Is Earth an Oddball? One of the Strangest Things in the Cosmos Might Be – Us

Earth Rotating Sun Space

How rare in the galaxy are rocky planets like Earth in similar orbits around Sun-like stars? The question turns out to be surprisingly difficult to answer.

One of the strangest things in the cosmos might be – us.

Among the thousands of planets confirmed to be in orbit around other stars, we’ve found nothing quite like our home planet. Other planets in Earth’s size range? Sure, by the bushel. But also orbiting a star like our Sun, at a comparable distance? So far it’s just one, lonely example. The one beneath our feet.

A big part of this is likely to be the technical difficulty of finding a sister planet. Our telescopes, in space and on the ground, find planets around other stars by two main methods: wobbles and shadows.

The “wobble” method, or radial velocity, traces the subtle back-and-forth motion as orbiting planets tug their star this way, then that, because of gravity. The larger the tug, the “heavier” the planet — that is, the greater its mass.

In the search for shadows, planet-hunting telescopes wait for a tiny dip in starlight as a planet crosses the face of its star — a crossing known as a “transit.” The bigger the dip, the wider the planet.

In both cases, large planets are much easier to detect than small ones. And in the case of transits, small, rocky planets about the size of Earth show up much better against very small stars known as red dwarfs. In a sense, they cast a bigger shadow that blots out proportionally more of a small star’s light, so instruments like NASA’s TESS space telescope can more readily find them. A Sun-sized star won’t dim as much when an Earth-size planet passes by, making their transits harder to detect.

Apollo 11 Earth Image

Apollo 11 Earth image. Credit: NASA Johnson Space Center

And there’s another troubling issue: time. A planet orbiting a star at Earth’s distance from the Sun would take about 365 days to make one revolution – just like our planet’s “year.” But to confirm such an orbit, your telescope would have to stare at that star for, say, 365 days to catch even one transit — and to be sure it’s truly a planet, you’ll want to see at least two or three of these transit signals.

All of these difficulties have placed such planets largely out of reach for today’s instruments. We’ve found plenty of small, rocky planets, but they’re nearly all orbiting red dwarf stars.

In our galaxy, red dwarfs are far more common than larger yellow stars like our Sun. That still leaves room for billions of Sun-like stars and, maybe, a significant number of habitable, Earth-sized worlds circling them.

Or maybe not.

Rare or just difficult?

The apparent oddness of our home system doesn’t end with Earth. Our particular arrangement – small, rocky worlds in the nearest orbits, big gas giants farther out – also is something we haven’t yet detected in close parallel anywhere else. Whether this is because they are truly scarce or because they are hard to detect is unclear.

Jupiter takes one trip around the Sun every 12 years. But Jupiter-type planets in long orbits are comparatively rare around other stars, and that could be important. Theorists say Jupiter might well have cleared the way for Earth to become a habitable world, quite literally. The giant planet’s intense gravity could have hoovered up small rocky bits that might otherwise have smashed into Earth, sterilizing it just as life was getting its start.

“The planetary systems we are finding do not look like our solar system,” said Jessie Christiansen, a research scientist at NASA’s Exoplanet Science Institute. “Is it important that our solar system is different? We don’t know yet.”

Christiansen, who studies exoplanet demographics, does not think “Earths” will turn out to be rare, but says scientific literature on the question “is all over the place.”

Far more data are needed, scientists tell us, to determine the frequency of planets similar to Earth in both size and circumstance.

Future space telescopes could examine the atmospheres of distant, rocky worlds for signs of oxygen, methane, or carbon dioxide – in other words, an atmosphere that reminds us of home.

For now, we remain in the dark. Earth-like planets around Sun-like stars might be plentiful. Or, they could be the true oddballs of the galaxy.

28 Comments on "Is Earth an Oddball? One of the Strangest Things in the Cosmos Might Be – Us"

  1. This article states:

    ‘Jupiter-type planets in long orbits are comparatively rare around other stars, and that could be important.’

