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The "Rare Earth" Theory: Logic and Math Says It's Wrong -We're Not Alone in Universe


Rareearth3 There is no hope of finding alien life in space because conditions on all other planets are too hostile, according to Howard Smith, a senior astrophysicist at Harvard. Smith made the claim after an analysis of the 500 planets discovered outside out Solar System that showed that extreme conditions are likely to be the norm, and that the hospitable conditions on Earth could be unique.

“We have found that most other planets and solar systems are wildly different from our own. They are very hostile to life as we know it,” he said.

Smith pointed to stars such as HD10180, which sparked great excitement when it was found to be orbited by a planet of similar size and appearance to Earth, but turned out to be superficial similarities. The planet lies less than two million miles from its sun, meaning it is roasting hot, stripped of its atmosphere and blasted by radiation. Many of the other planets discovered to date have highly elliptical orbits which cause huge variations in temperature which prevent water remaining liquid, thus making it impossible for life to develop.

Elsewhere, a team of scientists recently declared the chance of aliens existing on a newly discovered Earth-like planet “100 per cent”. Steven Vogt , of the Carnegie institution in Washington, said he had “no doubt” extraterrestrial life would be found on a small, rocky planet found orbiting the red dwarf star Gliese 581 last September.

Such hopes are likely to be raised further in 2011, when Nasa's Kepler spacecraft is expected to confirm the existence of hundreds more new planets.

Smith dismissed the claims, adding that "Extrasolar systems are far more diverse than we expected, and that means very few are likely to support life. Any hope of contact has to be limited to a relatively tiny bubble of space around the Earth, stretching perhaps 1,250 light years out from our planet, where aliens might be able to pick up our signals or send us their own. But communicating would still take decades or centuries."

The "Rare Earth" hypothesis put forwrad by Smith is the idea that life is a staggeringly unlikely event, and that the reason we haven't seen hide nor hair (nor scale nor weird gel-layer) of aliens is that there aren't any.  It's had some time in the spotlight, it makes us sound very important, and it's wrong.

The Rare Earth argument ignores a number of essential factors, the first being how staggeringly huge the numbers involved are.  Even the Milky Way has 200 to 400 billion stars, and it's only one of a hundred billion galaxies in the observable universe, and there have been billions of years for things to happen.  Countering "it's really unlikely" with "but there are lots of things!" might sound weak, but it's the Rare Earthers who are taking the burden of proof - claiming that nothing happens anywhere else ever.  The more places there are, the worse their argument gets.

Geologist Peter Ward and astrobiologist Donald Brownlee, both of the University of Washington have outlined a short list of conditions needed: Right distance from a star; habitat for complex life; liquid water near surface; far enough to avoid tidal lock; right mass of star with long enough lifetime and not too much ultraviolet; stable planetary orbits; right planet mass to maintain atmosphere and ocean with a solid molten core and enough heat for plate tectonics; a Jupiter-like neighbor to clear out comets and asteroids; plate tectonics to build up land mass, enhance bio-diversity, and enable a magnetic field; not too much, nor too little ocean; a large moon at the right distance to stabilize tilt; a small Mars-like neighbor as possible source to seed Earth-like planet; maintenance of adequate temperature, composition and pressure for plants and animals; a galaxy with enough heavy elements, not too small, ellipitcal or irregular; right position the galaxy; few giant impacts like had 65 million years ago; enough carbon for life, but not enough for runaway greenhouse effect; evolution of oxygen and photosynthesis; and, of course, biological evolution.

Claims that there aren't many suitable planets over all these stars are like hiding in a closet and claiming there's no such thing as coffee tables - we're now detecting planets at an ever-increasing rate, because now we have technology actually capable of detecting planets.  Almost as soon as we try any new planet-detecting technique it detects a whole bunch of the things.  We're even edging into the ability to find Earth-size planets, and what do you know?  There they are!  And some even have water!

