Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

How Did Life on Earth Defy Statistics and Show Up Early?

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

How Did Life on Earth Defy Statistics and Show Up Early?

Article excerpt

The Fermi Paradox, named for early 20th-century Italian physicist Enrico Fermi, grapples with the contradiction of the high likelihood for extraterrestrial life given how vast and diverse the universe it, and the lack of evidence that supports life beyond Earth's boundaries. Or, in other words, "Where is everybody?"

Now, more than 50 years after Fermi's death, an international team of researchers may have an answer for his paradox.

Earth may have developed life prematurely and that as the universe continues to evolve, it will be much better suited to supporting life in the distant future than it is at present, according to a study by Avi Loeb a researcher at the Harvard- Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and colleagues at the University of Oxford, published Monday in the Journal of Cosmology and Astroparticle Physics.

In the study, Professor Loeb and his fellow researchers combined theories and data on stars and their habitable zone planets to calculate the likelihood that they would be able to support life. The team focused primarily on red dwarf planets, which are likely to be able to host life because they orbit long-lived red dwarf stars, the most common type of star in the Milky Way, Professor Loeb explains to The Christian Science Monitor in a telephone interview.

"The general idea that many people subscribe to is that, since we exist next to a star like the Sun in a galaxy like the Milky Way, for life to exist you need these conditions," Loeb told Popular Science. "But in fact, low-mass stars are much more common than the Sun. The sun isn't a typical star. Low-mass stars are very long- lived; they can live 1,000 times longer."

Loeb found that planets around stars the size of our sun, a yellow dwarf star, are likely to be developing around now, while lower mass planets such as those orbiting red dwarves will not be in the ideal life supporting stage of the stellar life cycle until some point in the distant future.

"The universe of the future will be a much better place for planets," Pratika Dayal, a researcher at the University of Groningen's Kapteyn Astronomical Institute in the Netherlands, who studies the evolution of early galaxies, told Smithsonian Magazine. …

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