    However, under your ‘More On Scitechdaily’ you also have an article titled:
    “A Billion or More Jupiter-Like Worlds Could Be Orbiting Stars in the Milky Way”

  2. And to make it more interesting, we do not know what we do not know.

  3. mendel kaplan | January 1, 2022 at 7:19 pm | Reply

    In much less words the “scientific community” is finally coming to the realization and acceptance that we are truly alone as the rest of us knew since god made is and told us so. Now you can all off your high horses and accomplish something (good?) for humanity and stop wasting all that energy on that innane SETI program amd everything else associated with space exploration. You all knew all along that the only reason why you were looking to the cosmos was to deny the existence of GOD the creator of all.

    • Peter Gresswell | January 2, 2022 at 6:39 am | Reply

      What a ridiculous think to write.

    • Why would a god need a human to tell us it existed? Wouldn’t the omniscient and omnipotent god just be able to convey its thoughts without human assistance? Shouldn’t we just know? And what is Communion? Symbolic cannibalism, that’s what. A bunch of sickos and I did not even mention the Zombie aspect of the rising from the dead of Jesus. Stupid is, as stupid does.

    • In much less words, you skimmed through the article, filtered the few nuggets that fit within your belief system and jumped to the comments to rant.

      If your god exists, why are you scared of SETI? Why are you scared of the avenues of exploration that might find earth-like planets and/or life? If your god exists, there’s nothing for you to be scared of.

      And talking about money, the amount spent on SETI per year is much smaller than the money evangelical megachurches spend on the lavish lifestyles of their founders every year… And a few orders of magnitude smaller than the money you spend on bombing people who believe in a different sky fairy.

  4. David Anthony Reyna | January 1, 2022 at 7:53 pm | Reply

    Does the author mean to provoke feelings of uniqueness, familiarity, solidarity, or peculiarity as a means of justifying our (perverse) neediness, our perverse, and shallow, selfishness and sense of superiority? Is it not possible that there are 9 billion or so lazy, bored, ineffectual, insecure, incompetent and parasitic beings who feel “more-or-less trapped” on a “planet” in a “universe” “existing” with “no purpose” other than to “win” (something?) That sounds a lot like interterrestrial and imperious entitlement issues.

  5. There is no conflict between the two statements about Jupiter-like planets. The vast majority of large planets have been found much closer to their stars than Jupiter. It’s likely that Saturn and maybe Neptune are responsible for reversing Jupiter’s inward migration, thereby preserving the terrestrial planets.

    • I think one issue is observation bias. The technologies that we have are optimal for detecting massive planets around low mass stars, at very short orbital periods. So our catalog of discoveries is heavily skewed.

      If aliens were looking at the Sun from the distance of Alpha Centauri using the same methods we use, they wouldn’t detect Jupiter (too small to tug on the Sun, too slow to make multiple transitions around the Sun during a short observation window).

  6. David Anthony Reyna | January 1, 2022 at 8:00 pm | Reply

    With as many as, say, 1 million of those individuals ever having a virtually non-existent chance of understanding anything greater than what we’ve been told or taught by someone who is only doing what they were told or taught in “life?” I find most Americans’ attitudes pathetic, inane or deeply troubling and INFURIATING. We EARTHLING TRASH will get passed over like the fat, emotionally unstable, sexually mature yet thoroughly-frustrated, wheelchair-bound, gay, intellectually-challenged kid in Physical Education “team sports” instruction always does.

    • I do understand that you are sexually mature, thoroughly frustrated and intellectually challenged, and that these are not reasons for the other kids to have laughed at you in school. Now, would you please mind writing your autobiography/manifesto somewhere else? No one gives a hoot here.

  7. Cases in point: this article and its author as well as this content and ITS author:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mxE67SPbZCs

  8. Mendel kaplan – Your Bare Assertion of what scientists are “realizing and accepting” is just as fallacious as most of the other claims if anti-science fundies. Your second claim that the only reason science studies explanation, etc. is to disprove your gawd is just as hilariously self-serving and baseless. If you can’t handle rational inquiry and modernity, there are places on Earth where you would fit right in.

  9. “AI and Robotics and Our Promise to the World: Together, we are making a better future for the same quality of human being with something better than a human being-a human being that no longer acts, wants or needs like a (worse) human!”