The second slip-up is ignoring the suitability of the laws of physics to life - or rather, the suitability of our form of life to the laws of physics. The idea of someone sitting in pre-existence limbo and tuning the weak nuclear force in order to create bald monkeys is patently ridiculous, as is the idea that only a tiny range of values could give rise to any repeating pattern - our pattern, DNA, is just the one that happened to work for the collection of constants we call reality.

Once life is possible in a universe, expecting it to occur in one place only is like leaving a loaf of bread and expecting exactly one slice to go moldy.  Life just happens here - thermodynamic math has shown that amino acids simply will be built anywhere their components can be found.  Since those components are on the periodic table, the literal "this is what happens in this universe" list, they're going to be all over.  Assuming aliens don't come up with another pattern anyway (increasing the odds again).

Claiming that we're the only life in existence is a combination of ignorance and self-importance that should have a livejournal, not a scientific journal.  The important work is getting ourselves out there and seeing who and/or what we can find.

Recent figures place the total number of stars in the Milky way at an astounding three trillion.  Which leads to this question, given such a ginormous figure, what does it mean to be rare? Even if the Earth is a one in a million occurrence, that means there are still 3 million Earthlike planets in the Galaxy (assuming one Earthlike planet per star).

On the other hand, if the Earth is a one in a billion occurrence, then there are still 3,000 Earths in the Milky Way.

We also have to keep in mind that the 3 trillion stars only accounts for what exists right now. There have been well over a billion trillion stars in our past Universe. As Charles Lineweaver  of the Planetary Science  Institute  and the Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics  at the Australian National University has noted, planets began forming in our Galaxy as long as 9 billion years ago. We are relative newcomers to the Galaxy.

Recent breakthreoughs in the chemical analysis of the Universe suggests that we live in a universe exceedingly friendly to life. What we see in the physical laws and condition of the universe runs contrary to the expectations of the Rare Earthers.

Indeed, we are discovering that the Galaxy is littered with planets. Scientists have already cataloged well over 500  extrasolar planets -- a number that increases by a factor of 60 with each passing year. Yes, many of these are are so-called "hot Jupiters," but the possibility that their satellites could be habitable cannot be ruled out. Many of these systems have stable circumstellar habitable zones.

And shockingly, the first Earthlike planet was discovered in 2007 orbiting the red star Gilese 581. It's only 20 light-years away, 1.5 times the diameter of Earth, is suspected to have water and an atmosphere, and its temperature fluctuates between 0 and 40 degrees Celsius.

If we are one in a billion, then, and considering that there are only 0.004 stars per cubic light-year, what are the odds that another Earthlike planet is a mere 20 light-years away?

Indeed, given all this evidence, the Rare Earthers are starting to come under attack. Leading the charge these days is Alan Boss who recently published, The Crowded Universe. Boss estimates that there may be billions of Earthlike planets in the Milky Way alone.

"I make the argument throughout the book that we already know that Earths are likely to be incredibly common—every solar-type star probably has a few Earth-like planets, or something very close to it," says Boss. "To my mind, at least, if one has so many habitable worlds sitting around for five billion or 10 billion years, it's almost inevitable that something's going to start growing on the majority of them."

Sgra_xray


Casey Kazan via sentientdevelopments.com and www.telegraph.co.uk




Comments

The conditions are not hostile to life. They are just different, or not adequate for Earth like life. The dynamic chaos that governs all of the observed universe, including the life sustaining environment of the Planet Earth, is a clear indicator of the fact that Nature does not allow exact duplicates, even when objects - like the snowflakes, or leaves - may seem as equal at first sight. This characteristic seems to be different within the nano universe, which includes electrons, quarks, quantas, photons, etc.
"Something" may be growing on the many Earth like planets that exist, but the statistical probabilities of finding just something like a human eye, connected to a brain... are. I can´t manage the calculation

I'm in shock how narrow-minded some people can be, especially considering he is a prof at Harvard.

