Sunday, November 23, 2008

Why the universe may be teeming with aliens

As astronomers explore newly discovered planets and create computer simulations of virtual worlds, they are discovering that water, and life, might exist on all manner of weird worlds where conditions are very different from those on Earth. And that means there could be vastly more habitable planets out there than we thought possible. "It's like science fiction, only better," says Raymond Pierrehumbert, a climate scientist at the University of Chicago, who studies planets inside and outside of our solar system.

(Via The Anomalist.)


Chris Wren said...

Interesting that stories like this currently belong to the realm of publications with titles like "The Anomalist". I predict that within 20 years, we'll have found so many exoplanets with bio-signature compounds in their atmospheric spectra that life will no longer be considered an anomaly and will be considered ordinary, even banal.

Actually, make that 10 years. I'll even go so far as to put a number on it: in ten years, we'll have 100 planets whose atmospheres contain compounds that signify the presence of thriving ecosystems.

Justin said...

"Mars, though, is only half the size of Earth, so its interior cooled quickly, shutting down the volcanic activity needed to supply CO2 to the atmosphere. Its weaker gravity also allows its atmosphere to drift away into space."

I think all my Zubrin is in storage, but the carbon cycle's role in maintaining the atmosphere seems a quandary. For long term colonization, do we remake Mars, or remake ourselves, or perhaps we'd have to create a balance between the two?

The dimly lit, tidally heated planets seem most fascinating. Know of any stories or books involving these, Mac?

intense said...

Mars is not a good candidate for colonization or terraforming (except, by comparison, to all the other planets/moons in our solar system).

It also has a virtually nil magnetic field, which it was speculated about this week might have been eliminated by the impact of the barrage of very large meteorites that peppered Mars a few billion years ago.

And whether we'll have identified 100 or more planets within 10 years with bio-signatures or not (I tend to think that's highly optimistic), what difference will it actually make to us as a species since they'll all be dozens, hundreds, or thousands of light years away, while we sit here on the "cusp of dissolution"?

Even Mars, practically next door, is not viable as a "lifeboat." The Titanic has already hit the iceberg; most are still listening to the chamber orchestra playing on the top deck.

Mac said...

The dimly lit, tidally heated planets seem most fascinating. Know of any stories or books involving these, Mac?

Yeah, actually. Give Scott Mackay's "The Meek" a try. (The planet in question doesn't make an appearance until near the end, and I think it draws its "power" from radioactive decay, not tidal forces. Still, similar idea.)

Mac said...

Granted proportionate funding for space observation, I'd have to agree with Chris at this point. Getting there is a whole other manner.

Justin said...

Thanks for the recommendations, Mac! (including the PKD book)

I'll seek 'em out.

Weevie of interest: purenest - almost sounds like a reference to a healthy, life-bearing planet.

Anonymous said...

The Universe would have no point if it weren't teaming with life. I expect that's what it was "created" for.