 581 G, which is located 20 light-years from Earth, is located within the Gliese 581 solar system’s goldilocks zone, where it is not too hot nor too cold for life to exist; instead it is just right. The planet has a level of gravity extremely similar to Earth, and likely contains large amounts of water.

Furthermore, one of the leading astronomers on the discovery team has stated that part of the planet experiences constant “shirt-sleeve” weather.

The reason for this is because Gliese 581 G is tidally locked, which means that part of the planet never faces its sun, and experiences constant darkness where the temperature is 25 degrees below zero.

Another part of the planet always faces its sun, causing scorching temperatures around 160 degrees. However, there is a stretch of the planet between these two extremes, which experiences a constant sunrise where humans would likely be very comfortable in a t-shirt and shorts.

This discovery is monumental, and nobody should discount its meaning. In fact, one of the leading astronomers who discovered Gliese 581 G, Steven Vogt, was quoted as saying, “that chances for life on this planet are 100 percent.”

Even more astounding is what this could mean for the future of discovering more earth-like planets. According to calculations that Vogt and R. Paul Butler of the Carnegie Institution of Washington ran based on the new information provided by this discovery, they have figured that anywhere between one in five, to one in 10 solar systems in the universe have earth-like planets in their goldilocks zone. With the speed they made the discovery of Gliese 581 G, it is looking more and more likely that they are correct.

This, of course, means that humanity is far from alone, as there are 200 billion stars in the Milky Way Galaxy, which translates to possibly up to 40 billion habitable planets in our galaxy alone.

Most people will look at this discovery with curiosity and quickly forget about it, however, the fact that humans are definitely not alone has major ramifications. The world’s major religions are going to have to come to grips with the fact that, during the next few decades, the proof against the myth of creationism is going to get even more overwhelming than it already is. In fact, the Vatican, usually not the most forward thinking religious hierarchy, has already said that they would baptize an alien if it asked.

The U..N has also considered the creation of an office that would be dedicated to dealing with the political ramifications of alien contact.

Brandeisians as well should definitely care about this unbelievable discovery. We are lucky to be in the ivory tower of academia where we can discuss topics others might find impractical.

When you get the chance, have a conversation with your friends about what the discovery of alien life might mean on a societal level.

Have a discussion about what contact with an extraterrestrial civilization might mean. As the leaders of tomorrow, we might have to deal with the enormous ramifications of discoveries such as those.

After all, at the rate humanity is going, getting that radio message from E.T. is no longer science fiction.