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A Panicked Scientist, a Privileged Planet

David Klinghoffer

privileged planet

The special place of the Earth in the cosmos, its privileged situation, as if by design, makes some people very uncomfortable. In fact I got an email yesterday conveying a complaint from a scientist who didn’t like our saying that his research points, as indeed it does, in that direction. I think he was panicked by the association with ID, and from a career perspective you can hardly blame him.

Earth as a Privileged Planet is the theme of a book co-authored by our colleague Jay Richards. An aspect of the impressive evidence on that score will receive attention tonight from the new documentary mini-series from the National Geographic Channel, One Strange Rock. Our planet’s view of the sun is critical to life, obviously, but equally critical is that it’s a shielded view. It’s one of the many features of our blue home that must be just right to support our existence, as well as to permit exploration of universe.

From the Space.com article:

Planet Earth and the life it contains wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for the sun. But the sun also poses a serious threat to life, by constantly spewing harmful radiation into the solar system.…

Episode 3, titled “Shield,” will explore Earth’s natural defenses against the sun’s cosmic rays.…

While Earthlings couldn’t do without the sun, the vast amount of energy the star expels could also completely obliterate life in the solar system. Thanks to a combination of Earth’s atmosphere and a magnetic shell known as the magnetosphere, we don’t have to worry much about subatomic particles or UV radiation bombarding us.… In space, without our home planet’s natural defenses, the sun is far more hazardous.

Take Mars, for example. Because that planet has a thin atmosphere and no magnetic fields, what looks like it could have been a cradle for life is, in fact, a barren, uninhabitable landscape.

Likewise, scientists believe that Venus could have supported life billions of years ago. However, Venus also lacks a magnetosphere, and its atmosphere is so thick with carbon dioxide that a so-called “runaway” greenhouse effect caused a massive temperature increase.

They ask, “So, what makes Earth so special compared to its neighboring planets, and how did we end up with these natural defenses?” Well, that is just the question that panicked the poor scientist, isn’t it?

Photo credit: Earth as seen from the International Space Station, by Chris Meaney, NASA Goddard’s Conceptual Image Lab.