Our instruments are just not sophisticated enough yet. We are detecting these planets by them transiting in front of their star, or by the wobble they cause to the star.

That method mostly finds large gas giants, and planets orbiting very close to their star.

Earth-like life is going to be found abundantly, there is no doubt about it, once we are able to find rocky planets in the habitable zone around their star.

This article just takes into account life similar to what we have here. What about silicone based life? Or any other type for that matter! And then there's the life that exists without material form, but rather as energy, or some other ethereal source!
How about that....huh!

we have already discovered Silicon based life, most of it is based in Hollywood.

This isn't an article; it's an editorial. It has no new news; it's just an exercise in criticizing and ridiculing those who don't agree with the stated position.

I do happen to agree with every statement of fact and nearly every general conclusion here. However, the derisive tone (though I've certainly seen much, much worse) only weakens the position.

I looked up the rare earth hypothesis on Wikipedia and it does not deal with how common life is, it deals with how common complex life is. It has been argued that there is lots of life, but complex life is very rare.

It appears that the article above is claiming that Howard Smith is making an argument much different than the one he really made and then saying that this straw man is ridiculous.

I think any form of life that can survive and procreate over the long term, despite harsh conditions, might be more relevant and interesting than "intelligent" life. Intelligence has not yet been proven to be a long-term survival trait. And if a life-form cannot survive the universe, what's the point of it?
Plus, the definition of what "life" is seems to be constantly changing. I think we need to expand the search beyond DNA-based lifeforms.
Harvard, ever since the Canadian spoof "Talking to Americans" by Rick Mercer, has long-since ceased to impress me. Profs were recorded stating, "congratulations, Canada, for your new igloo parliament building", among other idiocies. Harvard: a home for the institutionalized.

saying we are alone in the universe is same as saying that the world is flat and the rest are heresy.

Excellent point. One can always create ridicule for one's opponents by making them sound like they're saying something other than what they're actually saying. Conveniently add or omit information, remove context, change the meaning of words, or whatever, and your fictional version of the opponent becomes stupid (or perverted or whatever). I've had that done to me, or seen it done to those around me, more than I care to think about.

Again, I agree with the premise that there are probably several planets in this galaxy with complex life, and probably several in the galactic supercluster with sapient life. But let's keep the arguments credible, eh?

Some very silly statements by Howard Smith. After he analysed 500 planets he can state that "all others are too hostile", does he realize two things. We are talking about billions or trillions of planets in the Universe, may be even more. The fact that Earth exists is all the proof you need for alien life, unless you are of the creationists persuasion and even that doesn't mean that Earth is the only planet with life unless you can read the mind of God.
The primary problem here is that man's view of everything outside of Earth is very limited. It either makes scientists make mountains out of a mole hills or in Smith's case it makes them jaded and very negative.

We have no idea of what kind of life is out there,we only have one planet that is observable,earth. And life on earth has so many different varieties that survive under conditions we once thought was not possible. Most all of the exoplanets discovered so far may be gas giants due to the fact we are just beginning the search and really need an upgread in equipment to find anything much smaller. Some of these star systems may have a lot more planets than the eight we have. Saying we are alone is rediculous because we haven't heard anything from alien transmissions. They probably do send signals,we just don't know what kind.It's like the American Indians sending smoke signals and someone sending them a radio message,they don't have a clue that it is bombarding them

Good writing! 3 trillion stars in the Milky Way! With figures like these life has to be so much more complicated then we can imagine. Especially with evolution to take its course in defining what thing are and look like. and the more hostile for life, maybe that even means tougher organisms to thrive!

Did Howard say that life did not exist, or just the likelihood of us COMMUNICATING with life seemed nil? If the former, then why did the article quote him as saying "Any hope of contact has to be limited to a relatively tiny bubble of space around the Earth, stretching perhaps 1,250 light years out from our planet..."

