January 3rd, 2013

There are more things…

in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy:

The Milky Way contains at least 100 billion planets, or enough to have one for each of its stars, and many of them are likely to be capable of supporting conditions favorable to life, according to a new estimate from scientists at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, California (Caltech).

That specific figure of 100 billion planets has been suggested by earlier, separate studies, but the new analysis corroborates the earlier numbers and may even add to them…

“There’s room for these numbers to really grow,” said Jonathan Swift, a Caltech astronomer who is the lead author on a paper on the new findings, in a phone interview…

…[O]verall, the chances of life on such planets are good, because they and their parent stars are likely to be much older and longer-lasting than Earth’s Sun, between two and 10 billion years. That’s because they sip less fuel over time.

So in the future, when Earth’s Sun begins to run out of fuel after another 4 billion years, any intelligent life still on the planet would do well to migrate to a system like Kepler 32.

“This star will be there when the last Sun-like stars die,” [co-author of the study] Johnson concluded.

Note that the lead author of the Caltech study is named Jonathan Swift. As for the earlier, literary Swift, see this:

Swift made reference to the moons of Mars about 150 years before their actual discovery by Asaph Hall, detailing reasonably accurate descriptions of their orbits, in the 19th chapter of [Gulliver’s Travels] (that is, in Part 3, Chapter 3)…

Voltaire was presumably influenced by Swift: his 1750 short story Micromégas, about an alien visitor to Earth, also refers to two moons of Mars.

Swift crater, a crater on Mars’s moon Deimos, is named after Jonathan Swift.

[ADDENDUM: This seems related.]

19 Responses to “There are more things…”

  1. Ed Bonderenka Says:

    It sounds promising that there are so many planets out there.
    However, life on earth, the one planet we know sustains life, is so precarious that the odds of us being here are astronomical.
    Remember, a slight tilt in our axis, a small variance in orbit, a shift in atmospheric composition, a large solar eruption, etc. and we’re gone.
    If you believe in evolution, then it’s millions of years to come back, if at all.
    So what are the odds that another planet out there will fill the bill?

  2. Richard Aubrey Says:

    The evolutionists, in order to avoid divine beginnings, are more or less trapped into insisting that life cannot not happen. Must happen.
    The Earth has had its issues. See “late heavy bombardment”, and others.
    So if we have a reasonably stable sun, a planet in the “golden zone”, which is to say where water is liquid all the time, frozen polar regions or possibly boiling tropics notwithstanding, and has a good supply of the lighter elements, life must arise. Must.
    Fermi’s paradox asks, okay, where are they?
    Either we’re the first, or nobody gets into interstellar space for some reason. Destroy themselves, possibly.
    Recall, we sent a couple of probes out of the solar system. Others might have out of theirs. Given an infinity of chances, possibly one or two might come motoring into our area, rusty and dusty but still an alien artifact.
    In fact, must.
    Or, perhaps after talking astronomy with Swift, they left.

  3. Occam's Beard Says:

    This is great news for Democrats. More places and people (?) to tax. Woot!

  4. I R A Darth Aggie Says:

    So what are the odds that another planet out there will fill the bill?

    Astronomically small.

    Fortunately, the universe is an astronomically large place, so the odds even out.

  5. I R A Darth Aggie Says:

    Recall, we sent a couple of probes out of the solar system.

    Voyager I was traveling at about 60,000 km/h (38,000 mi/hr). At that rate, to reach the closest star system 4.3 light years away would take 76,000 years.

    And as far as I know, we’ve heard nothing out of Alpha Centauri in terms of radio transmissions. Sirius would be the next worth while system to look at, but that’s twice as far away 8.6 light years.

    No one is traveling to the stars until something faster is developed. Even a generational ark would not likely reach its destination when you’re talking several thousand generations before arrival. Humans don’t have the attention span to stay on mission that long.

    For the forseeable future, interstellar travel will remain in the realm of science fiction.

  6. T Says:

    It seems appropriate to mention “The Galaxy Song” from Monty Python’s Meaning of Life

    youtube Link:



    Just remember that you’re standing on a planet that’s evolving
    And revolving at nine hundred miles an hour,
    That’s orbiting at nineteen miles a second, so it’s reckoned,
    A sun that is the source of all our power.
    The sun and you and me and all the stars that we can see
    Are moving at a million miles a day
    In an outer spiral arm, at forty thousand miles an hour,
    Of the galaxy we call the ‘Milky Way’.

    Our galaxy itself contains a hundred billion stars.
    It’s a hundred thousand light years side to side.
    It bulges in the middle, sixteen thousand light years thick,
    But out by us, it’s just three thousand light years wide.
    We’re thirty thousand light years from galactic central point.
    We go ’round every two hundred million years,
    And our galaxy is only one of millions of billions
    In this amazing and expanding universe.

