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Is the Earth Special?

Soulskill posted more than 2 years ago | from the i-think-captain-kirk-disproved-this dept.

Earth 745

Hugh Pickens writes "Planetary scientists say there are aspects to our planet and its evolution that are remarkably strange. In the first place there is Earth's strong magnetic field. No one is exactly sure how it works, but it has something to do with the turbulent motion that occurs in the Earth's liquid outer core and without it, we would be bombarded by harmful radiation from the Sun. Next there's plate tectonics. We live on a planet that is constantly recycling its crust, limiting the amount of carbon dioxide escaping into the atmosphere — a natural way of controlling the greenhouse effect. Then there's Jupiter-sized outer planets protecting the Earth from frequent large impacts. But the strangest thing of all is our big Moon. 'As the Earth rotates, it wobbles on its axis like a child's spinning top,' says Professor Monica Grady. 'What the Moon does is dampen down that wobble and that helps to prevent extreme climate fluctuations' — which would be detrimental to life. The moon's tides have also made long swaths of earth's coastline into areas of that are regularly shifted between dry and wet, providing a proving ground for early sea life to test the land for its suitability as a habitat. The 'Rare Earth Hypothesis' is one solution to the Fermi Paradox (PDF) because, if Earth is uniquely special as an abode of life, ETI will necessarily be rare or even non-existent. And in the absence of verifiable alien contact, scientific opinion will forever remain split as to whether the Universe teems with life or we are alone in the inky blackness."

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But... (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38325838)

Didn't the Earth get hit by another planet, causing it to shoot a ton of crust into orbit..creating the moon?

Clearly, life requires a mars-sized object to hit the planet where life wants to form.

Re:But... (5, Informative)

seandiggity (992657) | more than 2 years ago | (#38326122)

Didn't the Earth get hit by another planet, causing it to shoot a ton of crust into orbit..creating the moon?

Clearly, life requires a mars-sized object to hit the planet where life wants to form.

Jury's still out on that one: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moon_Formation#Difficulties [wikipedia.org]

Re:But... (1)

Surt (22457) | more than 2 years ago | (#38326320)

The moon argument is probably the weakest. There's no obvious reason that would really be a significant impediment to life, life would just evolve more hardy to the climate fluctuation. More polar bears, less hairless apes.

Re:But... (5, Interesting)

postbigbang (761081) | more than 2 years ago | (#38326366)

There's more. The "uniquers" are clueless. Is the magnetic field because of our unique liquid core?

No. We have a lot of iron and rotate. Duh.

Moons! Look at the moons! Statistically most of the other rocks going around the sun have 'em, too.

And so forth. Statistically, we're in a zone that allowed the chemicals to make whoopee and produce life, leading to us. People believe they're special, but they evolved something that they narcissitically believe is "intelligence". Do they treat their little planet with care? I don't think so. And they kill each other with glee, and deny the world around them, waiting for magical-thinking to become real.

Re:But... (-1, Troll)

Tsingi (870990) | more than 2 years ago | (#38326430)

This is all ridiculous. Everyone knows that ll of these things were engineered by the magic man in the sky. He is omnipotent, he can do anything, he loves us...

AND HE NEEDS MONEY!

Moon's effect on earth (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38325848)

What a load of crap. I love when they go with old data. A recent study how's that the moons effect over our planets stability is marginal and that, though there would be changes it would not be 'detrimental to life'.

Re:Moon's effect on earth (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38325952)

Agreed. Because life evolved a certain way here, and under certain conditions, doesn't mean that it can't evolve in a different way elsewhere, on possibly more (or less) challenging conditions. As long as you have variations and some selection mechanism, you'll get evolution (within reasonable bounds, of course).

Womens monthly problems (-1, Offtopic)

Barryke (772876) | more than 2 years ago | (#38326164)

I always simply blame gravitation for Womens monthly problems, not the moon. This way i know for sure i am right.

Re:Moon's effect on earth (1)

rwa2 (4391) | more than 2 years ago | (#38326420)

Hey, if you remember the climax to "Fifth Element", the moon would have been extremely detrimental to life :-P

Re:Moon's effect on earth (2)

Z00L00K (682162) | more than 2 years ago | (#38326458)

I think it would be hard to find another identical Earth with a Moon of the same size as ours, but on the other hand - life can appear under for us strange circumstances. Just look at the fumaroles in the oceans - they have a life that's different from what we really recognize usually.

However even if many planets out there are either like Venus (hot and dense atmosphere) or Mars (thin dry atmosphere) you may be able to see planets that are similar to earth from many aspects, even if they may have a more intense gravity or other differences. But they can probably sustain life. The point with Earth is that some of the characteristics that do allow support for life today is created by life itself - like free oxygen. And looking back through geological history one can see that Earth has had great variations in temperature and oxygen content.

As for how it is on other planets - they may have life, but it may not be life as we recognize it here - it can be all the way from mostly silicon based algae to advanced life that can be compared to humans but with a completely different cultural aspect that considers us humans as inferior or more like ants - a great object of study but nothing worth talking to.

