Better Than Earth
Do We Inhabit The Best O All Possible Worlds? German mathematician Gottfried Leibniz thought so, writing in 1710 that our planet, warts and all, must be the most optimal one imaginable. Leibniz's idea was roundly scorned as unscientific wishful thinking, most notably by French author Voltaire in his magnum opus, Candide. Yet Leibniz might find sympathy from at least one group of scientists - the astronomers who have for decades treated Earth as a golden standard as they search for worlds beyond our own solar system. Because earthlings still know of just one living world - our own - it makes some sense to use Earth as a template in the search for life elsewhere, such as in the most Earth-like regions of Mars or Jupiter's watery moon Europa. Now, however, discoveries of potentially habitable planets orbiting stars other than our sun - exoplanets, that is - are challenging that geocentric approach.