it’s a great big universe, and we’re all really puny.

So there’s a potentially Earth-like planet orbiting Gliese 581, which is about twenty light-years from us.

The Rare Earth theory just took it in the pants big time.  For scale: our galaxy is about a hundred thousand light years across, and it has billions of stars in it.  And our Milky Way galaxy is just a backwater galaxy on the ass end of the observable universe, which has a few dozen billion galaxies in it.  The article states that Gliese 581 is in our neighborhood, but that’s not quite accurate.  On the galactic scale, it’s in our cosmic driveway, so to speak.  If we already have an Earth-like planet orbiting in the Goldilocks zone of a star so close by, then the statistical chances for our little blue pebble being the only life-supporting planet in the universe are about as great as the statistical chances of Kate Beckinsale coming up our driveway in the next ten minutes, wearing her skin-tight Underworld leather outfit, piloting a Ferrari with the suitcase compartment full of $100 bills, and bearing a note from my wife saying “Have A Fun Vacation, Honey.”

14 thoughts on “it’s a great big universe, and we’re all really puny.

  1. djmooretx says:

    It’s not necessarily news that there are planets like that out; I’ve always pretty much assumed that.

    What’s news is that we can detect them.

    Next step: detecting their atmospheres.

    We’re looking for atmospheres high in oxygen, which would indicate life, or which contain traces of gases like freon, which would indicate intelligent life.

    (Why oxygen? Dead planets have atmospheres in chemical balance. Oxygen is so highly reactive that it must be continually produced by something, or it combines with other elements to become things like CO2, rust, and the like. The most likely process which can keep about 20% free oxygen is photosynthesis. See Lovelock’s unfortunately named Gaia hypothesis.)

  2. perlhaqr says:

    Sorry, Marko, the Ferrari is fast, but there’s no way she’s getting it from my driveway in New Mexico to yours in New Hampshire in ten minutes. 😉

  3. Sigivald says:

    The gap from “potentially earth-like” to “earth-like” is pretty big.

    I mean, look at the details – there’s only the possibility of liquid water (if ANY is present at all!) in a narrow band along the day-night barrier.

    I dunno about you, but I’d bet that tidal-lock and most-of-it-frozen-or-scorched is not conducive to a vibrant biosphere. Or maybe any at all.

    Now, the effects on “anywhere in the galaxy” calculus are significant, unless this is just amazing luck – but I’m not betting that the odds on, say, “within 5,000 light years” are all that high.

  4. NYEMT says:

    That sounds like a heckuva vacation. Your wife ROCKS. You’re a lucky man, Marko.

  5. MarkHB says:

    Am I the only one to go “Earth-like planet… UN “Alien Ambassador” appointed…. end of serious manned space program….Hmmmmm….”

    Probably. But hey, it’s an entertaining coinkydink.

  6. Brian J. says:

    By saying that the Kate Beckinsale thing has a greater than zero chance, you bring hope to the masses.

  7. Jason says:

    +1 for the whole Beckinsale fantasy. Hell, keep the ferarri.

  8. Adam-12 says:

    Hmm, let me think here. Let’s look at the real probabilities: Marko, who is already writing SF type stories, produces a kick-ass screenplay (likely)and convinces studio execs to fund (also likely, don’t know how good his pitch is)and allow him to direct (possible, they let Stallone do it). He then gets Kate Beckinsale to star (also possible, after all she is an actress in her declining phase of her career), she leaves her husband for the director (has already happened once) and goes with Marko on fabulous vacation (happens all the time). The Ferarri is the least of the problems. By comparison all the other conjectures about earth-like planets with intelligent life are basically wishful thinking with zero examples save our own. BTW, this has nothing to do with religion, but rather an acceptance that Fermi was probably right. Have a good vacation Marko.

  9. Marja says:

    It’s been a while since I read the book (Rare Earth, that is), but I think their theory was not that life is rare, but that multicellular organisms are. So you probably don’t need a gun when you go to explore that alien planet but make sure you disinfect your space or bunny suit properly before getting back to the ship so none of those alien microbes gets inside.

  10. TBeck says:

    Nobody has yet brought up the salient issue: how do we get there to strip mine it?

  11. […] Marko, on the discovery of a possible Class M planet merely twenty or so light-years away: On the galactic scale, it’s in our cosmic driveway, so to speak. If we already have an Earth-like planet orbiting in the Goldilocks zone of a star so close by, then the statistical chances for our little blue pebble being the only life-supporting planet in the universe are about as great as the statistical chances of Kate Beckinsale coming up our driveway in the next ten minutes, wearing her skin-tight Underworld leather outfit, piloting a Ferrari with the suitcase compartment full of $100 bills, and bearing a note from my wife saying “Have A Fun Vacation, Honey.” […]

  12. Gaston says:

    I think there needs to be a little perspective on your statistics. First of all, it is not that there is a potentially habitable planet within every 20 LY radius sphere of Sol. Instead it is that there is a potentially habitable planet within the sphere surveyed to date (certainly far larger than a radius of 20 LY). More importantly is the number of stars that have been surveyed, which is probably in the hundreds. This is encouraging that if there are Billions of stars then there are Millions of candidate planets.

    If you squint really hard then you may think that you’ve found Kate Beckinsale but on closer examination your wife may have accidentily backed over that skank Lindsey Lohan and the note in your hand is to inform you that she’s on her way to the hardware store to get a shovel. In other words, potentially habitable is still a miss. Close may only work in horseshoes and hand grenades.

    The important thing is that we now have more data to input into the Drake equation. It all helps with Sagan’s “…Billions and billions…”

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