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Mister P-Mosh

Is there life out there?

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quote:

One tenth of stars may support life

19:00 01 January 04

NewScientist.com news service

One tenth of the stars in our galaxy might provide the right conditions to support complex life, according to a new analysis by Australian researchers. And most of these stars are on average one billion years older than the Sun, allowing much more time, in theory, for any life to evolve.

The concept of a "galactic habitable zone" (GHZ) for the Milky Way was first proposed in 2001. Now Charles Lineweaver of the University of New South Wales and colleagues have defined a life-friendly GHZ using a detailed model of the evolution of the Milky Way to map the distribution in space and time of four major factors thought essential for complex life.

"We're looking at what we think are the most robust and conservative pre-requisites for life - but they are very, very basic," Lineweaver says.

The researchers conclude that a ring-shaped habitable zone emerged about eight billion years ago, roughly 25,000 light years from the core of the Milky Way. The zone has expanded slowly and includes stars born up to about four billion years ago. It encompasses close to ten per cent of all stars ever born in this galaxy.

But other researchers say that too little is known about the prerequisites for life for this kind of mapping to have a great deal of meaning.

"We hardly understand the origin of life, let alone the evolution of complex life. Until we do, it is extraordinarily difficult to talk about habitable zones," Mario Livio of the Space Telescope Science Institute in Maryland, US, told Science.

Gas giants

Lineweaver stresses that his team is not arguing that complex extra-terrestrial life is probable, or even exists, within their GHZ. "What we're saying is that this is the region that has the most potential for the formation of complex life," he says.

The first factor the team considered in mapping the GHZ was the presence of host stars for a solar system. The second was the presence of sufficient heavy elements to form terrestrial planets. The third was a sufficiently safe distance from exploding supernovae. And the fourth was enough time for biological evolution. The team set this figure at a minimum of four billion years, since this was the amount of time it took for complex life to emerge on Earth.

Future work will test the importance of some of these factors, the team adds. Only about 100 extra-solar planets have been spotted to date, and these are all Jupiter-like gas giants. But the launch of NASA's Terrestrial Planet Finder telescope in about 2013 will mark the start of a major search for nearby planets that could harbour life.

Journal reference: Science (vol 303, p59)

Emma Young, Sydney


While this is still just guessing, it is interesting to think of the possibilities. I can't really envision mankind ever interacting with an extra-terrestrial form of life (unless there are some shrimp on Europa), but to find it would be the most important discovery in the history of mankind.

I have a prediction though. If we manage to someday build a telescope powerful enough to pick up actual images of other planets rather than just seeing the wobble of the stars, we will find something that makes us believe there is life, and then later on we will find out it was a previously undiscovered natural phenomenon. Pulsars are one example, or maybe even like the "canals" on Mars.

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There's a bit of a problem, though. Seeing an Earth-sized planet around a star 100 light-years away would require a telescope that could see an individual hydrogen atom at three-quarters of a mile. (a 1 nanometer object at 1200 meters)

Put in more layman's terms, it's the same as seeing a single golf ball on Mars at its closest approach. (a 50mm object at 60 million kilometers)

Nothing has that kind of optical resolution.

The Secret Signature of the Day has been cancelled by the HTML Police.

Or so the Germans would have us believe...

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quote:
Originally posted by Zixar:

There's a bit of a problem, though. Seeing an Earth-sized planet around a star 100 light-years away would require a telescope that could see an individual hydrogen atom at three-quarters of a mile. (a 1 nanometer object at 1200 meters)


That is correct, if you wish to have a telescope on Earth. As you had mentioned the 100 light-years distance, if we (eventually) manage to find a way to propel things relatively close to light speed, we would be able to send probes out that could also function as a telescope to make up for the fact that it wouldn't be able to travel very fast.

We don't have any technology to do what I proposed at this time, and I am aware of the limits of normal optics, but there are other things that can be done to make up the distance, even though it would still not be that great.

Imagine if we built fully self-contained probes that would take 100 years to get to the star system, and then swing around and take 100 years to get back. Even though nations would fall, people would die, and life would change dramatically, the information could still be used by future generations anyway.

The most I can hope for in my life would be a person walking on Mars, and even that is probably stretching it. However, I'm confident that people will find ways to get around limitations, usually by going with an alternative.

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