Sunday, August 10, 2008

New computer simulations show how special the solar system is

"Such a turbulent history would seem to leave little room for the sedate solar system, and our simulations show exactly that," said Rasio. "Conditions must be just right for the solar system to emerge."

Too massive a gas disk, for example, and planet formation is an anarchic mess, producing "hot Jupiters" and noncircular orbits galore. Too low-mass a disk, and nothing bigger than Neptune -- an "ice giant" with only a small amount of gas -- will grow.

"We now better understand the process of planet formation and can explain the properties of the strange exoplanets we've observed," said Rasio. "We also know that the solar system is special and understand at some level what makes it special."


Oh, yeah? Well, I still say we're an utterly insignificant speck of dust adrift in an endless existential abyss!

3 comments:

intense said...

"Oh, yeah? Well, I still say we're an utterly insignificant speck of dust adrift in an endless existential abyss!"

Ha! Well, if you say so. I guess I could say, speak for yourself, but I guess you just did! 8^}

My take is that the relatively stable structural nature of our solar system and, in turn, Earth's position within it, likely makes our planet and system rather rare.

How rare? Nobody knows yet, as our current technology for both accurately discriminating and analyzing the potential for solar systems comparable to our own is severely limited.

Tom Huston said...

I remember using this old Apple program in junior-high science class, probably in 1994, in which your sole aim was to set all the proper mass/rotation/orbit coordinates in order to create a stable solar system in which planets didn't collide into each other, fly away into the void, or dissolve into their sun. I never succeeded.

So either God is very clever, very patient, or very capable of experimenting endlessly.

I highly doubt that life is rare in this universe. I suspect that this universe is the experiment that worked. There may be billions of dead universes where life never formed, which would make ours rare. But I don't think rarity in terms of scale or quantity is what makes human beings significant or meaningful. (That's a materialist's argument for "meaning.") No, I think what makes us rare is our incredible and still very much evolving capacity for self-reflective consciousness. Through us and as us, this universe, at least, is conscious of itself. That always seems the more significant point to me, somehow. And if that's a rare capacity, so much the better. Either way, this universe isn't just "ours"; it's US.

intense said...

"...I think what makes us rare is our incredible and still very much evolving capacity for self-reflective consciousness. Through us and as us, this universe, at least, is conscious of itself.

Very well said, and a quite significant point.