James Flynn


Are we alone?

Posted by James Flynn on December 19, 2011 at 6:15 PM

Hello again, I hope all is well. I am writing this blog in response to the recent news that I am sure you have heard, that a planet has been found named kepler 22b which is considered to be much like our own planet, in the sense that it has all of the essential requirements to harbour "life".

This is amazing news and it has been great reading about this new discovery. It has always been observed that there must be plenty of planets out there like this, however, we now have kepler 22b to confirm this. Now, this is of course very exciting news, as we, the human race has always faced the question.... "are we alone?"

First of all, I would like to say that I am not pretending to be an expert on this subject by any means, far from it in fact (and even qualified atronomers would probably say that nobody is an expert that knows everything there is to know). But I am interested enough in this to have a reasonable amount of knowledge, and I would like to share my views and what I know about this with you.

I quite often read new articles about space and astronomy, and I also have a collection of space paintings on this site, so I thought it may be a good idea to include something about this good bit of news here. And I may dedicate a painting to this very subject, some time in the future.

We all know that "Life" can mean anything from bacteria, to plants, to fish to mammals etc (or of course any kind of life that is unknown to us). So far, as far as we know we are alone in the universe, meaning we have not found any evidence of any other life yet. However, we do know that there are enough stars and planets out there to make it very likely indeed (statistically) that there is other life out there. And maybe kepler 22b will start providing us with some more clues! And there is a massive point to make here right now, and it is this......the discovery of life elsewhere in the universe, in any form, no matter how small or inadvanced that life may be, would be possibly the most significant discovery of all time, because it would answer the very important question...... "how rare is life"?

What does this question mean exactly, and why is it so important?.... "how rare is life"?

Well, we know that for a planet to harbour life to there has to be certain requirements........

Water - a planet has to have moisture or water of some quantity for life (as we know it) to exist.

A "goldilocks zone temperature" - a planet needs to be within a certain distance of it's neighbouring star so that it is not too hot, and not too cold. A planet needs to orbit it's star to within a certain distance to have a temperature that is somewhere in the middle, known as "the goldilocks zone" so that life can exist.

Atmosphere - And a planet needs some kind of atmosphere for life to exist.

See image below to get a better idea of what "the goldilocks zone" actually is......

The very fact that life has evolved on our planet is such an amazing concept that it actually boggles the mind just thinking about it. I do not have the exact figures at hand but I can assure you that the odds of our evolutional journey happening (which it obviously has) is such an amazing feat, the odds of this happening are actually astronomical (excuse the pun). The thought that life has evolved on this planet that has become intelligent enough to question where it has come from is simply incredible, and maybe the most incredible thing that has ever happened? But the significance of the question of "how rare is life" basically means that, if you have all the right ingredients for life to happen on a planet eg water, temperature, atmosphere, will life definately occur? Will every planet that meets these certain requirements definately hold life? Or was it literally such a rare event that planet earth is the only planet that this has happened on? Are we so unique in the universe that there are billions of planets capable of supporting life just like our own, but earth is the only planet where this process has taken place? This is a massive question that we may be on the verge of answering, and it will open up a massive can of worms regarding how teeming with life the universe is.

Now, it has often been speculated that the amount of stars in a galaxy is around 200 - 400 billion stars, and it has also been speculated that there could be 100 - 200 billion galaxies in our universe( a recent prediction actually raised that to 500 billion!) That is a lot of stars by anyones standards, and all if not most of these stars will have several planets orbiting them, so the simple law of averages tells us that there will be countless numbers of planets that are in the"goldilocks" zone as mentioned earlier, meaning that they orbit their star at a distance which provides a suitable temperature, so we know that there are plenty of places out there where life could evolve.

Getting back to this question of "how rare is life?" if we find life in any form on another planet, what this will basically mean is that the process of life may not be such a rare event after all, so far we know of only one planet which harbours life, which is our own, but if we discover a second, this would tell us that there is a good chance that many other planets which meet the requirements of life could very well harbour life too, because we would know that it is not such a rare event after all.

And although we have always suspected that there is plenty of hospitable planets, we have now found what looks to be the closest one to us. Here is an unknown artists representation of what kepler22b may look like.......

Here are some facts about this recently discovered planet that I have researched......

Kepler 22b was discovered on 5th Dec 2011

It's radius is around 2.4 times the size of earth

It was discovered by the NASA kepler spacecraft

It is located in the constellation Cygnus

It orbits the star - kepler 22, which has a light output that is 25% less than our sun (this is compensated by the fact that kepler 22b orbits this star slightly closer than earth does to the sun, therefore maintaining the "goldilocks zone"

Kepler 22b's orbit around it's star is 290 days, in comparison with our 365 day orbit around our star (the sun)

Very exciting and interesting news to actually hear and read about another planet so similar to our own isn't it? But I suspect the truth of the matter is that this planet is so far away that there is a good chance that by the time anyone reaches this planet, the human race could very well be extinct, including any life that may or may not be there. However, I hope that we can gather information in some way or another, that could give us an insight as to what is on this planet. It was once observed by Richard Dawkins that even if there is other life out there somewhere else in the universe, we actually might aswell be alone anyway, because the universe is so large that the time it would take to get to another star to potentially "meet" another lifeform would be so long that both life forms would probably be long extinct before meeting each other! Slightly depressing thought I know, but I actually remain optimistic about the possibility of extraterrestrial life, in whatever form it may be, and I would like to see SETI (the search for extraterrestrial intelligence) keep up the good work that they do, whether it is directed towards kepler 22b or any other area they direct their attention towards.(And it is worth looking up and reading about this organization, for a fascinating insight as to what they do).

With new discoveries happening everyday, we live in very exciting times, and I look forward to the prospect of finding out more and more about this universe we live in, and we are very priveliged to be able to enjoy the technological advancements that bring us these discoveries.

Please feel free to comment on anything else you may know about this subject. As I would love to gather some more facts about this.

I will leave you with a small collection of my space paintings to round this one off, I hope you enjoy. I have more new pieces to put up here soon but here our some of my old favourites......

See you next time


The Beauty of Earth

Acrylic on canvas

Ganymede and the Gas Giant

Acrylic on canvas

Pluto and the Kuiper Belt

Acrylic on canvas

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