Forty years ago we had no proof at all that our planetary system was not unique in the universe. Now we know that we are one of thousands of planetary systems and that the total number of confirmed exoplanets is over 4,000.
According to new research using data from NASA’s retired planet-hunting mission, the Kepler space telescope, about half the stars similar in temperature to our Sun could have a rocky planet capable of supporting liquid water on its surface. Our galaxy holds at least an estimated 300 million of these potentially inhabitable worlds, based on even the most conservative interpretation of the results in a new study to be published in The Astronomical Journal (2020)
The Kepler Space Telescope has also discovered a star with three planets only slightly larger than Earth. The outermost planet, which is 50% larger than planet earth, orbits in the zone where surface temperatures could be moderate enough for liquid water and perhaps life to exist. The star’s close enough for astronomers to study the planet’s atmospheres to determine if it has oxygen and could possibly be conducive to multicellular life forms.
This means that proof that God’s universe is filled with life is literally coming closer.
At a distance of only 150 light years, the star’s proximity means it is bright enough for astronomers to study the three planets’ atmospheres to determine whether they are like Earth’s atmosphere and possibly conducive to life.
“We conclude that stars are orbited by planets as a rule, rather than the exception,” the team stated. They also found that smaller planets, such as super-Earths or cool Neptunes, must be more common than giant ones like Jupiter.
This means that life, which arose early in our planet’s history, is very wide spread in our galaxy. Self aware, intelligent, tool making, language using, lifeforms are much rarer, since it took much longer than 99% of Earth’s history for such forms to arise here on Planet Earth.
However, if there are many millions of Earth-like planets, there should be thousands of planets inhabited by intelligent creatures. So we are not alone.
Some religious leaders will object to this idea because they believe that humans are at the center of God’s concern. Does not the Torah teach that humans are created in the image of God? As a Rabbi I would say YES! of course; but God’s image does not refer to a physical form, because God does not have a body and does not incarnate, or reincarnate as an avatar, into a physical being.
God’s image refers to a spiritual dimension; the combining of free will, moral choice (tree of knowledge of good and evil), artistic creativity, and the spiritual ability to experience awe and religious insight (Talmud Torah). This is clearly taught in the Biblical narrative of Adam, Eve and the Tree of Moral Knowledge.
Eve should get the credit for humans becoming more like God, who knows good and evil. (Genesis 3:5) If it was up to Adam alone Homo Sapience might have remained in a state of nature (Garden of Eden) for hundreds of thousands of years, like the species who lived before us.
What makes us human is not tool use; lots of species use tools from chimps to crows. Even the use of fire goes back a few species before Homo Sapience.
But on planet Earth, only humans know, far in advance, that we will someday die: (Genesis 3:3) and only humans engage in religious ritual burials that prepare the departed soul for a future life. Only humans clothe themselves for reasons of modesty. (Genesis 3:7). Only humans try to escape responsibility for their moral transgressions by blaming others. (Genesis 3:12)
When we encounter intelligent creatures from other planets they will also have these same religious values. If you would prefer to live an amoral life like the 600+ species and subspecies of primates; then blame Eve and your mother for telling you again and again to behave yourself (Eve means moral life giver i.e. ‘supermom’ see Genesis 3:20)
As a Reform Rabbi, I have no doubt that when we are able to communicate with extraterrestrial intelligences, we will find that, just like humans, they all have various religions and forms of art. Those who believe that their own religion is the only true one will be in for a true shock.