While I certainly agree that the likelihood of life (even complex life) in the galaxy is enormous, I get the feeling that Howard wasn't attempting to refute that point.

anyone who is optimistic about extraterrestrial life should first obviously dismiss any ideas of intelligent life being discovered. if its anything it will be microscopic. secondly, the scale of the universe is so far insurmountable to humans. most objects relevant to extraterrestrial life will forever be out of our reach. this is the reality. consider we CAN NOT even resolve Gliese 581 well enough to see the spectrum and determine the elements in the atmosphere (which wouldn't prove life either, by the way). we might never get to that point or anywhere near that. extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.

Gravity's lenses may skew surveys of early galaxies: http://arstechnica.com/science/news/2011/01/gravitys-lenses-may-skew-surveys-of-early-galaxies.ars

I've said before on here that there's really not much chance of us being alone. Here's my argument:

Just in our own little solar system (which now techincally has 8 planets) There IS life on Earth, we suspect there MIGHT have been bacterial life at some point on Mars, and life may yet evolve on Titan and Europa. We have three possible alternate sites for life in our own little solar system. Even if Mars-like planets, or Europa/Titan-like moons, are a one-in-a-trillion phenomenon, that still leaves a several examples in this galaxy alone. The observable universe at this point consists of millions (if not billions) of galaxies, some larger and some smaller than this one. Even if there are only five planets in this galaxy that fit, that makes five million possible sites. I just can't believe we're the only circumstance to work out right.

Then again, I understand the opposition's point too. To support what we know as life (Carbon based) a planet must have acceptable mass (to maintain a thick enough atmosphere). It must have a counter-rotational core to produce an EM field (which Mars is lacking.) It's atmosphere must be Oxygen/Nitrogen/CO2 at acceptable ratios. there must be underwater volcanos (which originally served as incubators for life on Earth) and it would help if there were violent ion-storms in the atmosphere (as it is theorized that an electric current was responsible for the formation of the first 'complex' organic molecules, which eventually resulted in life.)

Nevertheless, my belief that ET is out there has only been reinforced by the recent discovery of the bacteria that thrives on toxic argon in a low nitrogen environment. If life is so resilient that it can substitute an otherwise toxic element for one of it's basic building blocks, then there's no reason it couldn't evolve to thrive on the methane/ethane environment and extreme cold of Europa, or on Titan, which is known to possess organic compounds.

The fact that as far as we know nature never produces just 1 of anything,makes it illogical to think there is no intelligent life elsewhere. I'm sure somebody out there knows we are here by now,we may be so far from them for any possible interaction with our technology being what it is. It may be high tech here but some one 1000 years more advanced may have a different opinion. Travel between stars is not realistic unless the stars are closer as in a binary system. We are out in the boondocks in other words. Robots or cyborgs would be the way to go unless faster than light speed is possible or a wormhole.

the rare earth theory is magnetic.

As regards Earth like life; the main reason why this should be considered as "exceedingly improbable" is, to begin with, the chemistry,gravity, temperatures and planetary characteristics involved. If you add a parameter, like the HUMAN BRAIN,one appears way beyond any of the ...illions of other parameters required.

As regards the intelligence issue; what use does any life form represent for humans if there should not exist any form of communication?

For most of the guys, like different types of scientists, neurologists and informatics specialists,the human brain is still a far greater mystery and challenge than any of the trillions of the observable galaxies and possible earth like planets, too far, far away for the current human inhabitants of Earth to explore. Only once there should exist robotic, avatar like, or energy field like humans, they shall be able to travel and explore the universes. This reality is not far away.

