September 21, 2014

POSSIBLY IRRITATING ESSAY: What If We Really Find An Earth-Like Planet…and it’s DEAD

The planets referenced below, while each one is probably real, is subject to the rankest flights of fantasy. This is while they remain under the firm and unyielding blanket of “science”.

Scientists – maybe even the rank and file like me – are desperate to find a living, breathing, life-bearing New Earth. Some are so desperate in their search, that they’re seeing “the most Earth-like planet yet!” in what we call sunspots.

It is, in my opinion, pathetic.

Don’t get me wrong, I WANT to find intelligent alien life “out there”. I am NOT in the same camp as science fiction writer David Brin ( and world-renowned physicist Steven Hawking ( Both of them sound to me as if they wish that Humans would remain the only verifiable intelligent life in the universe. They regularly campaign against finding such life – while at the same time writing fiction and making statements that egg on such a search.

Puzzling behavior to say the least.

I have another idea, though.

Despite the fact that we now have evidence that there are several candidates that have fairly high ranking on a simple scale called the Earth Similarity Index (, we have no hard evidence that these planets are anything but statistical possibilities. None of them has been surveyed by a space probe. None of them has emitted coherent, detectable radio waves (though 5 (Gliese 667C c, 832 c, 581 c, HD 69830 d, and 55 Cancri c are close enough that if they WERE broadcasting in the EM bands we do, their signals SHOULD have been detectable by now...) This doesn’t include the possibility of Earth-like moons orbiting one or all of the jovian or super-jovian planets we’ve discovered.

What if these Earth-like planets are dead?

What if they have water oceans, gases in their atmospheres, perfect stellar insolation, perfect magnetic fields – and let’s throw in a large moon to boot (, just in case ( – and everything else is ideal...and they are dead? The expanses of their continents could be reminiscent of the Great Plains, or this one peninsula just like Florida, or that gorge identical to Olduvai, or this island arc evocative of Indonesia, or that drifting island exactly like Japan...but no microorganisms teem in the oceans.

No algae has adapted to life in shallow, salty tidal pool; and there are no strange life forms around the volcanically active black smokers. No trees with chlorophyll d or f blanket the planet in red; no saurian-analogues roll across plains of silica-rich wheat-like grains. There are no roads, no Great Walls of China visible from space; there are no satellites whirling in stable orbits, transmitting “Welcome  Home” messages from advanced aliens who have passed through their own Singularity and are waiting to guide us through ours.

What if, for whatever reason, some cosmic Captain Picard has fumbled the big one and amino acids never formed to make up the primordial ooze…and life never developed? In fact, in the whole of this arm of the galaxy, we are alone and there is no Higher Alien Power with whom to hobnob; no Wise Elder Brethren to gently scoff at all of those absurdly quaint Earth religions and confirm that the best and brightest in the galactic federation ipso facto adhere to the only logical philosophy possible – materialist atheism.

What if we’re really, actually, and irreversibly alone?

Maybe that’s what David Brin and Stephen Hawking are worried about.

What do you think?
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1 comment:

Gray Rinehart said...

Love this one! A fascinating thought experiment.

Reminds me of the line (from Clarke, perhaps?) that we face two equally terrifying possibilities: that we are alone in the universe, or that we aren't.