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It's Your Universe

It's Your Universe

Our planet is truly a miracle.


When you think about it, we are incredibly small. The Earth is nothing but a speck of dust in the sea of an ostensibly infinite Universe. In fact, a speck of dust in your room is larger by comparison.

Yet, the Talmud teaches, "Each person is required to say, ‘The entire Universe was created for me.'"

As strange as that may sound, some scientists have found evidence that this is truer than the average person thinks.

The Goldie Locks Zone

A fascinating book, The Privileged Planet, discusses in detail from a scientific perspective the improbabilities about the existence of life on Earth.

One of the more interesting ideas presented in the book is referred to as the "Goldie Locks Zone," which scientists label a place in the galaxy where a habitable planet can exist. It is not too hot and not too cold – but just right. Earth is precisely positioned in the "Goldie Locks Zone" of the Milky Way galaxy.

Within our solar system the habitable zone is relatively narrow, beginning well outside the orbit of Venus and ending short of the orbit of Mars. If the Earth was just five percent closer to the sun it would be subject to the same fate as Venus, a runaway greenhouse effect with temperatures running to nearly 900 degrees. Conversely, if the Earth were twenty percent further from the sun carbon dioxide clouds would form in its upper atmosphere, initiating a cycle of ice and cold.

Similarly, just as our location in the solar system is optimized for habitability so is our location in the galaxy. The Milky Way is a spiral galaxy, which means it is highly flattened, has the appearance of a spherical ball at the center and spiral arms extending outward from it. We are about halfway between the center of the galaxy and the edge. The most dangerous place in the galaxy for life is in the center, where the density of stars and supernovas (i.e. exploding stars) is very high, producing deadly radiation.

At the same time, in the outer regions of our galaxy the abundance of "heavy elements" -- like iron, magnesium, silicon and oxygen -- are lower. These are necessary to build Earth-size planets needed to sustain life.

The region where complex life is possible within the Milky Way has been called, "The Galactic Habitable Zone." Even within this zone, there are places friendlier to life than others. The Earth happens to be located in one of them, in a relatively safe and uncrowded region of the Milky Way galaxy optimally suited for life to exist.

The Privileged Planet

The Earth itself is uniquely ideal to support life. Its crust varies between four and 30 miles thick, a relatively paper-thin surface, consisting of more than a dozen tectonic plates that are in constant motion. This motion regulates the planet's internal temperature and allows chemicals essential for living organisms to "breathe" outward and remix in a way necessary for life. If the Earth's crust were a little thicker then plate-tectonic recycling could not take place.

The Earth itself is uniquely ideal to support life.

If the Earth were smaller its magnetic field would be weaker, allowing the solar wind to strip away our atmosphere, slowly transforming the Earth into a dead, barren world much like Mars.

The atmosphere is a thin blue ribbon of glowing light measuring less than one percent of the planet's diameter. It is composed of just the right mixture of elements to insure a livable climate, protection from the sun's radiation and the correct combination of gasses necessary for liquid water and complex life.

If our moon did not exist, many scientists believe life on the Earth wouldn't either, because its gravitational pull stabilizes the angle of our planet's axis, necessary to insure relatively temperate seasonal changes.

If our sun was smaller, like 90 percent of the stars in the galaxy, the habitable zone would be smaller. The Earth would have to be positioned closer for life to exist. However, the increase gravity would lock our planet's rotation into synchronization with its orbit, which would in essence keep one side of the planet always facing the sun with the other side always facing away from it. The side continually facing the sun would be bombarded by radiation from solar flares, while the dark side of the planet would lay shrouded in perpetual cold and ice.

The Odds-Makers

Finally, The Privileged Planet cites scientists who make an important point about how to view the truly improbable circumstances that allow life to exist on our planet. There are 100 billion stars in the galaxy. This might lead someone to believe that the odds are pretty high that life like that on our planet developed somewhere else in the galaxy.

However, this vastness has to be weighed against the improbability of life emerging on a planet.

