Behold, Countless Earths Sail the Galaxies … That Is, if You Would Only Believe
by Denyse O’Leary
Once cosmologists had hit on the Copernican Principle (Earth cannot be special by definition), it was instant orthodoxy. Michael Rowan-Robinson, president of the Royal Astronomical Society (2006-2008), opined in 1996:
It is evident that in the post-Copernican era of human history, no well-informed and rational person can imagine that the Earth occupies a unique position in the universe.1
For one thing, the Principle, also called the Principle of Mediocrity, solved so many problems around lack of evidence. What could not be demonstrated could merely be asserted.
In 2010, NASA’s Deep Space Camera had, we were told, located a “host of ‘Earths'” — up to 140 in six weeks, orbiting stars in our galaxy.
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“The figures suggest our galaxy, the Milky Way [which has more than 100 billion stars], will contain 100 million habitable planets, and soon we will be identifying the first of them,” said Dimitar Sasselov, professor of astronomy at Harvard University and a scientist on the Kepler Mission. “There is a lot more work we need to do with this, but the statistical result is loud and clear, and it is that planets like our own Earth are out there.”
Actually, from present data, these “100 million habitable planets” are assumed to be Earth-like only in size and rockiness. A current official definition of habitable planets is “in the zone around the star where liquid water could exist,” but the ones discovered so far are unsuitable in many other ways.
Then a new cosmology term hit the media, “super-Earths.” It means “bigger than Earth,” but smaller than gas giant Neptune. Super-Earths could be the most numerous type of planet, in tight orbits around their star — which is actually bad news for life. Nonetheless, some insist, they may be more attractive to life than Earth is. Indeed, the Copernican Principle allows us to assume that some are inhabited already.
In reality, even the rocky exoplanets (known as of early 2013) that are Earth-sized are not Earth-like…