Star Trek had earthlings zipping to planets throughout outer space, regularly encountering other intelligent life—most of which looked suspiciously like human beings wearing prosthetics of various shapes. But outside the world of science fiction, no planets outside those in our own solar system had been discovered.
That was before 1994. Since then, our telescopes have improved and scientists have discovered hundreds of planets orbiting other stars in our galaxy. Seven hundred and twenty-nine, to be exact, currently fill the Extrasolar Planets Encyclopedia. And we have really only begun to realize how many really might be out there.
But a groundbreaking study published in Nature in January blows previous estimates out past the stratosphere.
An international team of scientists evaluated 100 million stars 3,000 to 25,000 light-years away, analyzing gravitational microlensing data. This data enables them to detect relatively small (approximately Earth-size) objects, even those that don’t radiate light. The team calculated the number of planets within that statistical sample and extrapolated how many planets the galaxy must hold.
Buckle your seat belt.
“We used to think that the Earth might be unique in our galaxy,” said one of the co-authors of the study, Daniel Kubas, from the Institute of Astrophysics in Paris. “But now it seems that there are literally billionsof planets with masses similar to Earth orbiting stars in the Milky Way” (emphasis added throughout).
Billions. Just in our galaxy!
“This statistical study tells us that planets around stars are the rule, rather than the exception,” said the project’s lead astronomer, Arnaud Cassan, also from the Paris institute. “From now on, we should see our galaxy populated not only with billions of bright stars, but imagine them surrounded by as many hidden extrasolar worlds.”
Think of it! If you look at the sky on a clear night, you will see several hundred stars—maybe even a few thousand. Look through a telescope and you’ll see many, many more. However many stars your eye takes in, imagine most of them being the center of a solar system!
These scientists estimate a mean of at least 1.6 planets for every star in the Milky Way. In our galaxy of 100 billion stars, that means around 160 billion planets!
“One can point at almost any random star and say there are planets orbiting that star,” said Uffe Grae Jorgensen, another member of the team, from the University of Copenhagen.
But 160 billion is the most conservative estimate the scientists came up with. It only includes planets that orbit between roughly the distance of Venus and Saturn. Another study published last year shows that there could be a huge number of “rogue” planets that drift through space without orbiting any star. There are probably more of these “rogue” planets than “normal” ones, the study found.
If this is the way our galaxy is, it is reasonable to assume that many, many, many of the billions of other galaxies out there have a similar plenitude of planets. If there are 300 sextillion stars in the observable universe, that could mean more than half again as many planets.
Scientists have also found planets orbiting two suns, something they once thought impossible. “Nature must like to form planets because it’s forming them in places that are kind of difficult to do,” said San Diego State University astronomy professor William Welsh, who wrote about the subject in Nature. Scientists thought that the unstable gravity of a two-star system would tear a planet apart. Now the Kepler telescope has found three of them, and Welsh believes there could be millions in our galaxy.
Of course, scientists love to use the word “nature” as if it is a spontaneously imaginative and powerfully creative force. Dr. Welsh speaks as though “nature” has a will and preferences in its initiatives. That’s because the natural world they study is filled with evidence of imagination, creativity, power, will, design and purpose—yet so many of them refuse to believe in God.
“Ever since the creation of the world his invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, have been clearly perceived in the things that have been made” (Romans 1:20; Revised Standard Version).
There is obviously a Creator. The question is, why did God manufacture so much interstellar real estate? Science does not and cannot answer that. But the Bible can!
Hebrews 2:8 says, “Thou [God] hast put all things in subjection under his [man’s] feet. For in that he [God] put all in subjection under him [man], he [God] left nothing that is not put under him.”
“Is it possible God could mean what He says (‘all things’)? Nothing excluded?” the late Herbert W. Armstrong asked as he examined the scriptural evidence in The Incredible Human Potential. “In the first chapter, the Moffatt translation of the Bible renders the Greek word translated ‘all things’ as ‘the universe.’
“In other words, for those willing to believe what God says, He says that He has decreed the entire universe—with all its galaxies, its countless suns and planets—everything—will be put under man’s subjection.”
That’s not just Mr. Armstrong saying that. Your Bible says God has put mankind over the universe!
“But wait a moment!” Mr. Armstrong continued. “Before you disbelieve, read the next words in the same eighth verse: ‘But now we see not yet all things [the endless universe] put under him [man].’” This is talking about a time yet future when man will be given such jurisdiction.
After examining several other relevant passages, Mr. Armstrong concluded, “These scriptures indicate we shall impart life to billions and billions of dead planets, as life has been imparted to this Earth.”
The implications are tremendous. Why would God have created such an enormous, empty and currently lifeless universe out of physical matter and energy if there will not be more physical beings?
Isaiah 9:7 says, “Of the increase of his [God’s] government and peace there shall be NO END ….” Could God’s government and peace keep expanding if God didn’t populate the universe with more human beings? These scriptures seem to indicate that the planets those scientists have found are in for an awesome future!
In the original Hebrew, the very first verse of the Bible says that God created not only the Earth, but also the heavens—plural. Isaiah 51:16 talks about God planting the heavens. Romans 8 says the creation—everything: suns, planets, moons, stars—was subjected to futility—in hope. And that hope lies with you.
The full biblical revelation on this truth is awesome to study—and becomes all the more so as science continues to pull the curtain back on the magnitude and majesty of the great beyond that lies waiting for us.
Of course, not all of those sextillions of planets are habitable. The conditions required for life to exist must be exceedingly fine-tuned—to a spectacular, even miraculous degree. That’s why some scientists have called Earth a “Goldilocks planet”: In every conceivable respect, conditions on this extraordinary jewel of a home are “just right.”
Deviations in those conditions, however minute, surely render the overwhelming majority of planets inhospitable—if not all. But doesn’t the very existence of all that extraterrestrial territory—just knowing that God put all that out there on purpose—fire your imagination? The fact that scientists are suddenly looking at stars, as a rule, as being “surrounded by hidden extrasolar worlds” is breathtaking.
It’s as if each star is burning on, awaiting the day it will serve as a hearth for a home.
Surely very few if any of those planets can host life at present. But when the time is right, with some tweaks and housekeeping overseen by the omnipotent Creator of those planets, who’s to say a great many more couldn’t?