The "SHORT LIST" provided, has "22" parameters described as necessary for the evolution of intelligent life. I would love some scientist/statistician to calculate the odds of having all those parameters happening again to one planet. 22, and everyone is critical. My guess is 1 in 10 trillion!!! Any of you out there know someone that can “do the math”;) Just the odds of how we got our moon alone are staggering. A body, the “perfect” size, traveling through our solar system at the “perfect” speed, getting past Jupiter & Saturn, and then hitting the earth at the “perfect” angle, and deflecting the “perfect” amount of mass off of the planet that eventually coalesced to become our “perfect” moon…and oh yeah….the Timing was “perfect” too!!!. That alone is truly mindboggling! Don’t get me wrong, I am not a rare earther, just think the odds are more like 1 in 10 trillion… So, yes there are a few earths,,,, maybe!!!

Geologist Peter Ward and astrobiologist Donald Brownlee, both of the University of Washington have outlined a short list of conditions needed:
1. Right distance from a star
2. habitat for complex life
3. liquid water near surface
4. far enough to avoid tidal lock
5. right mass of star with long enough lifetime and not too much ultraviolet
6. stable planetary orbits
7. right planet mass to maintain atmosphere and ocean with a solid molten core and enough heat for plate tectonics
8. a Jupiter-like neighbor to clear out comets and asteroids
9. plate tectonics to build up land mass
10. enhance bio-diversity
11. enable a magnetic field
12. not too much, nor too little ocean
13. a large moon at the right distance to stabilize tilt
14. a small Mars-like neighbor as possible source to seed Earth-like planet
15. maintenance of adequate temperature
16. composition and pressure for plants and animals
17. a galaxy with enough heavy elements, not too small, ellipitcal or irregular
18. right position the galaxy
19. few giant impacts like had 65 million years ago
20. enough carbon for life, but not enough for runaway greenhouse effect
21. evolution of oxygen and photosynthesis
22. biological evolution

hi

Greenhouse effect can keep theoretically too cold worlds warm, and geologically dead worlds can have liquid water at the right distance from the star, so 1 and 7 are interchangeable, not both critical. 2 Adds no new requirements but only sums others up, as does 15, with the additional point that hydrothermal vent communities proves complex life can adapt to heat. Possibility of subsurface oceans make 3 non-critical. Jupiter caused more impacts on Earth than it prevented, so 8 is bullshit. Volcanoes can also build land mass and little-water worlds are guaranteed land and small seas anyway. Habitat diversity and climate change enhances biodiversity far more than plate tectonics, so 10 is nonsense. Venus proves atmosphere can be retained without magnetic field, cooler world with more initial water can even have oceans, 11 is non-critical. Small oceans on drier worlds would have denser marine life than Earths nutrient-poor open ocean. Unstable axis wobbles can cause evolution of fully intelligent life by forcing protointelligent life to evolve more ability to invent its way out of disaster, as can asteroid impacts, our transition from Australopithecus to Homo was caused by repeatedly extreme climate swings. If life can originate on a nearby Marslike world, it can as well originate on the Earthlike world itself, 14 is non-critical. Hydrothermal vent communities also prove that extreme pressures and chemical compositions can support complex life, multicellular metazoan halophiles have also been discovered. Radiation bursts in inner galaxy not fatal, complex animals adapted to Chernobyl radiation, disasters cause intelligent evolution. Oceans may flush carbon dioxide from atmosphere, geologically dead goldilock worlds lock carbon dioxide up, life can mine and/or be parsimonous about carbon. Evolution is an inevitable consequence of complex chemistry and photosynthesis capable of producing oxygen have evolved independently, as has both multicellularity itself (plants and animals separately) and its prerequisites (oldest multicellular fossil with organs and tissues 700 million years older than evolution of cladistically true eukaryotes), and life storing oxygen may breathe reducing atmospheres, silicon can build biomolecules in ultra-low temperatures, where its fragility just is mutation advantage, and evolve energy-parsimonous supraconductor brains.

