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Location: UFOUpDatesList.Com > 2007 > May > May 21

Ben Bova: God, Man Smart ETs And Images

From: UFO UpDates - Toronto <ufoupdates.nul>
Date: Mon, 21 May 2007 08:12:00 -0400
Fwd Date: Mon, 21 May 2007 08:12:00 -0400
Subject: Ben Bova: God, Man Smart ETs And Images

Source: The Bonita Daily News - Bonita Springs, Florida, USA


Saturday, May 19, 2007

Ben Bova: God, Man Smart ETs And Images
By Ben Bova

"The rash assertion that 'God made man in His own image' is
ticking like a time bomb at the foundations of many faiths."

Arthur C. Clarke wrote those words some 40 years ago, when
considering the possibilities that we might one day find
intelligent extraterrestrial beings.

I thought of Clarke's statement a couple of weeks ago, when
astronomers from the Geneva Observatory in Switzerland announced
that they had found an "Earth-like" planet orbiting a star some
20 light years away from us.

"Earth-like" doesn't mean that the newly found planet is a
duplicate of our world. It's about five times more massive than
Earth, but still that makes it the smallest and =97 yes, most
Earth-like =97 exoplanet yet discovered.

A couple of definitions need to be explained. Exoplanet means a
planet orbiting a star other than our sun. And a light year is a
measure of distance, not time: it's the distance that light
travels in one year, which is roughly six trillion miles. Using
light years as a yardstick instead of miles saves astronomers
from writing down a lot of zeroes. (The speed of light,
incidentally, is 186,000 miles per second; nothing in the
universe goes faster.)

Until 1995 astronomers weren't sure that other stars have
planets orbiting around them. There was a chance that our solar
system was very rare in the universe, perhaps even unique.
Astronomers talked about the "firefly and the searchlight
problem." Stars are very bright, like searchlights. Planets are
very dim, like fireflies. What are the chances of finding a
firefly dancing around a searchlight when they're both so far

But scientists have a knack for solving such problems, and they
did with exoplanets. With very sensitive spectographs, they
could detect the slight back-and-forth wobbles in a star's
motion that are caused by one or more planets orbiting around

Although a star is much more massive than any planet, planets do
exert a slight gravitational pull on their parent stars. In some
cases, that pull can be measured, and the planet's presence
discovered even though the planet itself cannot be directly

The technique hit the jackpot in 1995, when the first exoplanet
was discovered. Since then more than 225 planets have been found
orbiting stars as far as 50 light years away.

Realize that this technique works best for very heavy planets
that are orbiting very close to their parent stars. Up until a
few weeks ago, almost all the exoplanets discovered were much
heftier than Jupiter, the giant of our solar system. And most of
them orbited dangerously close to their stars, whizzing around
them in a few days or weeks.

Jupiter is more than 300 times more massive than Earth. The
closest planet to our Sun is tiny Mercury, which whirls around
the Sun in a "year" of merely 88 Earth days.

So the search for exoplanets was like a classic good news, bad
news joke. The good news was that there are indeed plenty of
stars with planets going around them. The bad news was that
these planets were huge, completely unlike Earth, and most of
them were scorchingly close to their stars. Not good places to
expect to find life.

Until the announcement from Geneva a few weeks ago.

The "Earth-like" planet orbits a star called Gliese 581. It is
officially known as Gliese 581c, because there are two other
planets orbiting that tiny star.

Gliese 581 is a red dwarf star, only one-third the mass of our
Sun, and hundreds of times dimmer. The closest of its three
planets is some 15 to 20 times Earth's mass, and whips around
the dwarf star every 5.3 days. The farthest is almost 10 times
larger than Jupiter, and is so far from the star that it is
probably a frozen world of ice.

But Gliese 581c may very well be a "Goldilocks" world, at just
the right distance from its star so that it is not too hot and
not too cold for life to exist on it. The planet revolves around
the star in 13 days, which puts it at a distance from the dim
red dwarf where it would be warm enough to have liquid water on
its surface.

On Earth, liquid water is essential to life. Gliese 581c is
about five times more massive than Earth; its diameter is
probably about 1.5 times larger than our world's. It could be a
life-bearing planet.

Until very recently, many astronomers thought that red dwarf
stars were too dim and cool to be considered as possible sites
for life. Yet Alan Boss of the Carnegie Institution in
Washington, D.C. has said flatly that Gliese 581c is "arguably
the first habitable planet" to be discovered.

"Habitable" does not necessarily mean "inhabited." The fact that
the planet is in the right temperature range for liquid water to
exist on its surface doesn't mean that living creatures actually
are present there. Nor does it mean that intelligent creatures
might be there.

But what if they are? Would they point their telescopes at our
Sun and wonder if living creatures could exist on a planet
orbiting such a hot, massive star? If we someday make contact
with them, or some other intelligent race, how will we feel if
they look nothing like us, if they are utterly different from
our own form?

Remember, our vision of God's appearance is based totally on
ourselves. It's not so much that God made us in His image: We
made Him in ours.

What happens when we finally meet intelligent aliens and they
neither look nor behave nor think as we do? And what happens if
they're smarter than we are?


Naples resident Ben Bova is the author of more than 115 books,
including Faint Echoes, Distant Stars, a nonfiction study of the
search for extraterrestrial life. Dr. Bova's web site address is

[Thanks to Stuart Miller of http://uforeview.net/ for the lead]

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