Researchers have developed equations estimating the probability of attaining, simultaneously, even just twenty or so of the essential, basic factors necessary for life. The number is exceeding small, about 10-15, they estimate, which is one chance in a one followed by 15 zeroes, or one one-thousandth of one one-trillionth. When compared even to a number as large as the 100 billion stars that are in the galaxy the number 10-15 is much smaller. In other words, it is extremely unlikely to happen.

Our planet is truly a miracle.

Some cite this as an example of the Anthropic Principle, which in simplest terms means that everything in the Universe seems to be uniquely created for us, just as the sages of the Talmud said long ago.

How improbable it is -- even given the staggering number of solar systems there are in the Universe -- that there is a little speck in the Universe called the planet Earth that can support life... and afford human beings the opportunity not only survive but think about things like the Anthropic Principle.

September 29, 2009

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Visitor Comments: 11

(11) Clint Rushton, December 12, 2009 6:04 AM

Another improbable probability too...

The probability of not just our existence here, but being the only "complex life form" with the ability to contemplate our own existence in the universe. I'm not a statistician but quantifying that would probably take some extra "zeros".

(10) Anonymous, November 3, 2009 11:14 AM

The Jewel in the Crown

The Ancient Egyptian Sarcophagus of the Sun, Earth and Moon On reading this article I wondered if the Earth would show it was God’s ‘Jewel in the Crown’ of his Universe by way of measurement. ’It was Professor Sir William Matthew Flinders Petrie, who seriously believed in measurements in the field of archaeology and Egyptology and he wrote of the role of Piazzi Smyth, (the Astronomer Royal for Scotland) that the Pyramids had in leading to his own interest in Egyptology. And both men are the real founders of the enormous interest in Ancient Egypt today, especially of course the Great Pyramid, and its sarcophagus in the King’s Chamber, a sarcophagus that was speculated upon by Piazza Smyth, a socalled ‘Pyramidiot’. It was Sir Flinders Petrie who published the inside measurements of the 4,500 year old partly broken granite sarcophagus with an inside length of 78.06 and an inside width of 26.81 and an inside height of 34.42 inches, which is some 72,033.80 cubic inches or 41.686229 cubic feet. He hoped that by publishing the measurements the ‘Pyramidiots’ would not continue speculating metaphysical measurement interpretations for the sarcophagus, a sarcophagus that ‘bewitched’ Napoleon so to speak, during his visit into the King’s Chamber of the Great Pyramid. Anyway, the Sun has an equatorial diameter of 865,000 miles x the Earth’s equatorial diameter of 7,926 miles x the Moon’s eqatorial diameter of 2,159.90 miles and x Pi thrice x 3 lots and squared twice and /10 and square root x 1.5 and square root and /Pi and square root twice and /100 is the internal volume of the sarcophagus at 41.68622 cubic feet. Hence, the internal measurement of the sarcophagus can be contrived out of the three measurements of the Sun, Earth and Moon. Thanks John D. Miller

(9) Imanonov, October 6, 2009 2:05 PM

see the film

This article is great. Thank you. An hour-long film of this book with stunning views of the cosmos is viewable at

(8) ruth housman, October 6, 2009 11:24 AM

the universe was created for me

The ultimate solispsism is just "this" and it has bearing on our Shema, because there is a One ness to the universe, which does mean, "one verse" in English. In deep inchoate ways we, as a peoples, are one and God is one. The notion that Divinity resides within us all, is a deep understanding of this principle. The Shema has implications and a depth, in those beautiful words that is about universe, and our place here. With thanks for your beautiful article. I can say, and it will be deleted, and perhaps this entire commentary, as I am being censored on line: that yesterday my husband purchased Asters, those beautiful flowers, for our Marshfield garden. I took them here in the night and so there were "stars below and stars above". I am following a language-based story. I am surprised and shocked that Aish deletes, I am writing this knowing this will happen, as it does, again and again. But I am also archiving my letters and they are going, around the world.

(7) mel, October 5, 2009 9:50 PM

Mr. Hal!

please consider reading Genesis and the Big Bang Theory by Dr. Gerald Schroeder

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