Hello French Fries!
Fridays are fun days, so I’m doing a fun topic today. With the X-files back on television, and the recent reveal that the Pentagon has a top secret program investigating the existence and threat of extraterrestrial aliens, the question has to be asked, are we Earthlings alone in the universe? This has been an existential fascination that astronomers, physicists and scientists have spent decades investigating as part of national and international space programs. What are the odds that there’s another planet out there that has been able to environmentally sustain, support and incubate life?
While Earth may not seem very unique, being the third planet spinning around one star out of billions that is on a minor suburban cul-de-sac a good drive from the center of town, there are several conditions that have allowed life to flourish on Earth.
First off, Earth is an appropriate distance from the Sun to harness solar energy without being too far away to freeze, and too close to be burn. The Sun provides energy to our ecosystems through photosynthesis, where plants convert solar rays into nutrients.
Secondly, Earth contains an abundance of liquid water. The combination of our distance from the Sun, and the size and energy level of the Sun means Earth has water in a liquid form. Think of how exact our distance from the Sun has to be for water to remain liquid. Below 32 degrees Fahrenheit (0 Celsius), water freezes and becomes solid, while above 212 degrees Fahrenheit (100 degrees Celsius), water evaporates and becomes gaseous. If the Earth’s orbit were only 4,500,000 miles off it’s current distance from the sun (a miniscule amount relative to galactic distances), liquid water would not be sustainable. Water would either freeze or evaporate, and life would be unviable. Liquid water is a huge ingredient to life. All life forms require water to be able to survive and not dehydrate. Water provides a soup for DNA, molecules, proteins, and other keys of life to swim around and interact.
Thirdly, we have a star in the Sun that’s just the right size to be able to survive for billions of years at consistent levels of energy emissions. Life does not just pop up overnight, it takes millions to billions of years to evolve and develop. It took 1.1billion years from Earth’s formation for the first instances of life to appear. If a star is much bigger than our Sun, it would burn all it’s fuel in only several million years, while smaller stars don’t emit enough energy to sustain life. Consequently, the size and health of a star is vastly important to allow enough time and energy for life to evolve.
Lastly, plate tectonics are considered necessary to supporting and sustaining life. Plate tectonics recycle nutrients and carbon, by subducting older and spent nutrients into the planet’s core, where heat and pressure converts them back to usable nutrients for life which is then remitted into the environment through volcanic eruptions and lava flows. For this exact reason, the best and most diverse farming regions are in the vicinities of volcanoes. With a solid shell, planets would not be able to recycle nutrients and maintain a consistent level of minerals for the sustainment of life, hence plate tectonics are considered vital to life.
So, there is a very specific set of circumstances that allow life to flourish on Earth, hence Earth is quite unique and special. Without all of these factors happening by chance, as they have on Earth, Life would be inconceivable. The specific conditions for life to occur are quite rare individually, let alone all occurring at once on one planet. Even with all the conditions met, life still requires chemicals to form RNA, and then by chance for RNA to mutate into DNA. This is a very specific and rare feat. However, the Universe is massive with at least 2 trillion galaxies, each one containing billions upon billions of stars. When you compare the odds of the conditions for life occurring to the scale and relativity of the universe, the chance that we are not alone in the Universe is quite high.
This is where technology (the purpose of my blog) comes in. As we gain a better understanding of our universe and our place in it, we are starting to advance our technology to the point where we are able to see beyond our galaxy and probe out of our solar system. It’s actually quite astonishing how quickly our understanding of the universe has grown and how quickly we’ve progressed the development and enhancement of our space exploration technology. In just 300 years, humanity has gone from executing Galileo for daring to say that the universe does not revolve around Earth to launching man made probes and space crafts into outer space. A mere decade after Sputnik became the first man-made satellite, we were walking on the moon. As our understanding of outer space becomes more nuanced, and our space technology develops and rapidly becomes more advanced with space shuttles, satellites, probes, telescopes (such as Hubble), etc. our activity levels in outer space grows. As we become more active in space, we start to generate more noise, which gets emitted through waves across the galaxy and universe, eventually, we will start to pick up noise by another civilization out there, or another civilization will hear us and try to reach out, because if we are sitting here asking ‘are we alone?’, the chances are there is another life form on a water-bearing planet surrounding a similar star to ours out their in the universe asking the same question.
Well, that’s it for this week. I wish you all a great weekend! Until next time…
…the ketchup is in the sauce.