Ghost in the search for a 'super-Earth'

Even though I receive the dead-tree-pulp Washington Post at my office on Capitol Hill, one of the first things I hit each day in my home email is the digital, push-edition of " Today's Headlines & Columnists." I want see that line-up (along with the push versions of The Los Angeles Times, The New York Times and others) before I leave my wifi zone and board that commuter train. Thus, my eyebrows arched high this morning when I hit this early entry in the Post email. I rushed straight to the story, which was in the list of the day's "On Faith" stories:

On Faith

New ‘super-Earth’ that is 36 light-years away might hold water, astronomers say

Wow, I thought, somebody did a great job of catching a science story that, for millions of readers, will also raise religious questions about intelligent life, creation, God, etc. The top of the report stated:

Astronomers on Monday announced the discovery of 50 new planets circling stars beyond the sun, including one “super-Earth” that is the right distance from its star to possibly have water.

“If we are really, really lucky, this planet could be a habitat” like Earth, said Lisa Kaltenegger of the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Heidelberg, Germany.

The planet, dubbed HD85512b, circles an orange star somewhat smaller and cooler than our sun about 36 light-years away. The star, HD85512, is visible in the southern sky in the constellation Vela. The newly found planet circles this star every 59 days, putting it at the edge of the “habitable zone” where water could exist if atmospheric conditions were right.

I read on urgently, waiting for the story to raise one of the many relevant religious questions about this issue. I mean, does anyone remember this little dust up a few years ago (search for Vatican, planets, aliens)? Has anyone else out there read "Perelandra"?

But the religion questions never showed up in this otherwise interesting report. Instead, I kept being poked with more and more information that only hinted at the ultimate issues:

... (A) new telescope to begin construction next year, the European Extremely Large Telescope, will be up to the task, said Markus Kissler-Patig of the European Southern Observatory. It will be “technically capable of finding life around the nearest stars,” he said, by analyzing the atmosphere of exoplanets. The new super-Earth is a “prime target” for the new telescope.

Since 1995, astronomers have found more than 600 planets beyond Earth, according to a catalog. In the accelerating race to bag and tag planets outside our solar system, HD85512b marks the second super-Earth found at the right distance from its star to possibly hold water, considered a vital ingredient for life.

In the end, I was disappointed. Just another haunted story.

So I clicked back to the email and, yes, I immediately had to laugh out loud. You see, I hit this news category:


New ‘super-Earth’ that is 36 light-years away might hold water, astronomers say

And later there was this:


New ‘super-Earth’ that is 36 light-years away might hold water, astronomers say

Now, I realize that "politics" is certainly a powerful religion here in Washington, D.C. I also know that "sports" is a religion for millions of people, too (all over America and certainly in soccer lands). But I don't think that's what this glitch is all about. I think the computers were rebelling again. Can't live with 'em, can't live without 'em. Right?

Still, I do think that the "super-Earth" story, for millions of Americans, will have strong religious implications. Should the Post science-beat crew have gone there? How about the "On Faith" section itself?

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