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Sunday, November 23, 2014
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Published: Thursday, 4/24/2014

EDITORIAL

Out of this world

This artist’s rendering  shows an Earth-sized planet dubbed Kepler 186f orbiting a star 500 light-years from Earth. This artist’s rendering shows an Earth-sized planet dubbed Kepler 186f orbiting a star 500 light-years from Earth.
NATIONAL AERONAUTICS AND SPACE ADMINISTRATION Enlarge

A team of astronomers says it has discovered an Earth-sized planet in the “Goldilocks zone” — not too cold, not too hot, and thus potentially a home to life.

Maybe we are not alone, now that Earth has kin in the vastness of space. The planet, named Kepler 186f, is just 10 percent larger than our own and named for the NASA Kepler Space Telescope that was used to make the discovery.

At least three bears complicate this Goldilocks tale: distance, difference, and uncertainty. Kepler 186f is orbiting a star that is 500 light-years away, so the welcome wagon won’t be calling.

That star is also half the mass of our own, puts out one-third the energy, and emits most of its light in the form of infrared radiation. The telescope can’t directly see the planet, so it is not certain whether 186f can sustain life.

But the thought of life elsewhere is awe-inspiring. This search has implications for astronomy and theology. Although our creeds look to Heaven, they are Earth-centric in their message.

Or are they? Some think science has been an enemy of religion. But others recognize that it constantly tells mankind about the wonders of God’s creation — and Kepler 186f, whether a home to life or not, is certainly that.



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