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Extra-Solar Life Coming Closer – OpEd

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NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite has discovered its first near by Earth-size planet in its star’s habitable zone, the range of distances where conditions may be just right to allow the presence of liquid water on the surface. Planets around nearby stars are easiest to follow-up with larger telescopes in space and on Earth.

The host star is a small, cool M dwarf star only 100 light-years away from us. It’s roughly 40% of the Sun’s mass and size and about half its surface temperature. The star has three planets.

The innermost planet, called TOI 700 b, is almost exactly Earth-size, is probably rocky and completes an orbit every 10 days. The new generation of space telescopes should be able to see signs of water vapor in its atmosphere within a few years.

Since the discovery of the first extrasolar planets around a star; scientists have learned that most stars have planets orbiting them, and that Earth-size planets are relatively common in close-in orbits that are too hot for life.

But even if only one in a thousand earth size planets are in the habitable zone just right for life to develop; there are 200-400 billion stars in our galaxy, so there must be millions of stars that have habitable zone planets.   

Both the Hebrew Bible and the Qur’an teach that the Living God created the whole universe to be conducive to the universal evolution of life. Recent astrophysical studies discover ever more evidence of the truth of this Biblical and Qur’anic view.

Space may be vast, but it isn’t lonely. New research indicates the Milky Way is teeming with hundreds of millions of planets like ours, circling stars like our sun.

Astronomers calculate that in our galaxy alone there are at least 80-90 billion stars (22%) like our sun, and if only one in ten thousand have Earth-sized planets that are ‘not too hot or not too cold’ for life to develop, there are still millions out there.

The Zabur of David says, “Your kingdom is a kingdom of all worlds; and Your dominion is for all generations.” (Zabur-Psalms 145:13); and the Qur’an says, “We have not sent you but as a blessing for all the worlds.” (Al-Anbiya 107).

Muslim commentators say this refers to the 18.000 inhabitable worlds created by Allah. Our world is but one of them. (Mir’at-e-Kainat, vol.1, p.77)  And the Zohar, the central book of Jewish mysticism, says there are 12.000 worlds out there. (Zohar vol. 2:196a)

Each new discovery in astronomy yields new evidence of God’s wisdom and power. As the Qur’an says, “Verily in the heavens and on the earth are signs for those who believe.” (45:3) And prophet David says, “The heavens declare the glory of God. The universe proclaims God’s handiwork.” (Zabur-Psalms 19:2)

Perhaps this why Jews and Muslims are so open to learning about new scientific discoveries. During Medieval times Christian theologians accepted the Ptolemaic earth centered Greek view of the universe as an absolute universal truth. The Catholic Inquisition even punished those who dared to voice other ideas.

Some Christians still think that human beings must be at the literal center of God’s creation. Thus, even in America today, many believing Evangelical Christians avoid learning about new scientific discoveries.

According to a February 2015 study “Religious Understandings of Science”, among members of non-Christian religions; 42 percent of Jews, and 52 percent of Muslims, Buddhists and Hindus (taken as a group) are twice as interested in new scientific discoveries, compared to only 22 percent of Protestant evangelicals.

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Rabbi Allen S. Maller

Allen Maller retired in 2006 after 39 years as Rabbi of Temple Akiba in Culver City, Calif. He is the author of an introduction to Jewish mysticism. God. Sex and Kabbalah and editor of the Tikun series of High Holy Day prayerbooks.

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