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Fare Thee Well, Kepler 438b


That was fast. Excitement about the "most Earth-like planet ever," the potentially habitable and therefore hypothetically inhabited Kepler 438b, launched in January with an announcement at the American Astronomical Society meeting here in Seattle. Researchers from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics bore the good news.

From the story in The Guardian:

An alien world that orbits a distant star in the constellation of Lyra may be the most Earth-like planet ever found outside the solar system.

The planet, named Kepler 438b, is slightly larger than Earth and circles an orange dwarf star that bathes it in 40% more heat than our home planet receives from the sun.

The small size of Kepler 438b makes it likely to be a rocky world, while its proximity to its star puts it in the "Goldilocks" or habitable zone where the temperature is just right for liquid water to flow.

A rocky surface and flowing water are two of the most important factors scientists look for when assessing a planet's chances of being hospitable to life.

Kepler 438b, which is 470 light years away, completes an orbit around its star every 35 days, making a year on the planet pass 10 times as fast as on Earth. Small planets are more likely to be rocky than huge ones, and at only 12% larger than our home planet, the odds of Kepler 438b being rocky are about 70%, researchers said.

That's over, it seems, just ten months later. As we learn now, it seems more probable that this "most Earth-like planet [is] uninhabitable due to radiation." From the announcement by scientists at the University of Warwick:

The most Earth-like planet could have been made uninhabitable by vast quantities of radiation, new research led by the University of Warwick has found.

The atmosphere of the planet, Kepler-438b, is thought to have been stripped away as a result of radiation emitted from a superflaring Red Dwarf star, Kepler-438.

Regularly occurring every few hundred days, the superflares are approximately ten times more powerful than those ever recorded on the Sun and equivalent to the same energy as 100 billion megatons of TNT.

While superflares themselves are unlikely to have a significant impact on Kepler-438b's atmosphere, a dangerous phenomenon associated with powerful flares, known as a coronal mass ejection (CME), has the potential to strip away any atmosphere and render it uninhabitable.

The planet Kepler-438b, to date the exoplanet with the highest recorded Earth Similarity Index, is both similar in size and temperature to the Earth but is in closer proximity to the Red Dwarf than the Earth is to the Sun.

I note this with no malice toward the likely sterile and desolate exoplanet. A habitable or, even more so, an inhabited planet elsewhere in the cosmos would be very exciting news. We neither need it nor fear it. If life were seeded across the stars, though that certainly seems not to be the case, it would be neither here nor there for those who recognize the evidence for design in biology and cosmology.

Presumably, life driven by biological information on another planet would call for an inference to design just as it does on Earth. Tell me how the logic would differ because of a transfer of venues across some number of light years? See our video, "The Information Enigma":

Materialists, on the other hand, need extraterrestrial life. They need it very badly. Life cannot be uncommon. It must spring up easily. Just add sunshine! For them, the demise of this most hopeful of exoplanets is sorry news.

Image: Kepler 438b, via Mark A. Garlick/University of Warwick.