  10. Vince spailero | January 2, 2022 at 3:19 am | Reply

    Earth is very common in the big skeme of things. When they say,”The strangest thing in the cosmos could be our planet.” ..it makes me sad that people could be so ignorant! Yes, of course when we are only really looking at our solar system and some planets we have discovered that could be earth like at the next star system….that is nothing ! of course earth looks special and rare. In space terms we have seen nothing yet,barley gone out of our own backyard.Believe me if we could somehow see all of the stars in this galaxy alone that were supporting planets with fresh water like earth and possibly life there would be so many planets just like ours that earth would seem more than common or average .how are we going to determine weather we are alone in the universe by just getting to the next dull star system? It is more than likely that intelligent life will be at the stars like 20 star systems from us. You can’t expect to find life because you sent a probe to the very next star system after the sun , the next closest star to us after the sun which is PROXIMA CENTURA. Why is it so hard to believe that there is intelligent life besides ours in the universe. If we are here ,than of course there is another star supporting life on another planet, and another and another..The dreamers are not the people who believe in alien life out there and other worlds out there like ours with life on them, no the fantasy, the dreamers are the people who believe we are the only life in the universe!, now that would be something else , that would be historical and mind blowing being the only planet in the universe with all those stars and galaxies out there, the only planet in the whole universe with intelligent life on it. Us being alone in the universe would be the dream. saying that there is other life in the universe, saying we are not alone, well that is just mathematically common sense!

  11. The question we should be asking is – do we have the right technology to detect earth-like planets at earth-like orbits around sun-like stars? The answer is – no.

    The wobble method detects very massive planets in close orbit around low-mass stars. Aliens at the distance of Alpha Centauri would not be able to detect neither Earth nor Jupiter with wobble method using the technology we have today.

    The transit method is biased towards planets orbiting a star very rapidly (therefore, very close to the star). Those Alpha Centaurians with our tech very likely won’t detect Earth nor Jupiter unless they were very patient – Earth would take about 5 years of observation to detect, and Jupiter would take 60 years… assuming during that time period there is practically no sunspot activity that might create a lot of “background noise” in the observations.

  12. While I agree with the atheists here, when it comes to someone stepping in, and asserting their religious beliefs onto others as wrong, don’t put us all in that category. I’m Catholic, and I still look to the heavens in a more scientific aspect. One can have one’s beliefs, and still acknowledge all we have found as factual. Both can exist at the same time. You may not have your proof that a God exists, but others do.

    In other words, you could do with debating the subject matter in the article. Instead of letting loose your anti-religion hate. You most likely consider yourselves rational and fair and Impartial, until it comes to this.

    You don’t have to believe. Personally, I don’t give a fuck whether you do or don’t. But don’t shit on those of us who do with your hateful speech.

    • Agreed. As long as religious people won’t come to science discussions forums to disparage science, spew hate against those who don’t need a sky fairy to get through life, or to preach (bible verses and all), I as an atheist will stop making fun of you.

      Let’s discuss science.

  13. Babu G. Ranganathan | January 2, 2022 at 7:44 am | Reply

    Babu G. Ranganathan*
    (B.A. Bible/Biology)

    OUR LIVING WORLD: NOT INVENTED BY NATURE

    JUST BECAUSE something exists in nature does not mean it was invented by nature. If all the chemicals (i.e. amino acids, nucleic acids, etc.) necessary to make a cell were left to themselves, “Mother Nature” would have no ability to organize them into a cell. It requires an already existing cell to bring about another cell. The cell exists and reproduces in nature but nature didn’t invent or design it! Nature didn’t originate the cell or any form of life. An intelligent power outside of nature had to be responsible.

    Miller, in his famous experiment in 1953, showed that amino acids (the building blocks of life) could form by chance. But, it’s not enough just to have amino acids. The various amino acids that make-up life must link together in a precise sequence, just like the letters in a sentence, to form functioning protein molecules. It has never been shown that various amino acids can bind together into a sequence by chance to form protein molecules.

    Natural laws may explain how an airplane or cell works, but it’s not rational to believe that undirected natural laws can bring about an airplane or a cell.

    ONCE YOU HAVE a complete and living cell then the genetic program (or code) and biological machinery exist to direct the formation of more cells, but how could the cell have originated naturally when no directing code and mechanisms existed in nature?

