The Internet has been abuzz lately with several articles and posts claiming that "at least a trillion alien civilizations have almost certainly existed in the universe."1 These claims are founded on the following four presuppositions:

  1. The density and kinds of planets throughout our galaxy and all other galaxies in the universe is roughly the same as what we observe in the vicinity of our solar system.
  2. About 20 percent of all planets are habitable.
  3. Life inevitably will arise on all habitable planets.
  4. The probability of a technologically advanced civilization arising from simple life is better than one chance in 10 billion.

Origins of Life (my book co-authored with Fazale Rana) demonstrates that from a naturalistic perspective assumption #3 is certainly incorrect. The probability of a naturalistic origin of life happening on a habitable planet is mathematically indistinguishable from zero.2 Since zero times any other factor or set of factors equals zero, then from a naturalistic perspective the number of alien civilizations besides our own in the universe is zero.

There is also much I could say about why assumptions #1 and #4 are deeply flawed, but I will focus on a new discovery that establishes that far, far less than 20 percent of all planets are habitable.

Assumption #2 only takes into account the water habitable zone, which is the range of distances from a planet's host star that could conceivably permit liquid water to exist on the planet's surface at some time during the planet's history and at some place on the planet's surface. Indeed, about 20 percent of the more than 3,000 planets discovered so far fall within this water habitable zone. The percentage drops precipitously, however, if one does not allow the greenhouse effect of the planet's atmosphere to take on a value that perfectly compensates for the host star's brightness. It takes another precipitous drop if one desires the planet to retain liquid water on more than 10 percent of its surface for more than a billion years. (Liquid water must be present on a planet's surface for at least 3.5 billion years for there to be even the remotest possibility of the planet sustaining advanced life.)

In addition to the water habitable zone there are seven additional known habitable zones. I listed and briefly described these habitable zones in a previous article.3 In chapter 7 of my forthcoming book, Improbable Planet (release date September 6, 2016), I provide a detailed explanation of all eight of these habitable zones.4 I make the point that a planet is only a truly habitable candidate if it resides in all eight habitable zones. So far, the only known planet that resides in all eight of these habitable zones is Earth.

Venus_Express_in_orbit_(crop)

Figure 1: Venus Express Spacecraft
Image credit: Wikimedia Commons /Andrzej Mirecki

Now, a ninth habitable zone has been discovered—the electric wind habitable zone.5 This discovery is thanks to an electron spectrometer on board the European Space Agency's spacecraft Venus Express (see figure 1). This instrument measured the electric potential in Venus's atmosphere (see figure 2). Venus's atmospheric electric field at 10 volts proved to be far stronger than what any astronomer had expected. The high voltage drives an electric wind in Venus's atmosphere that is powerful enough to drive all heavy ions in Venus's ionosphere into interplanetary space. These heavy ions include oxygen ions that once belonged to water molecules.

Venuspioneeruv-2

Figure 2: Venus’s Cloud Structure as Seen in Ultraviolet Light by the Pioneer Venus Orbiter
Image credit: NASA

Previously, astronomers presumed that the solar wind was responsible for drying out Venus. This new discovery shows that Venus's electric field is the dominant desiccating factor.

The Venus Express research team determined that Venus's proximity to the Sun explains its strong atmospheric electric field. Venus receives twice as much ultraviolet radiation as does Earth. All this ultraviolet radiation results in a high density of free electrons and ions in Venus's atmosphere, which generates a strong electric field above Venus's surface.

Confirmation that Venus's proximity to the Sun explains its strong atmospheric electric field comes from failed attempts to detect atmospheric electric fields on Earth and Mars. In both cases instruments establish that Earth and Mars possess atmospheric electric fields weaker than 2 volts.6

The discovery of a strong atmospheric electric field on Venus has serious implications for the possible habitability of exoplanets (planets beyond our solar system). The discovery implies that any planet with an atmosphere thicker than 1 percent of Earth's and any planet that is closer to its star than about 90 percent of Earth's distance from the Sun will very likely possess an atmospheric electric field strong enough to completely dry out the planet.

The vast majority of exoplanets currently classified as habitable are closer to their stars than 90 percent of Earth's distance from the Sun. Thus, they no longer can be classified as habitable. To put it another way, for the vast majority of stars, the water habitable zone does not overlap the electric wind habitable zone.

The discovery of the electric wind habitable zone means that for a planet to be a viable candidate for possibly sustaining life, it must simultaneously reside in nine different habitable zones. It seems that nothing less than the supernatural handiwork of God will suffice to explain how a planet could meet all these known conditions for habitability.