Life Adapts (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38325864)

While most planets are obviously not suitable for life, life itself has a strong tendency to overcome the challenges of its environment. Life endures climate fluctuations, extraterrestrial impacts, and even extreme radiation, all here on Earth. While many of these protective characteristics are conducive to the emergence of higher life, life itself has already shown its capacity to adapt and overcome.

All life really needs is a liquid solvent, energy, and enough time.

Re:Life Adapts (3, Insightful)

Vinegar Joe (998110) | more than 2 years ago | (#38325894)

All life really needs is a liquid solvent, energy, and enough time.

So where is everybody?

Re:Life Adapts (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38325948)

Why do you think that life on other planets would have anything different from us resource and technology-wise? Unless you think the laws of physics and the Periodic Table of Elements are purely local to Earth? What we have now is whatever anyone else anywhere else would have. We won't have FTL spaceships, neither will they. Why is this so hard to understand? There's no Fermi's Paradox, there's only the Space Nutter Paradox: "Given what we know as FACTS, why would you think any other intelligent life would have more capacities than us?"

Re:Life Adapts (2)

www.sorehands.com (142825) | more than 2 years ago | (#38326104)

You are also making a mistake in logic. If other life is so intelligent, why would it have anything to do with us?

Re:Life Adapts (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38326404)

It doesn't necessarily have to want to contact us, but we should be able to observe these magical spaceships and colonized Dyson Spheres and all the other mythology the Space Nutters believe in.

The problem is that if you believe that other planets have different laws and different chemical elements, there's no point in astronomy, is there? I mean we look at light from far away and conclude "look, sodium lines in the spectra, bla bla bla", we automatically assume there's sodium and that it behaves like sodium on Earth.

Thre are no magical forces, no miracle materials, no fantasy energy sources, and certainly no technologies to get close to even the least ambitious sci-fi.

We still burn fossil fuels in turbines in air or combustion chambers. That's it, that's all. The only thing we've actually made leaps and bounds in is information processing, and that's MATH, it requires very little energy to implement.

Most of the Space Nutter myths are actually the reverse, they came from the Space Age which somehow assumed we'd have more and more energy but computers would still take up entire basements.

Reality has moved on, Space Nutters should too. We don't even have supersonic passenger transport right here on Earth where everyone and everything is. Why would you assume that somehow other species don't have the same physical limits?

It's a nice mythology for geeks, nothing more.

Re:Life Adapts (4, Funny)

pclminion (145572) | more than 2 years ago | (#38326460)

If other life is so intelligent, why would it have anything to do with us?

Because we are edible?

Re:Life Adapts (5, Insightful)

Surt (22457) | more than 2 years ago | (#38326346)

Your mistake is in assuming that the starter gun fired at the same time for everyone. That isn't true, we're late to the game. Other planets finished forming and starting up their life engines more than a billion years before ours did. The question is, where are those folks? They should have had plenty of time to fill the galaxy by now.

Re:Life Adapts (1)

AmigaMMC (1103025) | more than 2 years ago | (#38326352)

Because they could have had most time to evolve? The opposite is also true.

Re:Life Adapts (3, Insightful)

Runaway1956 (1322357) | more than 2 years ago | (#38326438)

No FTL? That's a proven fact - how? Those who assume that no possible sentient beings throughout the galaxy have ever built an FTL also ASSume that our knowledge of physics is flawless.

What we need is another bizarro, like Einstein, to stand the world on it's head. Someone who can look at all those computations, spot a couple of mistakes, draw a few conclusions, and come up with a hypothesis. What if, Einstein were only 85% correct?

I'm not about to go out on a limb, and say that FTL_is_possible, but neither will I go out on your limb, and say that FTL_is_not_possible.

I think - not a statement of fact, but an opinion - that FTL is probably possible. There are at least tens of thousands of questions to be answered before it becomes a reality, but I think it's possible. The energy required to power a ship large enough for a crew of ten, and say a hundred passengers would be more than astronomical - but possible.

And, do you know what? The jury is still out. You can't prove the impossibility, any more than I can prove the possibility. We'd get the same mileage arguing whether there is a god or not.

Re:Life Adapts (2)

Dexter Herbivore (1322345) | more than 2 years ago | (#38325998)

Life does not necessarily equal an advanced technological civilisation that we could detect or understand, not to mention that there's plenty of theories that may account for Fermi. The Doomsday argument [wikipedia.org] and the Singularity [wikipedia.org] are just 2 possibilities. There's plenty more, the problem is that until we actually find another civilisation, evidence of one, or conclusively prove they don't exist now or haven't existed... then we're still left with the paradox.

Re:Life Adapts (1)

fatman22 (574039) | more than 2 years ago | (#38326098)

"Enough time" may be a very, very long time and if intelligent species develop at all, one of them will have to be the first one. That may be us and not enough time has passed for the next one.

