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Tuesday, November 5, 2013

"8.8 billion just-right planets in our galaxy"

The NY Post ran an AP article yesterday which raised the possibility of extraterrestrial life:

WASHINGTON — Space is vast, but it may not be so lonely after all: A study finds the Milky Way is teeming with billions of planets that are about the size of Earth, orbit stars just like our sun, and exist in the Goldilocks zone — not too hot and not too cold for life.

If there were 8800 planets in our galaxy which had the right conditions for life, it would be both amazing and thrilling. If there were 8.8 million, it would be mind-boggling. 

But 8.8 billion? It's hard to get one's mind around that number. 

Every now and then you hear people speak of how things would be in a "parallel universe." Well, we don't have to go to a parallel universe. We don't even have to go to another galaxy. Right here in our own Milky Way, there are 8.8 billion potential alternate realities. 

Now, most of those planets are obviously not going to have life. But out of that many, there must be some that do. If life evolved here, it can elsewhere, too.

One wonders: do the extraterrestrials look more like us, or more like those creatures in the Star Wars bar scene? Or perhaps like the extras in Men in Black

Or maybe they are little green men with large heads and big eyes who travel around in spaceships and want only to stick probes up our behinds.

Perhaps they can help us solve our problems. Maybe we can ask for an interstellar handout to balance our budget. (At the moment, that seems the most realistic solution.) Maybe we should ask extraterrestrials to referee at the Olympics so we don't have all that biased gymnastics judging. Maybe they can referee international disputes between country.

Maybe the aliens will end up being the ultimate Daddy figure. Or maybe they'll act more like querulous children. If they come here, it means they're far smarter than us, so the former seems more likely.

Maybe the extraterrestrials can tell us whether we're really causing global warming.

Maybe Al Gore is an alien and we should pay more attention to him. He does have a certain not-quite-comfortable-as-a-human quality about him.

All kidding aside, how many planets have plant life but no animal life? Or are those distinctions irrelevant on some of these other planets? How many have life forms which don't fall neatly into either the plant or animal categories? How many have sexual reproduction? How many are as silly about sex as we are?

How many have oxygen in an atmosphere that we could breathe? How many could we exploit? How many types of beings could wipe us out if they ever came to planet Earth? How many would?

Are any of the other planets like Pandora, that luscious planet in Avatar?

How nice to be able to speculate about this and think about how petty our own problems here on earth are. Or better yet, not think about those problems at all.

Addendum, three hours later: today the NY Times came out with its version of this news, but they reported that there were 40 billion planets which met the criteria; not sure why the discrepancy.


Anonymous said...

I've always had faith in the existence of extraterrestrial intelligence. Considering the vastness of the universe, it is pure selfishness to assume that this is the only planet supporting intelligent life.

- Gethin

John Craig said...

Gethin --
I'm agnostic myself (despite having just half-jokingly made the case that it must be out there). I'm certainly open to the possibility, though.

Anonymous said...

Most physicists think there are probably aliens. Have you heard of the 'Wow!' Signal? Here's Stephen Hawking's take on this:

John Craig said...

No, that was the first time I'd seen that. I'm not sure i'd interpret it the same way they did, but I know nothing of the subject, so really am not qualified to comment.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like some "scientists" (philosophers, really) are fishing for more funding. I hardly think they've had time to count all of the "billions" of Goldilocks planets out there. We used to see reports of a newly-discovered Earth-like-maybe planet every few months; and just yesterday they found "billions"?? GTFO.

John Craig said...

Anon --
I think these latest numbers are just an estimate based on the number of stars which approximate our sun in terms of size etc. But that's a good guess, I think scientists are always looking for funding.

Glen Filthie said...

My question is - with all this life supposedly abounding throughout the galaxy - why the silence?

Where is everybody? Why have we heard nothing from other civilizations?

John Craig said...

Glen --
The only answer is, I don't know, but I would point out that "they" haven't heard anything from us, either.