BreakPoint: Red Dwarf and the Seven Planets

Fairytales of Alien Life

There’s already a world of evidence that life on Earth is unique and intelligently-crafted. But here are seven more pieces of evidence.

In the new movie, “Arrival,” a group of scientists try to break the language barrier between humanity and an extraterrestrial race that’s landed on Earth. These visitors have not come to make war, but to offer us a gift. I won’t spoil it for you, but I will say that the film is pervaded by a sense of loneliness and a longing for kinship with someone beyond our world.

In this sense, “Arrival” is far from the only alien-related fiction in the news. Last month NASA set off a veritable media shower of conjecture when it announced the discovery of several “earth-like” planets orbiting a nearby star. The kind of breathless speculation journalists churned out about this red dwarf and its seven planets was worthy of a Brothers Grimm fairytale.

The Independent proclaimed, “NASA’s ‘Holy Grail.’ ” National Geographic chimed in, “Seven alien ‘Earths’ found orbiting nearby star.” The Sun declared this new solar system “could be teeming with ‘exotic’ alien lifeforms.” And the Toronto Star offered a more touching angle, writing that “the universe looks less lonely” now.

But it was NASA’s own illustrations, released alongside the original research in the journal Nature, that really sent the hype into orbit. They include artist’s impressions of tantalizingly Earth-like planets, several with blue-and-green surfaces and liquid water.

What was the evidence behind these fanciful drawings and headlines? Not much, as it turns out. Here are the facts. The TRAPPIST-1 system is forty light-years distant, which means absent the invention of warp drive, we won’t be visiting anytime soon. The seven terrestrial planets, thought to be about the size of Earth, orbit a star much smaller, dimmer, and cooler than our Sun.

Three of the planets circle the so-called “Goldilocks zone,” or the region in which liquid water is theoretically possible. But their orbits are tiny compared with our own, meaning all three are probably tidally locked. This means one side is trapped in perpetual freezing darkness while the other is constantly scorched by the star.

David Klinghoffer at Evolution News points out that NASA has already admitted the problem with red dwarfs like TRAPPIST-1 as hosts for life. Besides being tidally locked, planets in the habitable zone of such stars are probably bathed in radiation that would kill most life.

In other words, talk of teeming planets and a less lonely universe was a little premature. But worlds of the right size orbiting the right distance from the right kind of star are only three of the known prerequisites for life. As I explained a couple of years ago in the Wall Street Journal, we now know of dozens of such criteria that must be fulfilled for life to exist. So the likelihood of any of these new planets meeting them all is slim to none.

Yet the kind of speculation that swirled around this discovery has become all-too-familiar to those who follow space exploration. The longing for life beyond our planet is obsessive. For decades, we’ve poured resources into the search for celestial neighbors, hoping to establish in real life the kind of contact portrayed in “Arrival.” But the stars, despite our best efforts, have proved silent and barren.

But in another sense, our Sun, Earth, and the TRAPPIST-1 system are anything but silent! They declare a cosmic Intelligence Who’s both infinitely mysterious and intimately knowable.

Christians recognize that our planet was uniquely designed and fine-tuned to support life—and that’s putting it mildly. Our place in the universe is nothing less than a miracle. So whether there’s life on other planets or not, we can say with confidence that we are not alone. Because the Being Who placed these celestial longings in our hearts dwarfs our strangest science fiction.

 

Further Reading and Information

Red Dwarf and the Seven Planets: Fairytales of Alien Life

Earth’s unique design, as Eric says, demonstrates the creative God we serve. The challenge in the study of our vast cosmos is to search for truth while avoiding preconceptions. To read more about the latest planetary discoveries, check out the links below. And read Eric’s Wall Street Journal article, “Science Increasingly Makes the Case for God,” also linked below (may need subscription).

 

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Resources

Seven Alien 'Earths' Found Orbiting Nearby Star
  • Nadia Drake
  • Nationalgeographic.com
  • February 22, 2017
Science Increasingly Makes the Case for God
  • Eric Metaxas
  • Wall Street Journal
  • December 25, 2014
Science and God
  • Eric Metaxas
  • Prager University

  • Zarm

    Yes! Wholeheartedly agreed! I am a huge NASA junkie; I love the space race and the moon landings (and Tom Hanks’ superlative miniseries chronicling them, From the Earth To The Moon), and the anticipation of probes both landing on a comet, and finally photographing Pluto, the great mystery of my childhood, kept me on the edge of my seat for many of my formative years.

    But the obsession with other Earthlike-planets (as well as life on Mars) has remained a constant and frustrating burr in any excitement for the exploration of space. Primarily since- like most pop-science (and erroneous popular conclusions based on real scientific data), it seems to be championed as propaganda against any worldview that includes Christ. Which would be nonsense even IF such planets had been found. (Yet because of that, there seems to be an almost pathological *need* for this to be true, to reinforce what seems like a very insecure godless worldview, which overrides fact and reason and gets us these ‘crying wolf’ proclamations on a regular basis).

    The intellectual dishonesty is so frustrating! For someone that knows the myriad conditions- from distance and orbit to axial tilt and atmospheric composition, not to mention the absurdly-specific requirements for life to begin from lifelessness that point unquestionably to a creator-God- needed for life on Earth, it is absolutely obnoxious to see news outlets reporting a planet as Earth-like because it has the same approximate size (despite being at a freezing distance from its sun), or is in the ‘goldilocks zone’ (despite a tidal lock and the absolute absence of any actual evidence of water, just the possibility that some could survive if it existed). It’s like someone saying that a chair could be my identical twin because, like me, it has legs, or that their ferret is my exact double merely because it has brown hair. Yes, those are characteristics that I share with each subject… but calling us practically brothers because we share a single criteria, ignoring all the myriad other factors that are equally required for something to be ‘me’ which all those other things lack, would be just absurd.

  • Marcia Yiapan

    Having thought about this for many years after reading C.S. Lewis’s space trilogy, and reading other materials, etc. I’m convinced that we are probably alone in the universe. We billions give God quite enough to do. I think that those who want so much to find other life out there are hoping to find some kind of proof of evolution. Why, I don’t know. They’re running from God.

  • Sergio Roa Prado

    We as a member of The Church of Jesuchrist of Later day saints , believes that the Universe in plenty of life, “And worlds without number have I created; and I also created them for mine own purpose; and by the Son I created them, which is mine Only Begotten. Moses 1:33

    • David

      Sergio, upon what factual foundation does your belief stand? What is the basis for your belief?

  • David

    I have long loved science fiction and the idea of other life elsewhere in the universe continues to captivate me, especially in light of the Biblical-historical record. I have decided that given the facts related to Jesus Christ’s life, death, and resurrection, the big question is one of soteriology: who did Jesus die for? If humans are not the only moral created beings, how did the Fall affect others, and how does Jesus’ death save them from the penalty of the Fall?