Re:Life Adapts (1)

im3w1l (2009474) | more than 2 years ago | (#38326268)

That might depend on your reference frame

Re:Life Adapts (2)

Surt (22457) | more than 2 years ago | (#38326400)

Us being the first is extremely improbable, unless there are factors operating that we don't understand. That's really the core of the paradox, everything we understand about the rules so far suggests there should have been many thousands of technologically advanced civilizations by now, for none of them to have come to existence implies either an unbelievable extreme of luck on our part, or a filter factor operating that we don't understand.

Re:Life Adapts (1)

cyber-vandal (148830) | more than 2 years ago | (#38326294)

You're assuming that we could detect them. Any race advanced enough to travel between the stars would be advanced enough to keep their presence hidden from us.

Re:Life Adapts (2)

mrclisdue (1321513) | more than 2 years ago | (#38325938)

I've got a hamster and nail polish remover. How long is this going to take?

cheers,

Re:Life Adapts (4, Interesting)

ComaVN (325750) | more than 2 years ago | (#38325992)

Indeed. A civilisation on a tidally locked planet would probably think life couldn't possibly start on a planet with day and night, or seasons.

Beware the Extremophiles (1)

theshowmecanuck (703852) | more than 2 years ago | (#38326182)

So we grew up on a nice soft cushy earth. We all know from articles posted on Slashdot that life can live in some of the most extreme places, radiation, heavy metal polluted ex-pit mines, around scalding vents five miles below the ocean surface, etc etc etc. But humans, we're pussies by comparison. We have to live in this nice 'goldilocks' zone. Oh not too hot, not too cold, not too much radiation, juuuuuust right. If and when we do finally meet extraterrestrials who never had the soft life we have, they'll be so fucking tough we'll have to be real nice to them; because if it came to a scrap, we could probably nuke them but they would shrug it off like it was only a mildly hot day. All hail our tough as nails mean motherfuckin' alien overlords. Hrrgghuph... I think there was something funny in that hippie.

Re:Beware the Extremophiles (5, Interesting)

IndustrialComplex (975015) | more than 2 years ago | (#38326288)

How do you know WE aren't the extremophiles?

Oceans full of a solvent, we breathe a caustic gas... and so on.

Re:Beware the Extremophiles (-1, Troll)

theshowmecanuck (703852) | more than 2 years ago | (#38326348)

Because humans have politically correct liberals that lately seem to be the dominant form of life... that has to be the complete opposite of extreme. Mind you, they can be classified as extremely bland white bread afraid of having their own flavour for fear of offending the other bread. Never mind, that is just a full circle since that just describes a bunch of whiny pussies. My first statement stands.

The Decline of Western Civilization... (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38325872)

Then there's Jupiter-sized outer planets

What the fuck happened to "are" (as in "There ARE" or "there're")? Oh, I know - it got replaced by Vocal Fry...

Re:The Decline of Western Civilization... (1)

Nihilomnis (2469528) | more than 2 years ago | (#38326058)

I think they just mistook the singularity of Jupiter for the plurality of planets. The mistake is common in the speech that I hear on a day-to-day basis, and then I realized you posted as Anonymous Coward...

That and honestly I would very much like the removal of different spellings of a word based on plurality. "Two cat is fighting in the alley". Of course that desire only arose after beginning to study Japanese.

Yes. (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38325880)

Yes, the earth is special and unique. The lunar and solar eclipses are one of the many things God has designed into his creation.

Re:Yes. (3, Funny)

taiwanjohn (103839) | more than 2 years ago | (#38326008)

Damn right! We call it Terran Exceptionalism. I'm sick and tired of all these "elite" types running around apologizing for Earth all the time!

Re:Yes. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38326176)

That's not a design feature. It's a necessary consequence of the design. Another consequence of the design is that eclipses aren't unique to earth.

Almost as if someone had designed it.... (2, Insightful)

John3 (85454) | more than 2 years ago | (#38325884)

I can already hear the "intelligent design" folks jumping on this topic as proof that we aren't here through random chance but were assembled by some creator. Just as an FYI, the "rare earth hypothesis" [wikipedia.org] has been circulating in the scientific community for many years.

Re:Almost as if someone had designed it.... (4, Funny)

rainmouse (1784278) | more than 2 years ago | (#38325912)

I can already hear the "intelligent design" folks jumping on this topic as proof that we aren't here through random chance but were assembled by some creator.

To be fair, sometimes I think planetary scientists can be extremely narrow minded, especially given the focus of their study has a sample size of 1.

Re:Almost as if someone had designed it.... (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38326178)

To be fair,...

Why be fair? Many of the problems that science has in communicating facts is this notion that we have to be "fair". And by being "fair", we're giving superstition and myth the same credibility as science.

Sorry, if one is going to claim that this planet was created by a mythical being, they should be shot down as fast as an adult claiming that Santa Claus brings toys to children on Christmas Eve.

Or for that matter, why are the Greek and Roman myths considered to be fairy tales by everyone and yet, the Bible is considered by many to be fact - and folks who try to be "fair and balanced" give the same voice to those people.

