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  • Print publication year: 2012
  • Online publication date: October 2012



We live in remarkable times replete with technical advances, a consequence of the great intellectual advances of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries in Europe. Destiny or Chance in 1998 looked at the solar system to examine the question whether our planets were likely to be reproduced elsewhere. From the evidence then available, this was judged to be very unlikely, while the possibility of intelligent life resembling Homo sapiens [1] elsewhere was assessed to be zero. In the succeeding dozen years, major improvements in technology have resulted in the discovery of thousands of exoplanets. Has the situation changed? Yes, in the sense that it has gotten worse. Not only are the exoplanets “Strange New Worlds” as a popular book title has it, but our familiar solar system itself, with its tidy circular orbits, appears to be a rarity. The very architecture of the solar system, familiar to every schoolchild, appears to have arisen through chance collisions and migrations half a millennium after it formed.

Destiny or Chance was written following a close look at our solar system. The numerous planets, satellites, TNOs, asteroids, centaurs and other assorted debris that surround our Sun provided no evidence of design. The resulting array, strange enough when looked at objectively, was clearly the result of a series of chance events. Halfway through writing Destiny or Chance, the first exoplanets were discovered. These “Hot Jupiters” were totally unexpected by astronomers, although less surprising to students of the solar system. Lurking in the background is the expectation that something like the Earth, complete with its set of interesting inhabitants, might be discovered.

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