Wednesday, February 25, 2009

100 Billion Earths

Way back in June last year I wrote about the discovery that there may be a lot more earth-type planets out there than we had originally thought.

There may be 100 billion Earth-like planets in the Milky Way, or one for every sun-type star in the galaxy, said Alan Boss, an astronomer with the Carnegie Institution and author of the new book "The Crowded Universe: The Search for Living Planets."

He made the prediction based on the number of "super-Earths" -- planets several times the mass of the Earth, but smaller than gas giants like Jupiter -- discovered so far circling stars outside the solar system.

Boss said that if any of the billions of Earth-like worlds he believes exist in the Milky Way have liquid water, they are likely to be home to some type of life.

"Now that's not saying that they're all going to be crawling with intelligent human beings or even dinosaurs," he said.

"But I would suspect that the great majority of them at least will have some sort of primitive life, like bacteria or some of the multicellular creatures that populated our Earth for the first 3 billion years of its existence."

Cool huh?


Astronomy was something I never aspired to. I just held astronomers in awe. I read a lot of Arthur C. Clarke when I was younger and I thought that astronomers just walked around all the time in a parallel universe, slightly out of phase with ours, in which we could see them, and they could see us, but no communication was possible.

I wish I could be like them. Living up there in their cloud-city, wearing their shimmery clothes, looking through their fabulous star-watching machines...Oh well...back to the Zenite mine.

And if we discover any new planets that we want to give names, this still goes:

I'm also heavily against any attempt to name any celestial bodies after non-Greek mythical persons. So, can we just hold the political correctness thing for a while? Can we just give a pass to names from the Inuit/Borneo/Pygmy legends? When you can show me that a society has established a system of thought, literature and governance that lasts five thousand years and forms the foundation of the greatest civilization the world has ever seen, you can name asteroids after their myths, m-kay? Or maybe just show me that they've mastered the intricacies of weaving cloth and making wheels.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...


Somewhere back in the decade before the last, when I was a college junior at a northeastern state school, I took an astronomy class. I'll never forget the way the professor ended it.

On the last day of class for the semester, the professor, a very entertaining fellow, stood before the two-hundred odd skulls full of mush filling the lecture hall, and made a little speech I'll never forget.

With arms spread wide, he said, "This spring we've talked about galaxies, quasars, and black holes, suns, moons, nematodes, and meteors. We've talked about vast spaces, the speed of light, and gravity. We've talked about spinning worlds by the billions. It is magnificent. Now, I want to leave you with one final thought, and that thought is this - that all of that incomparable wonder isn't there for little green men to whiz about, or for monsters lurking in Martian caves, but that all of those wonderful glories are there, Simply. For. YOU! Now have a great summer!"

That's been my take on it ever since.

Oh, later, the next fall, I was at Mass. As the Communion line progressed passed me, who did I spy? That's right, my astronomy professor.

~ Jon