Re:Almost as if someone had designed it.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38326440)

Many times, science requires some necessary amount of faith. There are many things that science assumes to be true, much of which turns out have been assumed incorrectly.

However, that science which is not provable is always a very highly-educated guess. An educated guess should usually take priority over an uneducated guess; religion is most often an uneducated guess.

so if we annihilate ourselves in nuclear holocaust (1)

decora (1710862) | more than 2 years ago | (#38325940)

will someone have 'designed that' too?

Re:so if we annihilate ourselves in nuclear holoca (1)

hitmark (640295) | more than 2 years ago | (#38326262)

More like a failure to demonstrate restraint, just like how abstinence before marriage is all that it takes to avoid sexually transmitted diseases...

Re:so if we annihilate ourselves in nuclear holoca (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38326356)

And if you never have any human contact, you won't get the flu either. Genius!

Re:Almost as if someone had designed it.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38326034)

An "intelligent designer"? Or somebody who has no clue how to do it, but that didn't stop them from randomly made zillions of planets until something worked by sheer luck. A "dumb but persistent designer".

I mean, seriously. How is this "intelligent designer" thing supposed to work? You know how to do these things but you just make one? That's like some great artist knowing how to paint amazing paintings, but after doing one work of art they decide to put down the paintbrush and never make another.

Re:Almost as if someone had designed it.... (0)

Botia (855350) | more than 2 years ago | (#38326084)

It used to be a scientific fact that the earth was flat.

Re:Almost as if someone had designed it.... (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38326096)

Funny that an evangelical atheist would jump on that one first.

Re:Almost as if someone had designed it.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38326230)

An argument that will have considerably more merit as the "rare earth hypothesis"' is either disproven or supported by more data. As this runs contrary to the Copernican principle, the implications for science are significant.

Re:Almost as if someone had designed it.... (1)

scamper_22 (1073470) | more than 2 years ago | (#38326244)

And why should you worry about intelligent design?
It.... like god... can neither be proved or disproved. But

But what intelligent allows is for science to actually function. By discovering 'science' you merely discover how god made things.

Whereas creationism was an actual impediment to science. You *couldn't* study the evolution from ape to man... as the *real* answer was 'god said poof... and here we all are'. Even can be explained by the poof. Dinosaur fossils? God said poof. Impossible to prove or disprove, but definitely an impediment to science.

Intelligent design and other 'design like ideas' basically allows you to study science in depth. Be it evolution or the big bang... and just when you reach a point of randomness... you just say... god is behind that randomness. If there's order to that randomness... god made the order and you discover the equation behind the order.

Now, someone obsessed with proving the unprovable might worry about intelligent design. But for me, intelligent design let's science do it's work. I don't fight it or try and prove the unprovable. Let them be.

Re:Almost as if someone had designed it.... (1)

Tsingi (870990) | more than 2 years ago | (#38326468)

Now, someone obsessed with proving the unprovable might worry about intelligent design. But for me, intelligent design let's science do it's work. I don't fight it or try and prove the unprovable. Let them be.

Why try to prove the unprovable. Have faith!

Why? 'cause the bible proves that there is a God. We all know that. And Superman comics prove that there is a superman.

I want to be there when they meet. That's gonna be awesome. What with Superman spending all his time saving us from natural disasters. He's gonna be pissed at God.

I'll take my Earth medium rare. (2)

JustinFreid (1723716) | more than 2 years ago | (#38325892)

Why are conditions that promote life rarer than ones that prevent it?

Re:I'll take my Earth medium rare. (2)

Dexter Herbivore (1322345) | more than 2 years ago | (#38326026)

Because we only know a limited set of conditions that promote life, and a lot of ones that as far as we can tell prevent it. This understanding may change as we discover more.

Re:I'll take my Earth medium rare. (0, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38326070)

A few minutes to a few hours start life, 9 months for it to take hold, and a few seconds to end it. That's human mortality in a nutshell.

Tides (1)

Wonda (457426) | more than 2 years ago | (#38325900)

If the tides are so helpful, why did we evolve from fresh water amphibians? It seems they're just making it up!

Re:Tides (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38325976)

Um, because fresh water amphibians evolved from salt-water fish?

It's special the same way every baby is a miracle (2)

QuasiSteve (2042606) | more than 2 years ago | (#38325910)

All 7.5 of them born every single minute in the U.S. alone.

Source: http://www.census.gov/population/www/popclockus.html [census.gov]

( Although I have to admit, that 0.5 baby is pretty darn special. )

Maybe they should define the lower bound for 'special' before even pondering whether or not the Earth falls within the definition. Then, if it doesn't, they can raise that lower bound until it does.

Re:It's special the same way every baby is a mirac (1)

pla (258480) | more than 2 years ago | (#38326094)

It's special the same way every baby is a miracle

This. I would expect "appeal to low probability" to come from creationists, not in a Slashdot FP.

In a sufficiently large (possibly infinite) universe, it really just doesn't matter how uncommon any (non-zero) probability event appears - It will still happen all over the place, over and over and over and over again.

