It’s long been assumed that there’s nothing especially odd about our solar system, but a new study seems to contradict that idea. A simulation run by North American scientists that tracked planetary development in proto-solar systems has discovered that systems like our own are very unusual. We can now expect most planets to be either cold and rocky or highly elliptical in their orbits.
What are the implications of this? Well, it means that there’s far less chance of a system containing life than previously thought (unless I’m completely misinterpreting the article, that is.) While before it was assumed that an Earth-like planet wouldn’t be all that special, it now seems that our little corner of the Universe is, in fact, quite rare. This is a somewhat depressing thought for people like myself who hope to live long enough to see extraterrestrial life confirmed, since it makes it far less likely that we’ll discovering a life-bearing planet anywhere near us. (Although I can see an upside to it, since it could make it easier to rule out systems with little chance of containting Earth-like planets.)
Before Creationists jump all over this and make a hack job of it, this does not imply that life appearing on Earth requires some sort of special creation by a divine being. With the sheer number of stars and planets in the Universe, we should expect to see some life around even if the chances of it developing are very, very small.
The original article can be found here. It’s quite short (I’m assuming it’s not standard practice to dump a lot of simulation data into a paper like that), but still manages to go over my head in a lot of ways. The conclusion – that our solar system is special – is quite clear, though, and if this isn’t overturned or found to be faulty it will answer a question that people have been asking for a long time.