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Sep 17 2009

The final frontier

The ESA’s Planck microwave observatory has started scanning the skies in order to examine the background cosmic radiation left behind by the Big Bang (or, for you creationist twits, whatever theory comes along and explains redshift, background radiation, the relative minority of elements heavier than helium or hydrogen, etc, better than the Big Bang theory does now — and trust me, that’ll only put it exponentially ahead of your theory of “goddidit”).

The smallest extrasolar planet we’ve found yet, has been proven to be a small, solid, rocky one. Our first extrasolar non-gaseous planet! This is both extraordinary and exciting! Who knows, we might be on the very cusp of discovering extrasolar planets that contain oxygen-rich environments, and therefore possibly biomass (e.g. life), and therefore could possibly be someplace to colonize or otherwise investigate. Maybe we’ll even find such a planet within our lifetimes. How cool would that be?

And apparently scientists are revamping the Drake equation to include the possibility of life on icy masses that are not orbiting any star, among other such unlikely but interesting tweaks to the most fascinating “mental experiment” equation ever. The fact that none of the variables are yet filled in is inconsequential to the illustrative power of the equation itself — the fact that, given how large some of the numbers are (e.g. the number of stars in the galaxy, and the number of stars that apparently have planets — just look at how many planets we’re seeing so far, and our detection capabilities are still in their infancy!), the chances could be extraordinarily good that life could arise in our galaxy and in others.

To assert that the odds of life arising in this universe are slim, becomes almost meaningless in the face of the sheer number of chances life gets in this universe. There are over a hundred billion galaxies visible to us presently, and doubtless many many more; and in each, there are likely a hundred billion stars on average. So, how many rolls of the dice does it take before you come up with however-many-sixes-in-a-row you need? Well, first we need to figure out how many we’ve already gotten. The odds mean nothing to someone who hit the lottery a jillion times sequentially, after they’ve done so.

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