Of course, that still leaves us with that pesky question, "why don't we see ET yet?".

Re:It's special the same way every baby is a mirac (1)

Nihilomnis (2469528) | more than 2 years ago | (#38326126)

I am not sure why redefining the lower bound of "special" is necessary. Out of all the planets scientists have observed, Earth is the only one that can support our form of life. Would that not make Earth a special planet, at least from our perspective?

Though after the 0.5 baby joke I am unsure if your were joking.

fish determine that water is special (4, Interesting)

decora (1710862) | more than 2 years ago | (#38325918)

"In the air, there is no way for Oxygen to enter our gills. Therefore, water is extraordinary!"

Yes, like a Slashdot poster is special (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38325920)

No need to elaborate further, I think we all know that we are very special.

Oh yeah, it's special alright (1)

Das Auge (597142) | more than 2 years ago | (#38325932)

Judging by the people on it, it's special alright. I'm pretty sure it took the short bus to the Milky Way.

Re:Oh yeah, it's special alright (1)

drainbramage (588291) | more than 2 years ago | (#38325962)

Does it have to wear a helmet?

Cop Out (2, Insightful)

GeneralTurgidson (2464452) | more than 2 years ago | (#38325942)

This is the same thing religious leaders expouse, "what we can't explain must be special and unique". In a universe, nothing is unique. Except for snowflakes.

Re:Cop Out (3, Insightful)

phantomfive (622387) | more than 2 years ago | (#38326280)

And yet you do have to prepare yourself for the fact that it is a possibility. Though the article doesn't say unique, just very rare. Which may be a way of saying, that of the 708 exo-planets so far identified, not a single one may be habitable by life. I believe that's why the topic has come up again now, as a response to the articles claiming we might have found a planet capable of supporting life (like this one [slashdot.org] ).

David Icke says the moon is a hollow spaceship (1)

phonewebcam (446772) | more than 2 years ago | (#38325956)

It's sending out brainwashing beams [davidicke.com] which make humans do things they definitely wouldn't do otherwise, such as thinking WP7 will ever get more than an Android rounding error in market share, etc.

Article comments links broken in Chrome (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38325960)

You cannot click on the article comment links in Chrome 17 this morning.

Easy answer (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38325984)

No. [wikipedia.org]

Feyman's License Plate Syndrome (5, Insightful)

jrq (119773) | more than 2 years ago | (#38325990)

"You know, the most amazing thing happened to me tonight. I was coming here, on the way to the lecture, and I came in through the parking lot. And you won't believe what happened. I saw a car with the license plate ARW 357. Can you imagine? Of all the millions of license plates in the state, what was the chance that I would see that particular one tonight? Amazing!"

Just because our "route" resulted in our "life" situation, doesn't mean that other routes couldn't produce equally valid and viable "life" conditions. We're not that special.

Re:Feyman's License Plate Syndrome (1)

jrq (119773) | more than 2 years ago | (#38326114)

ack! Obviously should read "Feynman's License Plate Syndrome"

Re:Feyman's License Plate Syndrome (1)

TeknoHog (164938) | more than 2 years ago | (#38326276)

I think "Feyman" is somewhat appropriate, it has that hint of iron-y.

Somewhere, out there in the Universe... (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38326002)

...is a civilization of creatures living in a vast ocean of sulphuric acid (or some such), with scientific laboratories we would dismiss as "collections of rubble," that are wondering the same thing about THEIR world...

We'll never have a common language with them (they're telepaths, you see; think only rocks breaking against each other generate sound waves), and for eternity, we will live in parallel with them, and never interact with each other: Two species, forever locked in their own myopia and confident their science is telling them "We're SPECIAL."

What an incredible egos must Seven Billion creatures have.

Post hoc ergo propter hoc (1)

cmholm (69081) | more than 2 years ago | (#38326012)

Naturally (ar, ar), self-reproducing chemistry developed on Earth adapted to its unique environment. The stars, like dust, are scattered far and wide, and thus it's also natural that we're having trouble finding life that developed in other unique environments. Back when I was a kid, and our exo-solar list of planets was limited to "we think there's something circling Barnard's Star", it was no surprise we were getting hung up on the 'Rare Earth Hypothesis'.

Now that we've got a rapidly growing list of planets to point better sensors at, I think it's unduly anthropocentric.

Re:Post hoc ergo propter hoc (1)

FairAndHateful (2522378) | more than 2 years ago | (#38326118)

Back when I was a kid, and our exo-solar list of planets was limited to "we think there's something circling Barnard's Star", it was no surprise we were getting hung up on the 'Rare Earth Hypothesis'.

Agreed. I think these people are just getting impatient, and going public way too soon with what are really wild speculations. Be patient. Do research. Be impartial. The science will eventually point the way to the truth.

It's still a heck of a lot of fun to speculate wildly. Wild speculations are also where some great ideas come from just... Still need to do the science part afterwards.

