Both Promise and Admonition for our Cosmic Hopes for Universal Life
For a number of years now we have had spectacular advances in our quest to understand the prospects for life beyond our own beautiful planet. We have seen much success in being able to use computers and powerful telescopes to precisely measure the fluctuation of light from very distant star system.
By plotting the course of a star as it wobbles through the galaxy, along with measuring its light output we have been able to see all kinds of variations which would indicate a very complex morphology of particular orbital phenomena of individual stars. That is to say we have been able to determine that there are dynamic structures to the orbital data. At first this was evident in Binary and Ternary systems of stars, but eventually came to a precision of observation that was able to rule out the influence of large stars on what is called the proper motion of an individual star(that is its course through space) and led to the startling hypothesis that planets, probably large planets were influencing the proper motion of very small, red dwarf stars.
This is not a new hypothesis, but has been known for decades. For more than forty years astronomers have known that stars will wobble if there happens to be a significant body next to them other than a large star. The first such application of theory was of course Barnard’s star where it was seen to wobble significantly and large stars were not seen to be near it. It was theorized back then that indeed there might be a planet very near to the star, but it could not of course be confirmed. The technology was simply not good enough at the time.
However, years later, with the advent of microchips and the launching of Hubble and other extremely sensitive telescopes it became clear that small star’s orbits were being perturbed by something other than star sized objects. Thus slowly we came to the conclusion that these perturbations of proper motion must be due to smaller bodies.
Eventually, it became safe to say that these bodies were planet sized objects. At least so it would seem. As both computer analysis, simulation, and sensitivity to light output developed rapidly it became quite safe to hypothesize that these perturbations were being caused by planets. As our ability to analyze the fluctuation in movements, and light output increased further, and analytical and programmatic developments evolved further still we came to the point where we could strongly theorize very fine precedents, or antecedents to the observed phenomena. In other words, we could assume that there were planets of all sizes orbiting these stars in various ways and our ability to project, or deduce the formal nature of these orbits became ever more probable.
At this point in time we have reached a point where we can with some degree of certainty say that there are strong probabilities that we are observing different sized planets orbiting various stars. Today a number of satellites especially committed to this study in particular have left us with a huge list of potential planets of all sizes habiting various sections of the object stars. We are today at a point where just yesterday it was announced that an earth sized planet, with probable density equal to the Earth is orbiting a small red dwarf around the so called habitable zone which is defined as that area around a star’s orbit that life is most expected to be found. At least human like, water based, carbon based life forms. The habitable zone is that zone where the temperature would be just right to allow the formation of water, or liquid oceans of water presumed to be critical to the formation of carbon based life forms.
Yet for all the enthusiasm, and all the gratitude we feel at being alive during such a time some measure of care is still needed. There is both greater promise for finding life, but also greater uncertainty when we consider some of the details being left out of the headlines.
One of the greatest limitations that we have not really heard much about in the headlines is that indeed these fluctuations of both light and proper stellar motion are very small. We see these motions, we see these fluctuations of light but we cannot know exactly what is causing them. True, there are some theories favorable to the conclusion that what we see are planets perturbing the motions of small dwarf stars. But we cannot really be sure. The reality is that a Brown Dwarf star can easily distort both the light and the motion of a small star. This is not to say that this possibility negates these findings, it does not do that. But it does add a caution. We cannot really be certain what exactly is causing these fluctuations in light and motion that we are observing at these almost unthinkable distances. A number of small planets, or a few Brown Drawrf Stars could easily account for a single observed phenomenon.
Another caution which must be added is that we do not really know the true dynamic nature of these stars that we are here observing. True, they may be stable stars that move the way our sun moves, or quite frankly they may well have various internal oscillations that we do not understand as yet. What I am saying is that the fluctuation of light and motion may be due not to a set of planets orbiting a star, but to the internal motion of the star itself. A star may be wobbling of its own accord. This is a very critical caution. Though not as romantic, nor as desired as the conclusion that we are seeing planets orbit small stars, the possibility still exists that we are seeing only an inherent wobble within a star, complemented by what would of course be expected to be a noticeable variation in light output.
