Jesuits: New Discovery of Planets Gives Hope
By Carol Glatz
The quest to find life on other planets got a boost when astronomers confirmed the existence of at least seven Earth-sized planets orbiting a red dwarf star just 40 light years away.
Three of the planets are located in the so-called “habitable” zone, a kind of “Goldilocks” sweet spot in that their distance from the sun makes them not too hot, not too cold, but just right for having liquid water — an essential ingredient for life.
“The discovery is important because, to date, it has revealed the highest number of Earth-sized planets revolving around a single parent star,” said Jesuit Father David Brown, an astrophysicist who studies stellar evolution at the Vatican Observatorys.
“Depending on different factors, all of the planets could potentially harbour conditions for the possible existence of life on them,” he said.
He said scientists and astronomers will now want to use newer and more powerful telescopes to learn more about the TRAPPIST-1 solar system, such as the planets’ atmospheres.
The name TRAPPIST is an acronym for the “Transiting Planets and Planetesimals Small Telescope”, which is located in Chile, but the name also reflects the exploration project’s Belgian roots by honouring Belgium’s famous Trappist beers, made by Trappist monks.
“The use of religious names in space discoveries is not rare,” the astrophysicist priest said, because religious men have been among the many scientists contributing to human knowledge of the world and universe throughout history.
For example, he said, several craters on the moon are named after Jesuit priests and brothers and the SECCHI (Sun Earth Connection Coronal and Heliospheric Investigation) instruments being used for solar research are named after Jesuit Father Angelo Secchi, one of the founding fathers of modern astrophysics.
Fr Brown said the human fascination with the possibility of life on other planets “speaks to one of the most basic questions that confront humanity as it contemplates its place in this cosmos: ‘Are we alone, or are there others in the universe?’”
Jesuit Brother Guy Consolmagno, director of the Vatican Observatory, said the question of life beyond Earth is “a question of faith”.
“God speaks to us through what he has created,” he said, and creation has been created “by a God of love, joy and surprises,” said Br Consolmagno.—CNS