While today we celebrate our own planetary home with "Earth Day," the Philadelphia Inquirer'sFaye Flam reports from a meeting in England that scientists have discovered the most Earth-like world yet, orbiting a star 21 light-years away. Previous discoveries (or inferences, since determining the existence and location of these planets is mostly a matter of indirect observation and mathematical dexterity) of extrasolar planets have been either of huge gas giants or of planets far too close to their parent star to sustain life as we know it.
Those interested in the religious conundra presented by the possibility of extraterrestrial life might enjoy Arthur C. Clarke's chilling short story "The Star," in which a Jesuit astrophysicist joins a team of scientists visiting the home of an extraterrestrial civilization destroyed by a supernova thousands of years previous. His terrible realization of the way that civilization's death interacted with Christian tradition causes him to note ruefully that "God has no need to justify His actions to man. He who built the universe can destroy it when He chooses. It is arrogance--it is perilously near blasphemy--for us to say what He may or may not do." Ultimately, he admits he has begun to doubt his own faith.
To read "The Star" online (warning: not for the faint of heart), click here.
Jim Keane, S.J.