Greenhouse effect can keep theoretically too cold worlds warm, and geologically dead worlds can have liquid water at the right distance from the star, so 1 and 7 are interchangeable, not both critical. 2 Adds no new requirements but only sums others up, as does 15, with the additional point that hydrothermal vent communities proves complex life can adapt to heat. Possibility of subsurface oceans make 3 non-critical. Jupiter caused more impacts on Earth than it prevented, so 8 is bullshit. Volcanoes can also build land mass and little-water worlds are guaranteed land and small seas anyway. Habitat diversity and climate change enhances biodiversity far more than plate tectonics, so 10 is nonsense. Venus proves atmosphere can be retained without magnetic field, cooler world with more initial water can even have oceans, 11 is non-critical. Small oceans on drier worlds would have denser marine life than Earths nutrient-poor open ocean. Unstable axis wobbles can cause evolution of fully intelligent life by forcing protointelligent life to evolve more ability to invent its way out of disaster, as can asteroid impacts, our transition from Australopithecus to Homo was caused by repeatedly extreme climate swings. If life can originate on a nearby Marslike world, it can as well originate on the Earthlike world itself, 14 is non-critical. Hydrothermal vent communities also prove that extreme pressures and chemical compositions can support complex life, multicellular metazoan halophiles have also been discovered. Radiation bursts in inner galaxy not fatal, complex animals adapted to Chernobyl radiation, disasters cause intelligent evolution. Oceans may flush carbon dioxide from atmosphere, geologically dead goldilock worlds lock carbon dioxide up, life can mine and/or be parsimonous about carbon. Evolution is an inevitable consequence of complex chemistry and photosynthesis capable of producing oxygen have evolved independently, as has both multicellularity itself (plants and animals separately) and its prerequisites (oldest multicellular fossil with organs and tissues 700 million years older than evolution of cladistically true eukaryotes), and life storing oxygen may breathe reducing atmospheres, silicon can build biomolecules in ultra-low temperatures, where its fragility just is mutation advantage, and evolve energy-parsimonous supraconductor brains.

Greenhouse effect can keep theoretically too cold worlds warm, and geologically dead worlds can have liquid water at the right distance from the star, so 1 and 7 are interchangeable, not both critical. 2 Adds no new requirements but only sums others up, as does 15, with the additional point that hydrothermal vent communities proves complex life can adapt to heat. Possibility of subsurface oceans make 3 non-critical. Jupiter caused more impacts on Earth than it prevented, so 8 is bullshit. Volcanoes can also build land mass and little-water worlds are guaranteed land and small seas anyway. Habitat diversity and climate change enhances biodiversity far more than plate tectonics, so 10 is nonsense. Venus proves atmosphere can be retained without magnetic field, cooler world with more initial water can even have oceans, 11 is non-critical. Small oceans on drier worlds would have denser marine life than Earths nutrient-poor open ocean. Unstable axis wobbles can cause evolution of fully intelligent life by forcing protointelligent life to evolve more ability to invent its way out of disaster, as can asteroid impacts, our transition from Australopithecus to Homo was caused by repeatedly extreme climate swings. If life can originate on a nearby Marslike world, it can as well originate on the Earthlike world itself, 14 is non-critical. Hydrothermal vent communities also prove that extreme pressures and chemical compositions can support complex life, multicellular metazoan halophiles have also been discovered. Radiation bursts in inner galaxy not fatal, complex animals adapted to Chernobyl radiation, disasters cause intelligent evolution. Oceans may flush carbon dioxide from atmosphere, geologically dead goldilock worlds lock carbon dioxide up, life can mine and/or be parsimonous about carbon. Evolution is an inevitable consequence of complex chemistry and photosynthesis capable of producing oxygen have evolved independently, as has both multicellularity itself (plants and animals separately) and its prerequisites (oldest multicellular fossil with organs and tissues 700 million years older than evolution of cladistically true eukaryotes), and life storing oxygen may breathe reducing atmospheres, silicon can build biomolecules in ultra-low temperatures, where its fragility just is mutation advantage, and evolve energy-parsimonous supraconductor brains.

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