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The Earth is a Rare Jewel. A Meditation on the Glory of God in a New Discovery about our Planet

March 3, 2013

030313Over at Space.com there is an article that sets forth a recent discovery of a new but fleeting set of Van Allen belts around the earth. These radiation belts have a critical role in our ability to survive since they help deflect most of the more harmful rays of the sun. Without these radiation belts we would “cook” in the harmful radiation of unfiltered sunrays.

The presence of the “Van Allen Belts” are another reminder that life on this planet isn’t just the result of a few simple things. It depends on a large number of things being present so that our beautiful blue marble can sustain the vast amount of life it does. More on this in a minute.  But first,  Here’s a brief excerpt from the article:

A ring of radiation previously unknown to science fleetingly surrounded Earth last year…made of super-high-energy electrons embedded in the outer Van Allen belt about 11,900 to 13,900 miles above the planet’s surface. This stable ring of space radiation apparently formed on Sept. 2  and lasted for more than four weeks…..This newfound radiation belt then abruptly and almost completely disappeared on Oct. 1. It was apparently disrupted by an interplanetary shock wave caused by a spike in solar wind speeds.

[The]  Van Allen radiation belts, [are] zones of magnetically trapped, highly energetic charged particles first discovered in 1958…..Unexpectedly, the probes revealed a new radiation belt surrounding Earth, ….It remains uncertain how this temporary radiation belt arose. Van Allen mission scientists suspect it was likely created by the solar wind tearing away the outer Van Allen belt. [More at Space.com]

Clearly the scientists are still studying this matter but the protective Van allen Belts are not just a static system it would seem. Rather they are a dynamic and flexible system that respond to and interact with the “solar winds” so as to provide us additional protection when necessary.

I remain stuned with awe and gratitude at the glory of God’s creation and also the fact that, it is not just a few things that come together to permit higher life to exist here. No indeed, the conditions that God maintains for us here on earth have a remarkable complexity and thereby are likely rare conditions that may not be found easily even in this vast cosmos. Let me explain.

Rare Earth?? While most people, including most scientists, presume that there may be billions of inhabitable planets out there a lot like Earth, there is another theory base (called “rare earth theory”) that is dubious of such a high number.

This is because as we have already noted, there are not just a few things that come together to support life on earth, there are many. Here are just a few:

  1. The earth is at just the right distance from the sun so that water is warm enough to melt, but not so hot as to boil and steam away into space. Water is also able in this habitable zone to both evaporate and condense at lower levels in the atmosphere, thus permitting a more even distribution of water, and a cycle of water over dry land known as precipitation.
  2. The earth is in a “habitable zone” in the galaxy too. Closer to the center of galaxies, radiation and the presence of wandering planetoids make life there unlikely.
  3. Earth’s orbit is almost a perfect circle rather than an “eccentric” (i.e. steep or elongated) ellipse that some other planets have. Steep elliptical orbits take the planet relatively close and then relativly far from the sun and this is great consequences for warmth and light. But the earth has a very stable orbot that is alomost a perfect circle. This keeps our relationship with the Sun and it s heat and light, quite stable.
  4. We have the nearby presence of two “gas giants” (Jupiter and Saturn) that attract and catch many wandering asteroids and comets and keep them form hitting the earth often.
  5. Our molten core and volcanism generate the magnetic field mentioned above. These field or belts protect the earth from the most harmful rays of the sun.
  6. Volcanism also has a role in helping generate our atmosphere and in cycling rich minerals widely.
  7. Our sun is just the right kind of star, putting out a fairly steady amount of energy. Other types of stars are more variable in their output and this variance can utterly destroy life or cause it to be impossible due to the extremes caused.
  8. The earth’s fairly rapid rotation reduces the daily variation in temperature It also makes photosynthesis viable since there is enough sunlight all over the planet.
  9. The earth’s axis tilt relative to it orbital plane is also just right to allow seasonal variations that help complex life but not so tilted as to make the seasons too extreme.
  10. The moon also has a good effect by causing tides that are just enough to permit tidal zones (a great breading ground for diverse life) and not too severe so as to destroy life by extreme tides.

Are you praying with me Church?  The conditions for life that come together on this planet are complex, remarkable and, some argue, likely rare in the Universe. Life here is the balance of many fascinating things (and a lot more I don’t have time to mention). Just Google “Rare Earth Theory” to read more.

The recent discovery of a possible third Van Allen Belt that comes and goes only adds to the complexity and the statistical factors that measure the likelihood of lots of other “Earths” out there.

Whatever you want to make of this discovery, we cannot but be amazed at the complexity of life and the intricacies it takes for life to flourish here.

As for me and my household, we will give God all the glory and reamin in wonder and awe and the marvelous things he does! How about you?

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Comments (13)

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  1. luzminda penaranda says:

    Msgr. Pope, good day greetings, for me, earth becomes a rare jewel once the people learn to discover the true meaning of love as taught in the gospel and teachings of Jesus, the Son of God, practice them in their lives and begin to give thanksgiving with raised up high to God the Father Almighty.

  2. Robertlifelongcatholic says:

    So the Lord girds the fruit of His loins with Van Allen belts and Al Gore is wanting us to buy his suspenders.

  3. Deb Thurston-ocds says:

    After Van Allen Belt, I almost expected a Van Halen belt. I like this video better. 🙂

  4. RichardC says:

    We live on this miracle planet cursed to work by the sweat of our brows until the end of our days. I am not saying it isn’t fair. I am not saying it is just. There is no technique for getting to heaven.

  5. Tim D says:

    Much of current astronomy, space exploration, and astrophysical theory seems to be aimed at (or at least justified with) the finding of life, or its remnants, elsewhere in the solar system (Mars or Titan) or nearby galactic neighborhood (the search for earth-like planets around Sol-like stars). This has always struck me as being an attempt to ratify an existing atheism, so prevalent in the scientific community. As though, the ubiquity of life somehow would answer or explain by quantity, the miracle of its quality. But Msgr. Pope’s take strikes me as much closer to the reality. How rare a thing is life? How even more rare a thing is man? How great is the love of our God!

  6. Rick DeLano says:

    I can assure you, Father, that the most astonishing evidences for a “rare earth” are only just now beginning to become so well-established as to be undeniable.

    Having observed galaxy distributions out 1.2 billion light years (Sloan Digital Sky Survey) and the cosmic microwave background itself (Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe, which studied the single largest structure in the observable universe), we find that Earth occupies a special, non-random, indeed *central* location with respect to all of them.

    These observations are so astonishing that someone ought to make a movie about them.

    So I did.

    It certainly ought not surprise us that the place where the Son of God became Incarnate, is not some insignificant rock orbiting some insignificant sun in some insignificant galaxy after all……..

  7. Aloysius Duque says:

    Of course, all Creation, even Redemption and Sanctification are an outpouring of God’s Life and Love, nothing less and nothing else….. This same Life and Love pours out to, in and through us if we say Yes to God again and again and again…………

  8. Joseph A'Hearn says:

    Great article! I’ve read The Privileged Planet and Rare Earth, and this article sums up the argument decently and adds the new discovery, which is mind-blowing for its timing.

    Just a couple of spelling improvements: stunned (instead of stuned) and breeding (instead of breading).

  9. dmw says:

    Consider too that from our perspective on earth the sun and moon appear the same size, a phenomenon that permits a solar eclipse…a thing of rare beauty. What are the chances of something 1.39 million km wide appearing the same size as something 3400 km wide?

  10. sonny says:

    Reflections on the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics and the Natural Law have never failed as subjects of contemplation and thanksgiving.