    The universe itself keeps on expanding and expanding
    In all of the directions it can whizz
    As fast as it can go, at the speed of light, you know,
    Twelve million miles a minute, and that’s the fastest speed there is.
    So remember, when you’re feeling very small and insecure,
    How amazingly unlikely is your birth,
    And pray that there’s intelligent life somewhere up in space,
    ‘Cause there’s bugger all down here on Earth.

  7. Steve D Says:

    The Roman god Mars had two sons, so that just made sense that the planet must have two moons.
    You could go on for paragraphs about how special our galaxy, star and planet are. For example, only third generation stars can possibly have planets that support life and our star is one of the first 3rd generation stars in the galaxy, positioned in the exact part of the galaxy (about 3 quarters of the way from the galactic core) to minimize interstellar radiation and gravitational effects from other objects. Ninety eight percent of the stars (99.9% of the stars in its same weight class) give off less energy than the sun so already it has a relatively large goldilocks zone. Few stars are singles (most come in binary or tertiary systems) which would produce large gravitational distortions. The sun is an exceptional stable star. Then there is the huge moon, the tilt, the rocky core, good rotational rate, high levels of phosphorus etcetera.
    Even so it took 4.5 (or so) billion years for intelligent life to arise? Seems life might not be too hard (although until we have a second example, it is impossible to make statistical inferences) but the one example we do have suggests intelligent life is very hard to come by.
    ‘Either we’re the first, or nobody gets into interstellar space for some reason. Destroy themselves, possibly. ‘
    Because of what I wrote above, I think we are probably one of the first. It just takes that long for intelligent life to arise. But economics comes into play here as well – perhaps nobody gets into interstellar space because no one can afford it. (Heck, we can’t even afford to go to Mars). Do you have any idea the resources it would take to travel to the stars? And if they ever start to build up resources an alien Obama comes to power and wipes out their economy and they have to start over.
    (there are other issues such as high interstellar radiation levels which would have to be overcome as well)
    ‘No one is traveling to the stars until something faster is developed.’ – or until medical developments vastly increase our life span.

  8. T Says:

    “intelligent life is very hard to come by.”


  9. Steve Says:

    Researchers are using pretty amazing methods to detect planets and also to look for evidence of life on these planets. I think it is great!

  10. Richard Aubrey Says:

    I know about the speed, etc. However, keep in mind that our world has been around for 4.5 billion years. In the evolution that is us, do you think a half billion years, or maybe fifty million from the first one-celled animal to us might have been avoided due to a favorable circumstance?
    Hell, even half a million would take our probes someplace where somebody might take an interest, and theirs here.
    Or, if some folks are right, tech societies don’t survive to travel the stars.
    SETI’s come up empty.
    I’d like to know whether what we leak into space would be detectable at, say, six light years with, to be generous, equipment a hundred years better than our current stuff. We are not, afaik, masering anything at a particular spot, are we?
    And figure arcing with a regular repetition would be the first radiation looking artificial, so would that be just shy of two hundred years ago?

  11. Sam L. Says:

    T Says:
    January 3rd, 2013 at 2:17 pm

    “intelligent life is very hard to come by.”


    Near zero in D.C.

  12. Steve D Says:

    ‘SETI’s come up empty.’

    Interesting isn’t it? This is already putting some key constraints on the likelyhood of finding sentient life.

  13. Richard Aubrey Says:

    If I get SETI, they’re expecting some powerful beam aimed at us.
    Leaked electromagnetic radiation from all the electric stuff we–or anybody else does– spreading out in all directions, weakening by the inverse square law is not, afaik, what they’re looking for, because it would be far too faint.
    As to why a beam is expected, I think they think an advanced society would see Sol with its planets in the golden zone and figure it would be worth a few megawatts to see what’s happening. Conveniently, it would also be more detectable. Not sure some other society thinks the same.

  14. IGotBupkis, Legally Defined Cyberbully in All 57 States Says:

    }}}} So in the future, when Earth’s Sun begins to run out of fuel after another 4 billion years, any intelligent life still on the planet would do well to…

    If we haven’t evolved by that point to not being planet-bound, we’re doomed anyway.

  15. IGotBupkis, Legally Defined Cyberbully in All 57 States Says:

    }}} The evolutionists, in order to avoid divine beginnings, are more or less trapped into insisting that life cannot not happen. Must happen.

    The Creationists generally fail to grasp that their beliefs directly undermine their own faith in God.

    Bear with me:

    It seems inherently obvious that, if God wanted us to KNOW He existed, that He could, quite easily, part the skies above us, reach down with His Godly Hand, twit us aside the head, and say “I’m HERE ya big dummy!”

    He does not — so clearly, He wishes — for whatever of His reasons, for us to BELIEVE based on FAITH alone, not on KNOWLEDGE.

    So, assuming God to be COMPETENT, He would not have created a universe which required Him to exist in order for IT to exist. By that we would KNOW He exists, and not need Faith.

    Ergo — there must be an alternative explanation which lies within the bounds of man’s understanding, one not involving God — for why and how the universe came to be. You cannot Prove God by reason and logic and science.

