Out of this world: Mankind looks to the heavens and finds a wonder

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Just in time for Easter, a team of astronomers including scientists from Penn State University announced last week that they had discovered an Earth-sized planet in the so-called “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, a planet named Kepler-186f, just 10 percent larger than our own and named for the NASA Kepler Space Telescope that was used to make the discovery.

But at least three bears complicate this Goldilocks tale: distance, difference and uncertainty. Kepler-186f is orbiting a star 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 infrared radiation. Lastly, the telescope can’t directly see the planet so it is not certain whether it can sustain life.

But the thought of life elsewhere is awe-inspiring. Fittingly in the introspective Easter-Passover season, 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 home to life or not, is certainly that.


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