Sightings from the Treehouse: Wish Upon a Star

Recent discoveries and research suggest life is not an earth-only experiment.  The building blocks of life could be widespread throughout the universe.  Carbon and water are two vital ingredients for life along with a temperate climate.  During Thomas Berry’s life (1914-2009), he saw many discoveries in astrophysics which fed into his thinking for the new story about the creation of the universe, earth, life and consciousness.  New discoveries suggest there are 100-200 billion galaxies in the cosmos and billions of earth-like planets in our Milky Way.   The recently discovered building blocks of life found on Mars and Saturn’s moon, Enceladus, support the notion of life throughout the universe.  All would expand Berry’s creation story. 
Mars once contained water, rivers, an atmosphere, and perhaps some forms of life before it lost its atmosphere to extreme solar winds leading to its barren current day condition.  The Mars Curiosity rover has reached a basin thought to be a former lake bed and has uncovered complex organic molecules and methane, possible building blocks of life, below the soil surface.  It is not known if it is from biological sources or some geological process. According to NASA, they are the types of organic compounds that would be expected to be found in ancient lake bottoms on earth but are also similar to compounds found in meteorites.  They estimate its age at 3.5 billion years.  This is the same period when life was forming on earth.  This might suggest that elements spewed into the newly forming universe from the Big Bang were dispersed throughout the cosmos, and where conditions were right for sustaining life, these materials could coalesce into organic molecules needed to allow life to develop.  Perhaps other planets and moons within our solar system and beyond contain similar organic building blocks.  The Hubble telescope and Cassini deep space probe have recorded water geysers on Saturn’s and Jupiter’s moons, Enceladus and Europa, respectively.  Cassini flew through the water geysers originating from the subsurface ocean of Saturn’s moon, Enceladus and it showed a wide range of complex organic compounds.  Scientists theorize that primitive forms of life may be uncovered in its deep oceans.

Water Geysers on Saturn’s Moon, Enceladus

A recent study by the American Society of Cell Biology theorizes that should life exist on other planets or in other solar systems, it would follow the same physical laws that govern life on earth.  The commonality of life on earth from the subatomic to the macro level are caused by physical and biochemical limitations.  The paper suggests that these common functions are universal norms since the same physical laws would apply throughout the universe.   Carbon, hydrogen, and water are also thought to be abundant across the universe and are needed for life to exist.  It is theorized in the article that instead of being a singular biological experiment on earth, life in the universe could be more widespread and likely would follow similar patterns and processes that are found on earth.
There are an estimated 60 billion planets in our Milky Way alone that could support life according to a new estimate by scientists based on information from NASA’s planet-hunting Keplar spacecraft.  Scientists estimate that 75 billion red dwarf stars (abundant, small and relatively cool stars) might have Earth-sized planets in temperate zones around them thus being capable of supporting life.  That would imply a minimum of 4.5 billion earth-like planets in our Milky Way.  Based on data from the Hubble Telescope, NASA estimates 100-200 billion galaxies exist in the universe.  The statistical odds are just overwhelmingly in favor of other life existing throughout the universe.
It is clear Thomas Berry was right in his call for a new creation story.  Evidence of life in space would require all faiths to broaden their view of creation and the creator.   A lot to think about, but before we get too excited about life throughout the universe let’s focus on improving life on earth first.
Read more of the Sightings from the Treehouse Blog Series.  Sightings from the Treehouse is a blog series written by GIPL’s former Director of the Power Wise Program, Bob Donaghue.