    Mathematicians have said any event in the universe with odds of 10 to 50th power or greater is impossible! The probability of just an average size protein molecule arising by chance is 10 to the 65th power. Even the simplest cell is made up of many millions of various protein molecules along with and DNA/RNA..

    The late great British scientist Sir Frederick Hoyle calculated that the odds of even the simplest cell coming into existence by chance is 10 to the 40,000th power! How large is this? Consider that the total number of atoms in our universe is 10 to the 82nd power.

    The cell didn’t evolve. A partially evolved cell would quickly disintegrate, not wait millions of years to become complete and living.

    WHAT ABOUT EVOLUTION? Only evolution within “kinds” is genetically possible (i.e. varieties of dogs, cats, horses, cows, etc.), but not evolution across “kinds” (i.e. from sea sponge to human). How could species have survived if their vital tissues, organs, reproductive systems were still evolving? Survival of the fittest would actually have prevented such evolution! Only limited evolution, variations of already existing genes and traits, is possible. Nature is mindless and has no ability to design and program entirely new genes for entirely new traits.

    WHAT ABOUT NEW SPECIES: Although new species have come into existence, they don’t carry any new genes. They’ve become new species only because they can’t be crossed back with the original parent stock for various biological reasons. A biological “kind” allows for new species but not new genes. Nature has no ability to invent new genes for new traits. Only limited variations and adaptations are possible in nature, and all strictly within a biological “kind” (i.e. varieties of dogs, cats, etc.).

    All species of plants and animals in the fossil record are found complete, fully formed, and fully functional. This is powerful evidence that all species came into existence as complete and fully formed from the beginning. This is only possible by creation.

    What about natural selection? Natural selection doesn’t produce biological traits or variations. It can only “select” from biological variations that are possible and which have survival value. That’s why it’s called natural “selection.” The real issue is what biological variations are possible, not natural selection. Only variations and mutations of already existing genes or traits are possible.

    Dr. Randy J. Guliuzza’s extensive research points to a better explanation than natural selection for variation and adaptation in nature. Dr. Guliuzza explains that species have pre-engineered mechanisms that enable organisms to continuously track and respond to environmental changes with system elements that correspond to human-designed tracking systems. This model is called CET (continuous environmental tracking). His research strongly indicates that living things have been pre-engineered to produce the right adaptations and changes required to live in changing environments. It’s much like a car that’s been pre-engineered so that the head lights turn on automatically when day changes to night.

    Modern evolutionists believe and hope that over, supposedly, millions of years, random mutations in the genetic code caused by environmental radiation will generate entirely new genes for natural selection to use. This is total blind and irrational faith on the part of evolutionists. It’s much like believing that randomly changing the sequence of letters in a romance novel, over millions of years, will turn it into a book on astronomy! That’s the kind of blind faith macro-evolutionists have.

    Mutations are accidents in the genetic, are mostly harmful, and have no capability of producing greater complexity in the code. Even if a good accident occurred, for every good one there would be hundreds of harmful ones with the net result, over time, being harmful, even lethal, to the species. Even if a single mutation is not immediately harmful, the accumulation of mutations over time will be harmful. At best, mutations only produce further variations within a natural species. Most biological variations are not due to mutations but from new combinations of already existing genes.

    What about genetic and biological similarities between species? Genetic information, like other forms of information, cannot happen by chance, so it is more logical to believe that genetic and biological similarities between all forms of life are due to a common Designer who designed similar functions for similar purposes. It doesn’t mean all forms of life are biologically related! Only genetic similarities within a natural species proves relationship because it’s only within a natural species that members can interbreed and reproduce.

    The actual similarity between ape and human DNA is between 70-87% not 99.8% as commonly believed. The original research stating 99.8% similarity was based on ignoring contradicting evidence. Only a certain segment of DNA between apes and humans was compared, not the entire DNA genome.

    All the fossils that have been used to support human evolution have been found to be either hoaxes, non-human, or human, but not non-human and human (i.e. Neanderthal Man was discovered later to be fully human).