    To presume anything else is to presume God is incompetent, that He left this stupid loophole there which proves His Existence.

    Our theories of stellar cosmology, of evolution, and so forth, are the current “best guesses” as to what that built-in alternative explanation is.

    They don’t say anything about the existence of God — because they are not related to FAITH but to observable FACTS and reasonable deductions made from those.

    Faith and Science do not reject or refute one another — they COMPLEMENT one another — each deals with things outside the others’ arena of expertise. Some people Just Don’t Get This.

    “Creation Science” is a misnomer and a contradiction in terms. Creationism is about FAITH, not about SCIENCE, and anyone attempting to retrofit or force-feed it into a scientific form does not grasp what SCIENCE is at all.

    Evolution does not say one solitary thing about the existence of God. It merely says that either God made things “this way”, or, alternately, that He created everything with evidence to that end built into it.

    As far as what evolution says about the impossibility of life, that’s a ridiculous assertion based on a failure to understand both science AND the mechanism being described.

    My favorite is the million monkeys analogy, claiming life is too improbable to exist.

    It fails to grasp that the million monkeys analogy is VERY high probability if you apply a CORRECTIVE mechanism to edit the monkeys’ failures out — that is, if they type something which is NOT Shakespeare, and the typewriter backs up and eliminates it, then the time it takes them to write Shakespeare becomes surprisingly short.

    And evolution’s processes are that corrective mechanism.

    In fact, there are ample examples of how crappy things become “standard issue” because of bad but “acceptible” design choices getting locked in early on.

    Human feet are designed to be used as monkeys use them, sitting on your haunches using your hands for balance a large percent of the time. By walking upright, “flatfootedness” becomes a problem which it is not for monkeys.

    The human sinuses, due to our postures, and our habit of sleeping on our backs, lead to the sinuses draining inside, rather than outside of the body. This makes humans subject to an array of respiratory ailments that no other species is subject to.

    The squid’s eye is a masterpiece of functional design, and puts the one spread throughout most of the planet’s species to shame. Yet that design is “good enough”, and so became the predominant one due to “early adoption”.

    Did God make the world? I assume so. But I don’t have any idea HOW he did it, nor does anyone else. But the evidence HE placed there is that it was done by the mechanism of evolution, even if we don’t fully grasp the entirety of it.

  16. Richard Aubrey Says:


    Good essay. I’ve been thinking of how to make a case that irreducible complexity is irrefutable. Sort of as if I were a lawyer–perish the thought–getting paid for it.
    Howsomever, the evolutionists are stuck with the inevitability of one last molecule getting stuck into an unimaginably complex series of molecules and turning it from organic chemistry to life. As one theologian said, you can have evolution. I’ve got the last molecule getting slotted in just right, by God.
    After that, evolution is a given and not even hard to understand.

  17. Good Ole Charlie Says:

    One favorite ploy is that God – by definition – is eternal.
    Newer hypotheses in cosmology assume a “multiverse” which also posits The Eternal which in this latest hypothesis (note I am NOT saying “Theory”) is an eternal multiverse.
    Supporting this latest conjecture is Statistical Mechanics (aka a Thermodynamic based Theory [in the classic sense]) and its interpretation of Entropy as a statistical phenomenon.
    If a God can be eternal, so can a multiverse…
    “You pays yer money and you takes yer choice”. And so it goes…

    PS: Theory is a set of hypotheses which collects empirical data that can be interpreted as supporting the hypothesis set. Multiverse concepts are not quite up to Theory status, but more than hypothesis.

  18. Steve D Says:

    ‘Not sure some other society thinks the same.’
    What if we are all listening (because it’s easier) and no one is emitting (because it’s expensive)?
    I think our inadvertent radio signals die out to where they are indistinguishable to background noise after about 100 light years.
    I still strongly believe though that sapient life must be very rare. The chances are we may never contact another race.
    ‘After that, evolution is a given and not even hard to understand.’
    Read ‘Genetic Takeover’ by A. G. Cairns-Smith in which the author describes a thermodynamically and chemically plausible way for organic life to originate.

  19. Richard Aubrey Says:

    Thanks for the book.
    I’ve been thinking about the mousetrap that the ID folks talk about in irreducible complexity. Getting to life would be like putting the pieces of a million mousetraps in a bag and rolling it down a mountain–to simulate energy. You go to the bag and see if there are any complete mousetraps. Probably not, so you take the bag back up the mountain. After a couple of thousand attempts, you find a couple of pieces hooked together in promising conformation. So back up you go and when the bag is down, the piece is busted up again. So back up the mountain.
    Eventually, the evolutionists tell us, there will be a functioning mousetrap in the bag.

    Could be everybody’s listening on account of nobody wants to draw attention to themselves. It’s one thing to want to be Cortez, but can you be sure you won’t be Montezuma? But there was a Cortez so maybe….

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