Tag Archives: Albert Einstein

Life in the Universe: Part 2. The Evolution of Complex Life


The Evolution of Complex Life

Broken ice flows signal a liquid ocean below

EUROPA: Broken ice flows signal a liquid ocean below.

Microorganisms, or single celled life forms, are hypothesized to be ubiquitous throughout the galaxy. Our own solar system has perhaps six planets and moons which may harbor living organisms. Life leaps into existence even in the most hostile environments and under the most difficult situations. But complex life is a much different matter. There is a wonderful book entitled, Rare Earth: Why Complex Life is Uncommon in the Universe, by Peter D. Ward and Donald Brownlee. This book discusses the long and arduous journey of life from microorganisms to complex life forms. The book defines complex life as meaning animal life.

While microorganisms may be ubiquitous, complex life is exceedingly rare. Our only example of a world supporting complex life is the Earth. From our sample of one body it appears that it takes some four billion years for the evolution of life from microorganisms to complex life forms. And, for the evolutionary process to work, those four billion years must be remarkably stable to allow life to flourish and develop into complexity. The reason that complex life is so rare is that there are so few venues with stable conditions over billions of years.

In the 1961 Frank Drake wrote his famous Drake Equation, which attempts to quantify the number of advanced civilizations in the galaxy. Advanced civilization was defined as a civilization with radio telescopes making interstellar communication possible. In 1984 SETI began scanning the heavens, looking for those advanced civilizations. People such as Carl Sagan used Drake’s basic model and came up with estimates of perhaps 10,000 advanced civilizations.

Now it is believed that the old estimates were wildly optimistic. Now the hypothesis is that because complex life is so difficult to create, Earth may be the only venue for complex life in the galaxy. This hypothesis, the theme of Rare Earth, has been supported by the likes of Stephen Hawking and Neil deGrasse Tyson. The assumption is that the chance of microbial life developing into complex life is so miniscule that the Earth may be the only place where this has happened. If this is true then SETI searches in vain.

Here are some of the requirements for the multi-billion year stability required for life to flourish into complex forms:

  • Complex life cannot exist near the center of the galaxy. A combination of excessive radiation and gravitational perturbations would be too severe for complex live to evolve.
  • Complex life cannot exist anywhere radiation hazards, such as pulsars, which can sterilize planets thousands of light years away.
  • Complex life would be virtually impossible in any binary star system. The gravitational perturbations of a binary star would cause orbital instability, and perhaps cause the planet to crash into another object or to be ejected into the cold darkness of interstellar space.
  • The development of complex life requires a stable solar system with nearly circular planetary orbits. Many of the extra-solar planets that we have discovered have been “hot Jupiters,” formed in the outer reaches of the system and then spiraling inward, smashing lesser planets in the process.
  • The development of complex life requires a planet in the “Goldilocks zone”, at the right distance from its star so as to be neither too hot nor too cold. Moons require similar circumstances that allow for the presence of liquid water.
  • Stars and planets have life cycles. Overtime the Goldilocks zone can move. Originally Venus and Earth were twins, both in the Goldilocks zone, and both most likely had life forms. Over time as the Sun’s radiation increased (10% every billion years), Venus became a hellish world of extreme temperatures and pressures. If there are any life forms now on Venus they would be microorganisms in the upper atmosphere.
  • It is not only the distance from a star that is important, but also the planet’s or moon’s climate. Climate is a complex mixture of atmospheric temperature and pressure, atmospheric composition, transparency, the presence of greenhouse gases, the presence of oceans, carbon cycles which regulate the amount of Co2 in the air, and many more factors as well. As the comparison of Venus and Earth demonstrate, climate is a critical factor in the development of complex life. And this climate must remain essentially stable over billions of years.
  • The development of complex life requires magnetic shielding. Earth is surrounded by a strong magnetic field, caused by a hot, rotating iron core that creates a “force field” surrounding our planet. Mars failed in the development of complex life because it lacked this force field. Mars is smaller than Earth and it cooled more quickly. As the core was solidified the magnetic field collapsed. This allowed the solar winds to strip Mars of most of its atmosphere and water. Also, with the magnetic field removed, there was no protection from intense solar radiation. Earth is protected from radiation not only by our magnetic field bus also by our ozone layer in the atmosphere.
  • Complex life depends upon its home world surviving various extinction events. The Earth has undergone as least five mass extinctions, each of which destroyed at least 75% of life on the planet. Most scientists would say that the Earth is now in the early stages of its sixth extinction event. This time it is caused largely caused by human activity such as agriculture, which destroys eco-systems to create single species dominance, pollution, habitat destruction, and the burning of fossil fuels.

Given all of the impediments to the development of complex life forms, the chance of microorganism evolving into complex life forms is a very small number, and perhaps one in a trillion.