    There has never been unanimous agreement among evolutionary scientists on ANY fossil evidence that has been used to support human evolution over the Many years, Including LUCY.

    Also, so-called “Junk DNA” isn’t junk. Although these “non-coding” segments of DNA don’t code for proteins, they have recently been found to be vital in regulating gene expression (i.e. when, where, and how genes are expressed, so they’re not “junk”).

    Read the author’s Internet article, NO MEAT-EATING ANIMALS EXISTED IN THE BEGINNING

    Visit my latest Internet site: THE SCIENCE SUPPORTING CREATION (This site answers many arguments, both old and new, that have been used by evolutionists to support their theory)

    Author of popular Internet article, TRADITIONAL DOCTRINE OF HELL EVOLVED FROM GREEK ROOTS

    * I have had the privilege of being recognized in the 24th edition of Marquis “Who’s Who In The East” for my writings on religion and science, and I have given successful lectures (with question and answer time afterwards) defending creation from science before evolutionist science faculty and students at various colleges and universities.

  14. Fail to mention that the most common method used, the transit method requires that planetary plane orbit exactly line up with a ray from its star and us (highly unlikely). Thus, planetary systems must be the norm! Second, discovery of hundreds of nearby large gas planets thrown out from star systems indicates similar solar system development forces to ours are also the norm (perhaps like our Planet 9). Magnetic field requirement for radiation protection also being confirmed. Atmosphere spectrums indicate commonality of elements. Still need to nail down likeliness of a major satellite like our moon, though prevalence or rings is a positive indication. Also unknown is how often are 2nd or 3rd generation solar system following major planet collisions.

  15. I wonder why? The chances for Earth to exist in its present state were nothing and impossible if it relied on coincidence alone. God did it! He had to have!

    • So god did it, is your go-to. You can’t think of anything else so god did it. I have news for you, god is a man-made thing and the very concept is NONSENSE, but say hi to the other goatherders.

  16. Dashboard Jesus | January 2, 2022 at 3:34 pm | Reply

    Shout out to “thetentman”….cool Avatar. I had a dashboard Jesus bobblehead the same. I think that the argument “God vs The Natural Universe” is a waste of time. I think the argument for life in our galaxy( or universe for that matter) is more a battle between Drake and Fermi. I was a big fan of Drake Theory 30 years ago. However, as time and SETI have marched on, I find myself falling on the Fermi Paradox side. The universe is probably teeming with microbial life but intelligent life is another story. I think that some type of “Great Filter ” may come into play thus making intelligent life rare. But what would I know….I’m not God.

    • I am onboard with the “Great Filter” hypothesis, and my take on that is the filter is anthropocentric. We expect “intelligence” to conform to our definition of it – tool use, the ability to bend the environment to suit the needs of a species, distribute knowledge via verbal or visual communication, and curiosity. So in effect, we are looking for the twins of mankind – ie. the Star Trek aliens, vs Ted Chiang’s aliens.

      We have seen traits that we consider as intelligence in many species on Earth itself, where the species are better adapted to their environment than us. Dolphins don’t need tools because they have everything they need built-in. Termites build their own bio-domes with climate control and ants build mushroom farms, but they don’t use tools.

      Maybe we might never find our kind of intelligence, but if we are willing to broaden our horizons beyond Star Trek definitions, we might find the universe teeming with “intelligent” life.

    • Thx for the reply. No one knows. The Avatar was a choice. Either that or a Dancing Bear. cheers.

  17. Joseph Castillo | January 3, 2022 at 6:48 am | Reply

    This was a thought provoking article for me on several levels. Two realizations for me are:
    1) The advancements we have made in understanding how to detect planets and solar systems similar to earth demonstrate great progress in human understanding of physics, and it will be interesting to see where we are in this effort 100 years from now.
    2) When we gaze on the cosmos and see billions upon billions of galaxies, solar systems, and stars, it is difficult to not imagine another planet out there with conditions similar to Earth’s that would sustain life. But at the same time, when we look at the components of our own planet, we see amazing evidence of uniqueness in everything. There are no two grains of sand, two snowflakes, two leaves, etc. that are identical. Is it possible that, in this vast Universe, Earth is unique in its ability to bring forth and sustain life?

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