The Sunday Poll: Bizarre Intergalactic Assumptions

I was listening to a science interview on NPR while I cleaned the fish-tank recently. Maybe my fish (especially the ones who were recently hatched in the tank) wonder if there’s anything out there beyond their tank and the bucket (mixing bowl for the fry) they swim in while I clean their tank. Simiarly, the NPR interview highlighted new things we’re learning about the potential habitability of other galaxies and planets. In other reports, I’ve heard the term “Goldilocks planet” cropping up. These planets, according to our latest and greatest inter-stellar spyware and outer-space-type calculations, may be able to support life: they’re not too hot and not too cold.

Each little bit of evidence that another rock in the universe might have something in common which ours causes a small sensation among those whose reading is not exclusively dedicated to celebrity tabloids. Martian bacteria? Water on the moon? Underground caves on Mars? A planet at a comfortable distance from a star?!?

I am always surprised, but not by evidence that there could be life outside of planet Earth. I’m surprised that everyone continues to be surprised by this.

No, I am not about to claim that aliens visited my bedroom window. I am just of the opinion that if the infinite universe is full of infinite numbers of other galaxies and planets, the chances of Earth being the only orb with life on it seem pretty slim.

Life on our own Earth has foiled our expectations again and again, from marine animals that live off of deep-sea volcanic vents instead of sunlight to the recent discovery that each person’s gut hosts one of three major types of digestion-aiding bacteria, which may account for different reactions to diet and medications. There are fish who breathe air, carnivorous plants, and sea slugs who perform photosynthesis. Why should all the fun be limited to our planet? That would be big damn waste of space.

I think our astonishment at hearing that other planets might be fit for habitation is downright arrogant.  In a universe of galaxies, what makes us so special? And given the ways that life on Earth has flouted our expectations, why do we assume that the conditions which make life on Earth possible (temperature, gases, water, etc) are the same conditions needed for other planets’ life?

I’m no scientist. As you can see, this has been bouncing around in my own head a little too much, and I need others’ opinions.

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