Another needed caution before we go on is that in fact we do not have a very good understanding of gravity. For all that we are fond of saying and thinking it has become painfully clear that when looking at large galactic regions our present theory of Gravity simply is not accurate. This is a very disturbing statement, I know this, but let’s face facts here. We are today calling up theories which have no direct confirmation in order to explain our observations of large galactic regions. The Galactic Filaments we see today, and their empty regions, that is the area between them which is devoid of stars has no current explanation with our understanding of gravity. We are calling up “dark matter” and “dark energy” but in point of fact, have no idea what the real problem is.
Now there will be arguments that this does not apply to small stars and planets, yet, there are other abnormalities which have been observed. Including the motion of some space craft whose dynamic motion cannot at present be explained with our theory of gravity. All this must add caution to these findings. Whether we like it or not, we cannot conclude anything. There is still the very real possibility that we as yet do not know what we are observing when we see those oscillations in motion.
Thus not only do we not know the internal potential oscillation of stars, since we are not there to observe them close up, nor can live two or three billion years to see how they actually behave, but we in fact do not as yet have a definite theory of gravity able to explain some of the phenomena we are now seeing. Our theory of gravity is simply not certain when observing phenomena so very far away, and so different from our everyday experience.
But with these cautions in mind we can proceed to add a more optimistic possibility.
The reality is that it is quite possible that there are even greater possibilities for life if we understand things reasonably well. That is if our present theories are to a high degree intact concerning this phenomenon. It just so happens, that planets that are outside the habitable zone may actually create enough of their own heat to sustain life after all. The Habitable Zone as it is defined may well be too small!. You see any planet that has moons, or a large moon will likely generate its own internal heat. This is a very notable possibility. We can see clearly that even small bodies, like many of the moons orbiting around our own Solar neighborhood have indeed shown signs of having internal heat due, as we have pointed out here at Hotcoreearth to the layered revolution caused by orbiting moons. Thus any exo planet that has a moon, or number of moons will have internal heat being generated and thus its own climate will be modified. Thus even if a planet is far away from the parent star it will in fact generate enough heat internally to modify the climate. This certainly would add to the potential existence of life.
Another very distinct possibility which is so far being ignored is that planets orbiting close to a star may not necessarily be tidally locked. We have very real proof right in our own star system. Mercury is a relatively tiny planet that should have been tidally locked with the Sun. But it’s not! In fact Mercury has a night and day. The reason is probably that the planets beyond Mercury will cause the planet to revolve as they tug on it each time it passes by them Therefore if there are larger planets beyond a small planet orbiting close to a red dwarf star for example, they will probably tug on the planet and cause it to have a diurnal revolution after all. No matter how close a planet may be, there is always the possibility that it can turn around its parent star if there are large planets tugging on it from behind.
These two possibilities add to the possible habitable zone and to the possibility of life.
A third possibility which has not been sufficiently mined is that many planets near the parent star may actually burn off their atmospheres. But this may serve to protect the planet for a sufficient period of time, long enough for life to develop. It is known that Red Dwarfs are very unstable in the beginning of their lives. They tend to blow off huge sunspots and prominence which may adversely affect life on a planet orbiting close enough. But the good news is that a planet, in its infancy may have a much greater atmosphere to bargain with. As the star evolves, it slowly burns off the planet’s atmosphere, until such time as the star quiets down and allows the remaining atmosphere to create a habitable environment.
Does an Exo-Planet have a Moon?
However, for all that has been said and theorized, there is a very strong indication that the most important factor of all may be whether a planet has a moon or not. Having a moon may well be the difference between life and death. A planet with a moon has a number of advantages. The first is that it is geologically alive! A closely orbiting moon is going to cause differential rotation, and this is going to cause the creation of internal heat. This is crucial to life for planets further than the habitable zone.