The Rare Earth book stops at complex or animal life. It does not deal at all with the emergence of technological civilizations. There are many intelligent species on Earth such as octopus, pigs, dogs, crows, and dolphins. But none of these species are apt to create civilizations or to build radio telescopes. The leap from complex life to advanced civilization may be as difficult as the leap from microorganisms to complex life.

The Litmus Test for Public Office


EVOLUTION

The litmus test for public office should include one simple concept, namely the belief in evolution.  We live in an age where the denial of scientific fact is rampant.  We live in an age when Republicans do not seem to believe in science at all.  They do not believe in evolution, global warming, stem cell research, or birth control.  The Bush 43 White House was known for its bad science.  It took climate studies and had them “spun” by oil industry lobbyists.  It opposed stem cell research and the distribution of condoms in Africa to quell the AIDS epidemic.

It does not matter if a candidate is running for a local school board or for President of the United States.  We cannot afford to have ignorant, backward people in either position.  Evolution is a matter of scientific fact.  It cannot be voted on in a school board meeting or a state legislature.  Just as we do not vote as to whether the earth revolves around the sun or vice versa, evolution is not dependent upon public opinion or any sort of vote.

Science is radically skeptical and self-correcting.  If a scientist proposes a false hypothesis, other scientists will review it and either support it, refute it, or offer an alternative explanation.  The test of scientific understanding is in the laboratory and not in the political arena.

Evolution is as real as gravity.  It has survived 150 years of scientific scrutiny.  Everything in the universe evolves.  Stars, planets and even galaxies are born, evolve, and eventually die.  Even the very atoms of our bodies were created in super nova explosions of dying stars. Planets are created and some become habitable for life.  Live evolves from the most simple single cell live forms into greater and greater complexity as time goes on.  From our one known example it appears to take about 4.5 billion years for a planet to spawn a civilization.

Saying that we do not fully understand evolution is no excuse to reject it, because the same thing could be said about gravity.  Even after Sir Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein, there is still much about gravity that we do not understand.  And yet we know that it is real.

The rejection of evolution is possible only through the most willful ignorance.  That is not a quality that we need in our elected leaders.  If a candidate is ignorant about evolution, then we could rightfully expect that they are ignorant about a host of other subjects as well, from history to economics to human behavior.

The rejection of evolution is rooted in the preference for ancient religious mythology over scientific fact.  I say that not as some sort of atheist or radical secularist, but as a confessing Christian and a pastor.

The biblical world view was of a flat surface covered by a dome, like a dinner plate covered by a large, inverted salad bowl.  The dome was called the “firmament.” Those who reject evolution on religious grounds ought logically to affirm the “flat earth” theory deny that the earth is round.

Galileo proclaimed that the earth revolved around the sun.  His views were attacked by the church as “unchristian” for the next 350 years.  We can be pretty sure that Galileo was right.  We use Galileo’s architecture of the solar system to send space probes to Jupiter, Saturn and beyond.

Stem cell research promises an extraordinary advance in human health and quality of life.  It ought not to be stymied by narrow-minded religious bigotry.  Imagine a time when the paralyzed walk again through spinal regeneration and the blind see through newly regrown eyes and optic nerves.  Diseased hearts, kidneys and livers will be regenerated by stem cell injections.

We are currently discovering that the LGBT community is a threat to the established order.  Nor are they a singularly heinous class of sinners as many so-called Christians would have us believe.  Rather, they are simply diverse groups of people wanting to live out their lives according to their created sexuality.  Gay bashing is neither a Christian virtue nor a family value.  It is not an expression of religious devotion but rather a persecution of those who are different.

Global warming is real.  It is affirmed by over 95% of scientists working on climate issues.  The ice in the Arctic, Antarctic, Greenland and the Tibetan plateau is melting at an ever-increasing rate. The long-sought Northwest Passage is now open for navigation. I expect that within my life time it will be possible to take a cruise ship to the North Pole.

We are in the midst of the worst extinction event in 65 million years.  Global weather patterns are getting progressively more disturbed and destructive.  We are seeing catastrophic hurricanes, floods, droughts and fires on a planetary scale.  How long before our food supply dwindles or fresh water becomes more valuable than oil?

We need leadership that has a 21st Century worldview.  We need leadership that is well-educated and enlightened, and at home in the modern world. We need leadership that is fluent in science and can understand and respect what science is telling us.  We need leadership that is grounded in scientific fact, knowledge, logic and critical thinking.

 

Cosmological Mysteries Needing Answers


The more we learn about cosmology and theoretical physics the more questions seem to arise.  Here are some of the most urgent questions of this age:

Is there extraterrestrial life?

This is almost a certainty.  There is most likely extraterrestrial life in our own solar system.  We need to look at places such as Europa and Enceladus. And, if we find a second venue for life in our own solar system we may well conclude that life is ubiquitous throughout the galaxy.

