Scientists now confirm that there is a high probability that the universe harbours an abundance of habitable planets.

NASA’s Kepler telescope has provided information to indicate that one in every five sun-like stars is orbited by planets comparable to Earth. In broad terms, this means that there could be billions of planets capable of supporting life in our Milky Way galaxy alone. The findings were published recently in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and aired at a special news conference in California.

“When you look up at the stars in the night sky, how many of them have a planet like the Earth?” asked Erik Petigura, a graduate student at the University of California at Berkeley and the lead author of the paper. “We’re able to start answering this question.”

Researchers believe that around 22 per cent of stars could support Earth-like planets, and if this is correct, the nearest planet with suitable conditions for life may be just 12 light years away, which is a hop, skip and a jump in galactic terms. Kepler focused its attention on a relatively small area around the Cygnus constellation, looking for the intermittent dimming of stars to indicate that they were being obscured by orbiting planets. Once identified, the size of each planets was calculated by ground-based telescopes such as the Keck 1 in Hawaii, to see if any were comparable to Earth.

“Earth-size” doesn’t necessarily mean “Earth-like,” Seager noted, but her co-author, Berkeley astronomer Geoff Marcy added “Earth-sized planets having the temperature of a cup of tea are common around sun-like stars,” and [the study] “represents one great leap toward the possibility of life, including intelligent life, in the universe.”

This amazing discovery was unfortunately Kepler’s last contribution to astronomical science as the telescope is no longer in service, but it managed to accumulate three years’ worth of data before it broke down leaving scientists with plenty of information to analyze. Its original purpose was to provide an estimate of the amount of stars orbited by planets which are similar to Earth in size, and with environments that could potentially support life, so it appears that this objective has been achieved.

It looks like Kepler will have a new successor: enter SPIRou, a spectropolarimeter and a high-precision velocimeter optimized for both the detection of habitable Earth twins orbiting around nearby red dwarf stars, and the study of the formation of Sun-like stars and their planets. Funding for the new device was confirmed today by the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope (CFHT) observatory. University of Montreal and France’s Institut de Planétologie et d’Astrophysique de Grenoble lead the international consortium that manages the SPIRou project.

“SPIRou is a spectropolarimeter – it decomposes light from stars into elementary colors and vibration modes. It is also a high-precision velocimeter, capable of recording the tiny motions of a star that probe the presence of an orbiting planet,” explained SPIRou premier investigator René Doyon, a University of Montreal professor and director of the Mont-Mégantic Observatory. “It’s like a radar speed gun, but rather than detecting excess or unusual velocity of an observed star, it finds the regular and periodic variations of its velocity.”

The construction of SPIRou will start in 2014, with plans for its installation in Toulouse, France, in 2016. It is expected that the first light to result from the new tool will be perceived at the CFH telescope in 2017. SPIRou will scrutinize the atmospheres of Earth-like planets to assess the potential for liquids and other molecules necessary for the evolution of life and will be joined in its quest by the James Webb Space Telescope in 2018.

“How do stars and planets come to life? How do magnetic fields impact their birth? Is our Earth one of the few planets in the Milky Way capable of hosting liquid water on its surface, or is it just one in a multitude? SPIRou, CFH Telescope’s next-generation instrument, will investigate these astronomer-intriguing major questions over the coming decade,” Doyon said. Doyon is also the premier investigator of the FGS/NIRISS instrument that is being installed on the Webb telescope, an instrument dedicated to the search and the study of exoplanets and their atmosphere.

SPIRou will be installed at the CFH Telescope, a sentinel of the starry skies atop the 4,200 m Maunea Kea extinct volcano on Hawaii’s Big Island. Although the 3.6 m telescope boasts top-grade instrumentation and is located in one of the best astronomical sites in the world, competition is fierce and so the observatory has adopted an ambitious science policy in order to continuously innovate and remain in a leading position amongst the world’s giant telescopes. SPIRou is one of the key instruments that should guarantee the future of the telescope over the next decade. In addition to the commitments that the CFHT has announced today, the SPIRou construction budget includes the support a large and international consortium of universities and research laboratories.

While astronomers have been searching our galaxy for life on other planets, scientists in Kazakhstan suggest that we should start looking for proof of this fact a little closer to home. The latest research indicates that there is alien DNA in our genetic code, and this could have been designed to hold a message or signal by an ancient alien civilisation. Analysis of the mapping between DNA’s nucleotides and amino acids reveals a level of sophisticated order which appears to indicate an intelligent "signature".

Vladimir I. shCherbak of al-Farabi Kazakh National University of Kazakhstan, and Maxim A. Makukov of the Fesenkov Astrophysical Institute, suggest that the presence of such an intelligent signal in our genetic code reveals a mathematical and semantic message that cannot be accounted for by Darwinian evolution.

“Simple arrangements of the code reveal an ensemble of arithmetical and ideographical patterns of symbolic language, ” said the researchers, “Accurate and systematic, these underlying patterns appear as a product of precision logic and nontrivial computing.”

Analysis of the code confirms the use of decimal notation, logical transformations, and the use of the abstract symbol of zero, and the scientists hypothesize that attempting to decode this "message", which they are calling “biological SETI”, holds greater potential to confirm the existence of extra-terrestrial than current SETI-style projects.

"Once fixed, the code might stay unchanged over cosmological timescales; in fact, it is the most durable construct known," the researchers wrote in scientific journal, Icarus. "Therefore it represents an exceptionally reliable storage for an intelligent signature."

This suggests that human beings could actually have been designed by a previous master race of extra-terrestrial super-beings. Does this now add extra meaning to Genesis 1:27 in the Bible, which states: " So God created mankind in His own image?"

The report proposes that as a signature or means of communication, the code would be exceptionally effective as it would be perpetuated indefinitely:

“Once fixed, the code might stay unchanged over cosmological timescales; in fact, it is the most durable construct known. Therefore it represents an exceptionally reliable storage for an intelligent signature. Once the genome is appropriately rewritten the new code with a signature will stay frozen in the cell and its progeny, which might then be delivered through space and time. ”

The authors said that if the code had been specifically created, they would expect to see statistically significant patterns in the genetic code and intelligent features that were inconsistent with any natural known process, and this appeared to be the case, causing them to conclude that "it was invented outside the solar system already several billions years ago.”

This discovery appears to confirm the evidence found by Silas Beane’s team at the University of Bonn in Germany, who determined that it would be possible, with sufficiently powerful computers, to "create" our own Universes (see Unknown Country "Do We Live in a ‘Real’ Universe–or is It Just Somebody’s Toy?", Monday, September 9, 2013).

Even if we do find proof that we were fashioned as a "designer-race" by ancient, extra-terrestrial beings, this leaves us with more questions than answers: "Who?" closely followed by "Why?", "How?" and "When?" Even more importantly, who made our "creators"? Are we merely part of a massive scientific experiment, and do our "creators" still watch over and monitor us in a God-like manner? If the galaxy really is full of other earth planets, the potential for other such "experiments" could be limitless, but the truth appears not to be "out there" but "within".

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