How is the "Drake Equation" filling in so far? (3, Insightful)

rbrander (73222) | more than 2 years ago | (#38326016)

What's exciting about the recent exoplanet work is that we're actually filling in the first few parameters of the Drake Equation. We're getting a grip on how common planets are, and now how common it is for them to be (a) not gas giants and (b) in the right zone around the star. I think those two alone (combined with "how many stars are like ours", which we have known a long time), knock off a good four orders of magnitude - from hundreds of billions of stars in this galaxy to tens of millions that are 1) not short-lived stars ; 2) have non-gas-giants that are 3) in the "habitable zone".

We already know enough from extremophiles on earth that anything with liquid water, practically, is "habitable zone".

What we can get from just closer examination of our own solar system whether life NOT "as we know it" happens - did it arise in liquid methane, or floating about in Jupiter's atmosphere and all that. And if it does, how complex does it get?

These "special conditions" may not be necessary for *life*, but they may be necessary for it to bother (sorry, "have reproductive advantage") going past single cells, which biologists still consider a pretty Great Leap Forward.

It may well be; until we're not extrapolating from one data point, speculation is just entertainment. If it turns out complex life happens only every trillion stars and there's only one other in the "local group", ten million light-years from here, well...rats. Just ourselves to talk to.

Console yourself with this: it means our celebrities are even MORE important than we ever imagined. "Miss Universe", for instance, really IS Miss Universe!!

Oblig. Contact quote (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38326022)

"The universe is a pretty big place. It's bigger than anything anyone has ever dreamed of before. So if it's just us... seems like an awful waste of space."

Self-Replicating Probes (1)

Maltheus (248271) | more than 2 years ago | (#38326032)

Since it would only take one slightly more advanced species (with a desire to make their presence known or spread some kind of message) to launch a self-replicating probe capable of visiting every star in the galaxy in a relatively short period, then I have to assume that either those probes are being intercepted, or that sentient life is indeed exceedingly rare (no more than a handful of races per galaxy).

Re:Self-Replicating Probes (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38326106)

Since it would only take one slightly more advanced species (with a desire to make their presence known or spread some kind of message) to launch a self-replicating probe capable of visiting every star in the galaxy in a relatively short period, then I have to assume that either those probes are being intercepted, or that sentient life is indeed exceedingly rare (no more than a handful of races per galaxy).

And it would not take one slightly more advance than that to program their probes to destroy any civilization they encounter, "just in case" that civilization had the same idea.

No climate fluctuations but we're working on it :) (0)

youn (1516637) | more than 2 years ago | (#38326038)

don't worry we'll be able to completely negate the moon's effects soon :)

of course.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38326040)

Of course the Earth is special!
We are right now, right here on Earth discussing things about Earth itself. If there were no people - nobody would be here to discuss it!
There are maybe billions of planets similar to earth but slightly different, one does not have moon, other does not have Jupiter around and so on. Because of this
reason, life did not evolve on those planet and there you have it - There is nobody on those planet to say something , only on earth there are people living who can say : Our earth is really special ! Of course, aliens from nearby Alpha Centauri would certainly disagree !

IMHO (-1)

zixxt (1547061) | more than 2 years ago | (#38326052)

I think we were as humans and this planet we call Earth, were meant to be here by a higher intelligence.

1 in a million (4, Interesting)

carpefishus (1515573) | more than 2 years ago | (#38326072)

If our solar system is so special that it is one in a million then there are about 200,000 systems that are as special as ours in the Milky Way. Multiply this by 100 billion to one trillion galaxies and we are really not that special.

GDI! (0, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38326082)

May I be the first to post: God did it!

Would have been nice if he didn't create all those asteroids, cosmic rays, and other things from which the earth needs constant protection though.

it seems rather interesting (0)

onepoint (301486) | more than 2 years ago | (#38326120)

I do believe that it's rare to have an 'earth' or a life producing planet.
I do believe that in every galaxy there is a life form.
I do believe that we are still too young of a life form to have figured out how to communicate/discover other life forms.

I just can not fathom that there could not be other life forms in the universe, so I choose to limit it to galaxies having 1 life form each.

the nearest galaxy is Andromeda which is about 2.5 million light years, so I would think it's a lot of time before we mature enough to find out whom our neighbor is.

Is the Earth Special? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38326128)

I think the proper term is "Ozone challenged".

A call to arms (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38326154)

"A call to arms" is a silly little fiction book which attempts to address the question of how much of the psychosis of our species is a result of our geology by creating fictional species from planets with different geologies. It still demonstrated a much better understanding of geology and biology than the author of this article. Even considering the ridiculous "bird people", "wolf people", and "frog people".

Something I think is probably unique to Earth. (3, Funny)

pecosdave (536896) | more than 2 years ago | (#38326160)

Boobs.

Now I like boobs as much as the next guy. As a matter of fact what got my mind started down the track is staring at alien boobs on all of my favorite SciFi movies and I started thinking to myself "You know, those are kind of weird as far as life is concerned".

I'll use life on our own planet as an example. Only mammals have boobs.

