Other formats

    Adobe Portable Document Format file (facsimile images)   TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

Salient. An Organ of Student Opinion at Victoria University College, Wellington N.Z. Vol. 20, No. 9. June 27, 1957

Other Worlds Like Ours

page 5

Other Worlds Like Ours

"Religious ideas have continually fallen before the onslaught of scientific ideas, theories and observations. Clashes between the two factions have often ended with the withdrawal of the Church and the modification of biblical interpretations to accord with scientific theory.

The geocentric concept of the Universe was one held dogmatically by powerful Church authorities for many years. Open questioning and doubt as to its validity was painstakingly restricted and valuable scientific views, backed by instrumental observations and the improved recording of planetary and stellar positions, remained obscure and dormant. A challenge, in the form of a new theory on such a controversial matter invited trial and the public denial of the idea by the challenger.

The invention of the telescope, together with a host of observational and theoretical evidence, has now convinced most of us of the validity of the heliocentric idea. (In relation to our own earth (approx, spherical) the Sun and planets.)

Religious authorises have bowed to the Astronomer, accepted his picture of the universe—solar system—star cluster—galaxy—galactic system (?) and in so doing, have enriched their religious outlook, deepened their world perspective, without in any way committing. As was originally supposed, the slightest blasphemy. We must now open our minds to the possibility of life in other worlds in our universe. Rendle Short, in "Modern Discovery and the Bible", convinces himself and the unsuspecting reader (there are many) of the uniqueness of the planet earth by appealing to questionable astro-physical theories on planetary formation. He selects a popular theory which postulates a near-miss in the random wanderings of stars in our universe, with the withdrawal of a filament of hot gaseous material from one or both of the stars which condenses and rotates about the other star. Further mathematical considerations based on abstract concepts (relativity, curved space, etc.) lead us to a rough idea of the number of stars in the universe. Simpler calculations give us the probability of a stellar collision or the near-miss which would satisfy our planetary formation conditions.

The results of these calculations show that the total number of stars in the universe is approximately equal to the reciprocal of the collision probability. It follows that there is only one planetary system in the universe!! Furthermore. Earth is at just the right distance to produce a climate suitable for the development of life as we know it. This further reduces the chance of finding life outside our own earth . .

Are we "Unique"?

And so it goes Note that the conclusion, viz,. "The uniqueness of our world", depends on the improbability of the occurrence of certain physical events (careful'). We would not be quite as confident in our own uniqueness if we could formulate a satisfactory theory which implied a physical occurrence of higher probability. If such is the ease, and I assert that such is the case, then there is a chance that there are a large number of living beings on planetary systems in our physical universe, yet beyond the ken of our largest telescopes and most relined instrumental observations.

A theory in which the probability of the events associated with planetary formation is high enough to account for a great number of "stellar systems" throughout space, has recently been forwarded by Alfven. It is based firstly on the property of an atom called its "ionisation potential" (familiar, of course, to many students of chemistry and physics) which is roughly a measure of the work required to remove an electron from the atom, and secondly, the assumption, open, to doubt, until confirmed by the researches of Babcock and his associates, of a general stellar magnetic field (similar to the terrestrial magnetic field which directs a compass needle) and thirdly, a relatively dense and extensive atmosphere composed of a mixture of gases which tend to [unclear: fall] towards the stellar centre under the [unclear: influence] of gravity. The fall of this atmosphere is opposed by the magnetic field and radiation pressure. An atom travelling towards the stellar surface will reach a point, at a distance from the star determined partly by its velocity and mass but mainly by its ionisation potential, at which it is stopped, in a manner remotely analogous to the "eddy-current effect" which slows a conducting plate held between the poles of a magnet. Different elements have different ionisation potentials, thus the elements tend in sort themselves into groups each of characteristic composition at various distances from the stellar centre The gases in these zones nowcool. By radiation, until they condense along with their associated magnetic field, into planets. A smaller scale repetition of the above process then produces the planetary satellites. (A difficulty with other theories.) The application of this theory to our solar system leads to values of orbit radius and element distribution which roughly accords with the known values.

Detailed application and proof of this tentative hypothesis is hampered by the lack of information concerning the origin, shape, strength and extent of both solar and terrestrial magnetic fields.

Man has gradually come to realize that his woman, his village, his country, his nation, his earth, his galaxy, are not the centre of the universe. Has he yet to realize that "himself" also, is not the centre of all things? Can he consistently "hate himself?"