More importantly however, a moon may cause a planet to develop a significant electro-magnetic field and this may mean the ultimate difference between life and death. A planet with an electro-magnetic field adds enormous protection to developing life and this can most easily be facilitated by an orbiting moon.
Thus it is true that if we have an exo-planet that revolves around a tame small red dwarf, there is the possibility that life may exist after all even if the planet lies far beyond the so called habitable zone. If the planet has a moon that may help its core to generate heat there is more than likely enough internal heat to increase the climatic temperature. This is especially true if there is a thick atmosphere able to keep the heat generated from the core around the planet’s surface.
Moreover having a moon will generate a magnetic field due not so much to an iron core as is suspected for earth but because there is a differential rotation which will cause the flow of electrons from the core, especially as the core begins to develop some plasma like characteristics due to the internal heat and pressure. Thus there will be a tendency in such a case for electrons to flow and thus will create an electromagnetic field which would protect the planet from any degeneration to its atmosphere.
Lastly, if there are large gaseous planets outside a rocky candidate they will almost certainly help to prevent the planet from becoming tidally locked with its host, even if the planet is very close to the parent star. If Mercury is not tidally locked with the Sun, then there is a very good chance that a planet orbiting very close to a red dwarf will also not be tidally locked with its parent star.
All these possible outcomes bode well for exo-biology. But there are cautions as we have mentioned. We do not as yet have an absolutely reliable understanding of gravity, and we cannot as yet be certain we know how to read the various waves generated by distant planets as they orbit their host stars. In due time however, these problems will be solved.
Advanced Inter-Stellar Civilizations Very Rare
All in all the prospects are very good for the existence of simple life on other distant star systems. However, they are not so good for advanced life sadly. It is very likely that advanced life must reach billions of years in age to become able to develop the level of intelligence we see in human society. It is also quite likely that contrary to our expectations of longevity for advanced civilizations, there is a very great probability that the more advanced a civilization becomes, the more sensitive it will be to geological, and climatic changes. As we can see today, we are quite possibly facing our demise should the global warming phenomenon become serious enough. We are quite sensitive to changes of our planet and any extremes may well push us towards catastrophic wars from which we might not be able to recover at this stage. The same would apply to any other civilization on an exoplanet. This would be true especially in an advanced civilization’s early nascent stage where it is just forming as a fully developed technocracy as we are ourselves experiencing. Indeed, there may well be hidden consequences for becoming technologically advanced. For example our advancement has perhaps brought global warming upon us. Perhaps this is a process that follows naturally from the appearance of advanced civilizations in general. Therefore as a civilization becomes more technologically advanced it tends to disturb the natural rhythms of its host planet and possibly faces a potentially dangerous situation in all or most cases. If so, then advanced civilizations could very well be short lived at best. This would give any such civilization a very small window of opportunity to communicate with another such civilization thousands of light years away. So its quite possible that advanced civilizations are quite rare, even if it is likely that they do exist.
If inter-stellar civilizations are rare , and far apart in time and space, communication between any two may well be an extremely rare occurrence. Yet, when and if it ever happens the whole universe evolves upon the establishment of such communication between advanced inter-stellar civilizations.
Unless, there is one small other possibility which should be mentioned, though not at all probable. If there were a highly advanced civilization already established in the cosmos they might not make contact with us because we are still so primitive. Our wars, our tendency towards brutal violence would certainly dissuade any highly advanced civilization from sharing its knowledge with a race as primitive as ours. What little knowledge we have, we have managed to turn it to great violence so horrendous that there would be no justification for a highly advanced civilization to trust a people like ours with a technology that might well be used against them. There is thus a tiny one billion to one chance that we are too uncivilized to join a cosmic civilization. Something to be kept in the back of our collective mind, just in case.