Other animals do indeed feed on another, there's a lot of really unappealing vomit sharing in many types of life and poop sharing in the insect world that I think would probably be more common among the stars (Slurm for example) as it's even more common here. There are nutrient transfers that happen on our planet that are different than the insect ones I just mentioned might be out there as well as some we haven't thought of, but I keep thinking of boobs, cause I think of them all the time, and I just don't see them as something that are likely to exist on alien babes. I'm not discouraging my favorite Sci-Fi writers by any means, whatever happens keep the boobs on your alien babes, but when I think of the possibility of meeting real alien babes it saddens me when I realize evolution is unlikely to have included boobs into the equation.

The Earth is special in a narrow way (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38326180)

Sure, the Earth is special. To us. The probability of humans evolving on a different planet is very unlikely, just as the prospect of E.T. evolving on Earth is very unlikely.

Obligatory (2)

FFOMelchior (979131) | more than 2 years ago | (#38326184)

That's no moon... it's a terrestrial wobble dampener!

Compared to what? (1)

amanaplanacanalpanam (685672) | more than 2 years ago | (#38326194)

Is it special compared to the rest of the planets in our own system? Sure...but so is each of them, in their own way. Compared to all the planets in existence? We have no clue, since our observations are largely limited to Jupiter-sized planets which are naturally very unlike Earth. For all we know, Earth-like planets are commonplace in the universe. Yes, many aspects of our planet and sun seem to be conveniently suitable for life *as we know it* (if they weren't, we wouldn't be here to wonder these things, after all), but until we are capable of detecting things like tectonics and magnetic fields of extra-solar Earth-size planets, it's a bit premature to presume ours is unique in the universe -- just unique in our own system.

What about the inverse? (1)

wisebabo (638845) | more than 2 years ago | (#38326202)

So if having a large moon helps stabilize the earth's rotation, what about if an exo-"planet" is, in fact a moon around a much larger (probably gas giant) planet, just like Pandora in the movie "Avatar"? One would imagine that any variation in its climate due to wobbling would be completely eliminated.

While the "exo-moon" would almost certainly be tidally locked to the giant planet, as long as the orbital period wasn't too long (a week?) the difference in temperature between night and day would hopefully not be too pronounced. For example Io, has a period of 1.7 days. If the moon had a really thick atmosphere (like Titan) then this would probably not matter in the slightest as the "air" would likely distribute the heat quite effectively (but could be windy!).

Another thing we've learned by looking at these moons orbiting the gas giants is that they could have almost any amount of tectonic activity which is important for things like plate tectonics which is sometimes regarded as being essential for its effects on our climate. From super-volcanic Io to frozen Callisto, we see that tidal effects from a gas giant can pump hugely varying amounts of energy into a moon.

Of course, radiation may be a concern for most DNA based life (some DNA based life, like tardigrads are remarkably resilient though). I don't know why some gas giants like Jupiter have lethal (to us) amounts of radiation while others don't. So maybe this is a non-issue.

So maybe we should be looking for exo-moons orbiting gas giants in the habitable zone! How many are there? Obviously I don't know but there don't seem to be any dearth of gas giants orbiting other stars. As for the number of moons orbiting these gas giants, who knows but judging from our own solar system (Jupiter has 33 satellites of which 4 are "large") it seems that one or more would be at the right distance from the planet to benefit (but not too much) from tidal energy. Just for an example imagine if Jupiter was in the habitable zone. All the Galilean satellites except Io would be excellent candidates for COMPLEX life (presumably underwater).

What wavelength radio waves penetrate underwater? Maybe SETI should be listening on those frequencies! :)

Yes. (2, Insightful)

sgt scrub (869860) | more than 2 years ago | (#38326206)

The Earth is special. Humans are only here because of the great beardy guy in the sky. Now that this massively important issue is settled can we get on with colonizing Mars? Please?

The moon, seriously? I mean, really? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38326224)

Near enough every damn planet in our solar system has a planet, if not several. THE MOON IS NOT SPECIAL IN THE SLIGHTEST.

Hidden land-based bigoty (5, Insightful)

LastDawnOfMan (1851550) | more than 2 years ago | (#38326226)

It seems that life, intelligence, and civilization are the things that we find most interesting, in ascending order, when discussing exobiology. And, in ascending order, much, much more difficult to achieve. In other words, simple life is almost common, complex life is rare, intelligence even rarer, and civilization the rarest of all. Each step requires more time, stability, and opportunities for differentiation, than the last. A lot of the uniqueness of the Earth, according to the article, has to do with its suitability for developing land-based life. I wonder if achieving a land-based civilization is rarer than a liquid-based one. If there are aliens sending probes over here to investigate us, maybe it's to study this weird, land-based civilization. I admit that one advantage to land-based life development is that it's much easier to form divided ecosystems on land than it is in an ocean. This could create more opportunities for divergent evolution, speeding things up if you want to see a particular result, like intelligent life. However, it seems to me that there could be situations on other planets that can create a similar effect in a liquid environment. Perhaps not common, but possible. My point is, it might be chauvinistic to focus so much on conditions that allow the development of land-based life. The other, hidden chauvinism is towards carbon-based life, but it's hard to blame ourselves for that since it's so difficult to figure out how other kinds of life could work.

