The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

January 7, 2013

Other Views: Anybody out there?

Scripps Howard News Service

— Sorry, you can’t yet go to that place in a galaxy far, far away. You still have to pay your taxes, take out the garbage and fret about how your favorite professional sports franchise will underperform.

It’s 2013, and we’re still earthbound. But many astronomers say they’re confident that sometime this year, they’ll find one or more alternative Earths circling some homey star out there in the cosmos — maybe not even all that far from us, as light-years go.

The planets must lie within the so-called “Goldilocks zone” around a star similar to our own — not too hot, not too cold to allow water to exist and thus be able to sustain life. Assorted ground- and space-based telescopes have been turning up planets beyond our solar system for nearly 20 years. About 900 have been confirmed so far, but most are many times larger than Earth.

One group of scientists recently noted a planet five times bigger than ours lies in the habitable zone of a star called Tau Ceti 12 light-years away, or a mere 72 trillion miles.

NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope has identified 2,300 potential planets. A new analysis by astronomers at Caltech reached a conservative estimate of 100 billion planets in our own Milky Way galaxy. Perhaps one in 10,000 is similar in size and makeup to Earth.

So it seems likely that there are quite a few Earth-like planets out there capable of hosting alien life of some sort, maybe intelligent alien life. We’ll probably never know about that in our lifetimes, because it takes radio and television signals as long as light to travel across space. What our signals carry may or may not inspire any neighbors to get in touch.

— Scripps Howard News Service