Is there life like ours on other worlds? Science news periodicals are now reporting strong new confirmation of the existence of planets around other suns, which brings scientists one step closer to answering that question. But for Latter-day saints, the answer has been known to be in the affirmative since the days of the Prophet Joseph Smith.
For millennia mankind has looked into the heavens and wondered just what stars really are. In the last few centuries scientific evidence has made it clear that stars are really “suns”, very much like our own sun, but so extremely far away that they appear to be mere pinpoints of light. The question then arose whether or not they have systems of planets surrounding them as does our sun. Our earth is the third planet of nine in our solar system orbiting the sun and it has all the conditions on it perfectly suited for life. Do other stars have planets, and if so, do they have life as we know it? Are inhabited worlds an extremely rare phenomenon in our universe, or very common? Scientists have debated that question for the last century or so, but now scientific evidence is coming forth to shed light on the subject.
Before 1995, there were no planets known to exist around other stars. That was not taken as proof of the non-existence of such planets because stars are so far away that it makes detection of planets orbiting those stars to be extremely difficult, so the debates on the subject included many assumptions and much speculation. Since 1995, with today’s extremely sensitive equipment, an entire parade of such planets has been discovered. These planets cannot be seen visually because their light is lost in the brighter light of their sun. Instead, they were discovered indirectly by observing the “wobbling” they cause in their sun’s motion, indicated in its spectral lines. As the current (March 2000) issue of Astronomy magazine points out, there are currently a grand total of 33 extrasolar planets known, which are listed on their web site at [www.astronomy.com]. That issue also notes that it was only last year that the first true planetary system of more than one planet orbiting the same star was discovered. There are at least three planets orbiting the solar-type star called Upsilon Andromedae, with the middle one of the three separated from its sun at about four fifths the distance of the earth to the sun. 1
The recent new evidence for the existence of these extrasolar planets came from an entirely different kind of observation, so it is becomes strong confirming testimony of their existence. As shown in the artist’s conception picture, the light of a star has actually been observed to get dimmer as a planet moved across its disk. The relative size of the planet as shown in the picture cannot be seen directly, but can be deduced from the precise way that the star’s light dims for about 3 hours every three days. As reported in the February 2000 issue of Sky and Telescope:
“For the first time a planet of another star has been seen crossing the star’s face, allowing astronomers to measure directly the planet’s size, mass, and density. . . . The case for the existence of extrasolar planets has been clinched with the observation of an object some 30 percent larger than Jupiter crossing the face of [the star astronomers call] HD 209458 in Pegasus.” 2
Of course, while these discoveries confirm that planets exists around other suns, they are a long way from showing there is any life at all on those planets, much less life as we know it. Indeed, the presence of life has not even been discovered on our nearest celestial neighbors of the Moon, Venus or Mars.
Fortunately, the Lord has revealed to us the answers to many of these questions. One of the most mind-expanding revelations was given to Moses as the preface to the book of Genesis. The account in Genesis is an account only of the creation of this earth, but before revealing that history, he made it clear that this is only one of many worlds. Moreover, the existence of man on the earth is not a mere chance occurence, nor even a minor blip on the Lord’s radar scope. Mankind’s achieving eternal life is the Lord’s full-time occupation. He explained to Moses:
“But only an account of this earth, and the inhabitants thereof, give I unto you. For behold, there are many worlds that have passed away by the word of my power. And there are many that now stand, and innumerable are they unto man; but all things are numbered unto me, for they are mine and I know them.
“And it came to pass that Moses spake unto the Lord, saying: Be merciful unto thy servant, O God, and tell me concerning this earth, and the inhabitants thereof, and also the heavens, and then thy servant will be content.
“And the Lord God spake unto Moses, saying: The heavens, they are many, and they cannot be numbered unto man; but they are numbered unto me, for they are mine.
“And as one earth shall pass away, and the heavens thereof even so shall another come; and there is no end to my works, neither to my words.
” For behold, this is my work and my glory to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.
“And now, Moses, my son, I will speak unto thee concerning this earth upon which thou standest; and thou shalt write the things which I shall speak. (Moses 1:35–40)
The Lord then went on to reveal the account of the creation of the earth found in the Book of Genesis and also beginning in Moses 2. Thus we can learn in a few sentences from the Creator about the magnitude of his extensive work, far beyond what science has yet been able to discover.