Of course son (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38326258)

Every planet is special.

Come on (1)

wirelesslayers (2014486) | more than 2 years ago | (#38326270)

Come on slashdot....

Special Earth is center of galaxy (1)

Obble (1680532) | more than 2 years ago | (#38326274)

We all know that distance galaxies are red shifted, but how many of you know they are quantization of the red shifts.

This means that the galaxies are placed at regular intervals of 2Myr in distance. That pattern can only been seen if we were at the center of the universe. If you move earth to 2Myrs in either direction then the pattern is not visible.

So the pattern suggest that Earth is in a unique position in a boundary based universe.
(Big Bang doesn't have boundarys due it a 3d surface on the 4d hypersphere, but I know someone will disagree with on me on that)

But the ultimate answer of "Is the earth special" is Yes, because it has me. (drum sounds :-) )
(thank you folks, I'll be here all day long)

Who did it? (1)

fikx (704101) | more than 2 years ago | (#38326336)

I think the moon caused most of those conditions: stressing the Earth via tidal forces stirs up the core, breaks up the crust, evens out our wobble. The Moon caused us. The Moon seems to be awfully suspicious. so, 2 possibilities:
1) it like us, and we should worship it
2) aliens put it there and we just have to find the big rockets on the dark side that prove it and follow the manufacture's stickers on 'em to our creators.

only thing I can't figure out for 2) is if they made us, who made them? hmmm...

Special? (1)

skine (1524819) | more than 2 years ago | (#38326376)

Of course the Earth is special, but only in the way that one's own child is special.

"extreme climate fluctuations"? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38326392)

Climate schlimate. Must be the branch of science with most false predictions by far.

Why should anyone believe these climate theories when they cannot accurately predict even next week's weather? Much less the weather of some imaginary earth-without-moon.

Sorry, but you're out of sympathy tokens. Mathematically prove next year's growth season's weather globally and then come back again to talk about predicting imaginary planet's weather.

Really, Prof Grady? (1)

SecurityGuy (217807) | more than 2 years ago | (#38326428)

Would you explain, please, how many other planets have magnetic fields? Oh, right. You have no (pardon the pun) earthly idea because we can't detect magnetism on exoplanets yet. Ok, then, how many have large moons? Oh, right, you can't detect that either. How many have water? You don't know. How many are geologically active? You don't know.

Planetary scientists should stop saying our planet is "strange" until they actually have something to compare it to.

Moon may not be necessary. (1)

JoshuaZ (1134087) | more than 2 years ago | (#38326446)

There's recent evidence that a large moon to stabilize may not be necessary. See http://www.universetoday.com/91331/life-on-alien-planets-may-not-require-a-large-moon-after-all/ [universetoday.com] for a summary and http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0019103511004064 [sciencedirect.com] for the actual paper. The issue is that while the lack of a moon will result in less stability in general the level of wobbling will be small and slow. There's also been in general growing evidence that habitable planets are more common than one might think otherwise. One recent study indicates that around a third of all sun-like stars have a planet in the habitable zone. http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/badastronomy/2011/09/29/new-study-13-of-sun-like-stars-might-have-terrestrial-planets-in-their-habitable-zones/ [discovermagazine.com] http://arxiv.org/PS_cache/arxiv/pdf/1109/1109.4682v1.pdf [arxiv.org] (keep in mind that being in the habitable zone is not sufficient for life. Our system has three planets in that zone, Earth, Mars and Venus, and only one of them supports complex life.) There's also been recent work which shows that for red dwarf stars there habitable zones are much larger than was previously expected (essentially water ice preferentially absorbs light from just the right wavelengths that red stars emit so that the outer zone is longer).

In general, the Fermi question is a serious concern. It is a concern not just for the deep implications it has but for the practical implications for our survival. In particular, it is possible that there's a lack of intelligent life out there because life finds ways to wipe itself out. Carl Sagan for example was worried that an explanation for the Fermi paradox was that species inevitably kill themselves with nuclear war before they get off their home planets. That particular worry seems less founded right now, but other worries, like exhaustion of resources, bad nanotech and others exist. Worse, if there is such a set of very risky technologies, they have to arise quickly so that species which encounter them don't generally have time to even anticipate the risk enough. Also, if this is a common problem then that means that it needs to arise soon in our future, say the next hundred years. That's because the technology has to arise in general before one stars spreading out to space. I suspect that intelligent life is rare due to the all the difficulties, not due to civilizations destroying themselves. But the possibility that self-elimination is the problem is deeply disturbing. More resources need to be put into dealing with existential risk.

How Can We Say This Is Rare? (1)

Paul Slocum (598127) | more than 2 years ago | (#38326450)

There appear to be between 10^22 and 10^24 stars in the universe many of which probably have planets, but we've only found a few hundred nearby extra-solar planets so far. With such limited information, how can we possibly say that any of these earth features may be rare?
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