Xenoscience and Nazis: 2 Million Miles from Gliese

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Yesterday’s BBC report of the smallest extrasolar planet yet discovered had a refreshingly new dynamic to it.

My colleague gmarcy/”>Professor Geoff Marcy took time out of his busy Epicurus argued about whether there were other Earth-like planets. Now, for the first time, we have evidence for a rocky planet around a normal star’.

Indeed, Epicurean, Metrodoros , maintained ‘to consider the Earth the only populated world in infinite space is as absurd as to assert that in an entire field sown with millet only one grain will grow’.

And Geoff is right about the ancient controversy. The plurality of worlds debate, as it was known before we adopted the dubious ‘astrobiology’, was most intense between the Epicureans and the followers of Aristotle, who opposed the claims of Democritus for the existence of innumerable worlds.

But the term world had a different meaning for the Greeks. The Epicurean ‘innumerable worlds’ were not solar systems of remote stars, but separate universes unseen by humans, each with its own Earth, Sun, planets and stars. And the basis of Greek pluralism lay not in observation, but in materialist and atomist philosophy

Btw, an interesting note on the origin of the word astrobiology. According to Thomas Dobbins and William Sheehan in Sky & Telescope , June 2003, the name was coined by a former Nazi scientist who devised decompression chambers to simulate Mars, having earlier been director of a Luftwaffe institute which used them for lethal experiments on prisoners.

One begins to sympathise with Ian Stewart and

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