Endnotes

  1. See Lee Speigel, "Alien Civilizations May Number in the Trillions New Study Says," Science (blog), Huffington Post, May 19, 2016, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/alien-civilizations-planets-study_us_57322800e4b096e9f092e60d; Sarah Kramer, "At Least a Trillion Alien Civilizations Have 'Almost Certainly Existed' in the Universe," Tech Insider (blog), June 13, 2016, http://www.techinsider.io/extraterrestrial-civilizations-drake-equation-probability-2016-6; Patricia Ramirez, "Alien Civilizations: Trillions Possible in Universe Says Report," Buzzworthy (blog), Inquisitr, May 20, 2016, http://www.inquisitr.com/3117299/alien-civilizations-trillions-possible-in-universe-says-report/.
  2. Fazale Rana and Hugh Ross, Origins of Life (Covina, CA: RTB Press, 2014).
  3. Hugh Ross, "Astrosphere Habitable Zones Display Fine-Tuned Characteristics," Today's New Reason to Believe (blog), Reasons to Believe, July 7, 2014, http://www.reasons.org/articles/astrosphere-habitable-zones-display-fine-tuned-characteristics.
  4. Hugh Ross, Improbable Planet: How Earth Became Humanity's Home (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2016).
  5. Glyn Collinson et al., "The Electric Wind of Venus: A Global and Persistent 'Polar Wind'-Like Ambipolar Electric Field Sufficient for the Direct Escape of Heavy Ionospheric Ions: Venus Has Potential," Geophysical Research Letters (June 2016): doi:10.1002/2016GL068327.
  6. Glyn Collinson et al., "Electric Mars: The First Direct Measurement of an Upper Limit for the Martian 'Polar Wind' Electric Potential," Geophysical Research Letters 42 (November 2015): 9128–34, doi:10.1002/2015GL065084.

Subjects: Exoplanets, Design, Fine-Tuning, Life on Other Planets

Check out more from Reasons to Believe @ Reasons.org

About The Author

Dr. Hugh Ross

Reasons to Believe emerged from my passion to research, develop, and proclaim the most powerful new reasons to believe in Christ as Creator, Lord, and Savior and to use those new reasons to reach people for Christ. I also am eager to equip Christians to engage, rather than withdraw from or attack, educated non-Christians. One of the approaches I’ve developed, with the help of my RTB colleagues, is a biblical creation model that is testable, falsifiable, and predictive. I enjoy constructively integrating all 66 books of the Bible with all the science disciplines as a way to discover and apply deeper truths. 1 Peter 3:15–16 sets my ministry goal, "Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience." Hugh Ross launched his career at age seven when he went to the library to find out why stars are hot. Physics and astronomy captured his curiosity and never let go. At age seventeen he became the youngest person ever to serve as director of observations for Vancouver's Royal Astronomical Society. With the help of a provincial scholarship and a National Research Council (NRC) of Canada fellowship, he completed his undergraduate degree in physics (University of British Columbia) and graduate degrees in astronomy (University of Toronto). The NRC also sent him to the United States for postdoctoral studies. At Caltech he researched quasi-stellar objects, or "quasars," some of the most distant and ancient objects in the universe. Not all of Hugh's discoveries involved astrophysics. Prompted by curiosity, he studied the world’s religions and "holy books" and found only one book that proved scientifically and historically accurate: the Bible. Hugh started at religious "ground zero" and through scientific and historical reality-testing became convinced that the Bible is truly the Word of God! When he went on to describe for others his journey to faith in Jesus Christ, he was surprised to discover how many people believed or disbelieved without checking the evidence. Hugh's unshakable confidence that God's revelations in Scripture and nature do not, will not, and cannot contradict became his unique message. Wholeheartedly encouraged by family and friends, communicating that message as broadly and clearly as possible became his mission. Thus, in 1986, he founded science-faith think tank Reasons to Believe (RTB). He and his colleagues at RTB keep tabs on the frontiers of research to share with scientists and nonscientists alike the thrilling news of what's being discovered and how it connects with biblical theology. In this realm, he has written many books, including: The Fingerprint of God, The Creator and the Cosmos, Beyond the Cosmos, A Matter of Days, Creation as Science, Why the Universe Is the Way It Is, and More Than a Theory. Between writing books and articles, recording podcasts, and taking interviews, Hugh travels the world challenging students and faculty, churches and professional groups, to consider what they believe and why. He presents a persuasive case for Christianity without applying pressure. Because he treats people's questions and comments with respect, he is in great demand as a speaker and as a talk-radio and television guest. Having grown up amid the splendor of Canada's mountains, wildlife, and waterways, Hugh loves the outdoors. Hiking, trail running, and photography are among his favorite recreational pursuits - in addition to stargazing. Hugh lives in Southern California with his wife, Kathy, and two sons.



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