Thanks to Instapundit for starting me on this particular speculation:
Astronomers say they have found a miniature version of our own solar system 5,000 light years across the galaxy — the first planetary system that really looks like our own, with outer giant planets and room for smaller inner ones.
The discovery, they said, means that our solar system might be more typical of planetary systems across the universe than had been thought.
Alan Boss, a theorist at the Carnegie Institution of Washinton, said: “The fact that these are hard to detect by microlensing means there must be a good number of them — solar system analogues are not rare.”
Now, I happen to believe that life in the universe is probably pretty common. I don’t say they’ve come here in UFOs, or any such thing (because, well, there’s nothing to prove that life elsewhere is intelligent, or if it is, that they can travel vast distances any better than we can), but the fact is, there are more stars (with accompanying planetary systems) than we even have numbers for. A gazillion trillion bazillion wouldn’t count but a fraction of what’s out there. And as scientists know:
“It is well established and becoming more and more clear that the basic organic molecules which seem to have led to the origin of life on Earth — as best we can reconstruct it — do seem to be widely distributed in the galaxy,” David Grinspoon, principal scientist in the department of space studies at the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colo., told UPI.
“Carbon behaves as if it wants to get together to form complex molecules,” said Grinspoon, author of “Lonely Planets,” about the possibilities for life elsewhere. “There’s no question that this stuff is widely available in our galaxy and presumably in the rest of the universe. If all life needs to get going is these starting materials and a watery place, it’s probably common.”
To be fair, this particular newest discovery may not be a hospitable place for life as we know it. But life takes all kinds of forms (we know that from the weird stuff they find in the bottom of our own oceans around volcanic vents). Who’s to say where or what life would form in an environment even more alien, and yet chock full of the stuff that creates life?
This is a significant finding for astrobiologists attempting to estimate the number of habitable environments in the Universe. If multi-planet systems similar to our own Solar System are not rare, the chances of finding a habitable, Earth-like planet could be greater than previously expected.
The newly-discovered planets appear to be gaseous planets like Jupiter and Saturn — only about 80 percent as big — and they orbit a star about half the size of the sun. The star is dim and cold compared to ours, issuing only five percent as much light. Still, the new solar system appears to be a smaller analog of our own. The larger planet is about as massive compared to its star as Jupiter is to ours. The smaller planet shares a similar mass ratio with Saturn.
Also, the smaller planet is roughly twice as far from its star as the larger one, just as Saturn is roughly twice as far away from the sun as Jupiter. Although the star is much dimmer than our sun, temperatures at both planets are likely to be similar to that of Jupiter and Saturn, because they are closer to their star.
“The temperatures are important because these dictate the amount of material that is available for planet formation,” Gaudi said. “Most theorists think that the biggest planet in our solar system formed at Jupiter’s location because that is the closest to the sun that ice can form. Saturn is the next biggest because it is in the next location further away, where there is less primordial material available to form planets.”
“Theorists have wondered whether gas giants in other solar systems would form in the same way as ours did. This system seems to answer in the affirmative.”
The fact that astronomers found the planets during the first event that allowed such a detection suggests that these scaled-down versions of our solar system are very common, he added.
What do you think? Think we’re alone in the universe?