There is life on Earth everywhere we look.  There is life in the cooling tanks of nuclear power plants.  There is life living on chemosynthesis in rocks miles underground.  There is life in the boiling paint pots full of caustic chemicals in Yellowstone Park.  There is live in the deepest volcanic vents under the Earth’s oceans, surviving in boiling temperatures, extreme pressures, in total darkness, and it feeds off of the toxic sulfur fumes being vented by undersea volcanoes.

Given the tenacity of life on Earth there simply must be other life in the Universe.

Is there intelligent, technological life on other planets with radio telescopes?

This is a hard one.  Perhaps, but the vastness of space and time may mean that even if they might exist (have existed or will exist), we may never be able to connect with them.

Did life transfer to Earth by means of panspermia?

Perhaps there could be some local spreading of life by panspermia.  For example, rocks blasted of the surface of Mars carrying primitive organisms could perhaps have landed on Earth and seeded life here.  But the distance would need to be very small.  The Star Trek notion of panspermia on a galactic level seems beyond ridiculous.  And even if we embrace panspermia, what does it actually accomplish for us?  What would it matter if life arose on Mars and was transferred to the Earth?  We still need to answer the question of how life arose, and panspermia seems only to delay and complicate the answer.  Instead of answering how life arose on Earth, we would then have to answer how life arose on Mars, how it transferred to Earth, and how it came to flourish on Earth.

Can we find a Higgs particle, and will it be what we have conjectured?                    DONE! 07/04/2012

The Large Hadron Collider at CERN is looking for this now.  If CERN fails to find it does it mean that the Higgs particle (AKA Higgs boson) does not exist, or does it mean that we will need a much higher energy level to find it?

The Higgs particle is hypothesized as a particle that produces mass.  It is required by the Standard Model. If this concept is incorrect then it is back to the drawing boards.

Can we find the graviton particle?

A graviton particle is required by quantum mechanics.  If we fail to find one it will be problematic.  A graviton particle is most likely the messenger particle of gravity, similar to a photon which is the messenger particle of light.

What is dark matter?

Is this some non-luminous form of baryonic matter?  Or is it black holes or composed of exotic particles such as WIMPS (weakly interactive massive particles) or neutrinos?

Can we find gravity waves?

Gravity waves are required by general relativity.  There are gravity “telescopes” in use.

Note: These last several questions show how little that we know about gravity, even after the breakthroughs by Sir Isaac Newton, Johannes Kepler and Albert Einstein.

What is the Relationship between super-massive black holes and their respective galaxies?

We know that galaxies form with black holes in their centers, and that the mass of the black hole is directly proportional to the mass of the galaxy.  But we do not understand this relationship or how the black holes and galaxies form.

Will we be able to travel faster than the speed of light?

If so, it will be through the process of warping space.  This is a Star Trek concept that actually jives with general relativity.  So it may be possible.

Without warp drive or similar process, any interstellar voyages would be impossible.  It would take us 80,000 years at space shuttle speed to reach the nearest star.  And even if we could increase the speed by a factor of ten, it would still take us 8,000 years.  Civilization on Earth as measured by the birth of agriculture and walled cities in only 10,000 years old.  So, the notion of making voyages requiring thousands of years is not likely to occur.

Are there other universes?

We use to believe that the Universe was all that there is.  Now it is not so clear.  Some have said that there may be a “Multiverse” made up of a vast number of discreet universes, each one like a soap-bubble in a bath tub.  String theory and the related membrane theory allows for such a concept. 

What is dark energy?

This is truly one of the great mysteries of the cosmos, and perhaps the most disturbing question.  Just as we are starting to make sense of the four fundamental forces and how they can work together, we are now faced with this new mystery that totally disrupts our existing models.  It is a force that we know little about.  But what we do know is that the expansion of the Universe is accelerating, and the name we give to this phenomenon is dark energy.  The questions here are endless.  Is it a repulsive form of gravity?  If not, how does it relate to the other fundamental forces?

One recent hypothesis is that our universe is simply one of many, and that it has an edge. This new hypothesis is that galaxies in our universe are streaming to the edges, drawn by gravitational attraction of masses in adjoining universes.

String theory

So far, string theory is nothing more than an elegant thought experiment, sort of like believing in leprechauns.  String theory is almost too beautiful  NOT to be true.  But then again, so is a belief in leprechauns.  Will there ever be an experiment that can give some substance to this vision?

Can we unify quantum mechanics and relativity?

We have two rival and dissimilar theories of the Universe.  Quantum mechanics describes the world of the very small, and the forces of electromagnetism, strong nuclear and weak nuclear forces.  Relativity deals with the very large, and the force of gravity.  Where things break down is in objects such as black holes, where the subject is both hyper-massive and exceedingly small.  This is where physics breaks down and our view of the Universe becomes schizophrenic.