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PLANET EARTH

LIFE IN OUTER SPACE ?

Staring into the starry blackness of night, men have long wondered if mankind is alone in the universe. Astronomers believe the odds are that many other planets like the EARTH exist in the remoteness of space revolving around stars similar to our sun. With so many billions upon billions of stars in the heavens, it seems only logical that life too could exist beyond the earth - some of this life perhaps even superior to ours. But are the chances for life in outer space actually as plentiful as many people assume ? Or have we overlooked a few pertinent facts ?

THE RIGHT STAR

All life on EARTH, as biologists well know, ultimately derives its own vital forces from energy that once originated in the SUN. Therefore, one fundamental prerequisite to any potential life-supporting system is the right type of STAR or SUN. Not just any run-of-the- mill star can qualify as a suitable candidate. Astronomers have noted that stars show a remarkable range of size and type. They have in fact created a type-scale that categorizes them from huge, hot, fast burning blue stars down to the tiniest red dwarfs scarcely the size of our own earth. Our sun falls almost exactly in the middle of the scale - a G-type yellow star.

When beginning to consider a star as a potential sustainer of life, one immediately recognizes that only middle-sized stars like our sun are capable of the optimuim type of radiation. Stars toward the hot-blue end of the range disqualify themselves because they emit a lethal proportion of ultraviolet and higher-energy radiation. In a contrasting manner, stars near the cool-red end of the scale give off too little visible radiation to be suitable. This leaves as one research showed, only about 13 percent of all stars in an optimum category !

Of this 13 PERCENT we would have to eliminate another three fourths, which belong to multiple star groups. A planet orbiting a double or multiple star group would most likely have an orbit far too eccentric and irregular to maintain an adequate temperature range to reasonably support life. In addition, because multiple-star ( white and red, yellow and red etc.) any hapless planet would be bombarded with a wide variety of rediation too irregular for the support of life form as we know them. With the multiple-star groups removed from consideration, we're left with only 3 PERCENT of the stellar population as potential supporters of life.

SUITABLE PLANET NEEDED

But we need more than just a suitable star. It also takes the right-sized planet at the right distance from that sun. Smaller planets fail the test due to their inability to retain an atmosphere. Larger more massive planets fall into the other ditch because they tend to retain the heavier, more lethal gasses such as methane and ammonia.

In addition to all this, we also need the following: The planet must receive an even amount of radiation from its sun. That means a near circular orbit. To keep surface temperature from varying too far outside a life-supporting range, the planet must have a rotational period about a maximum of every 100 hours. Also required is an optimum distance from the planet to sun, and the right tilt of the planetary axis to ensure an even distribution of temperatures. An extreme tilt of the axis, or an inadequate rotational speed, would result in intolerable heating in some areas and bitter cold in others. So while probabilities for all of these factors combined are difficult to calculate, it is interesting to realize that the real chances of life in outer space could actually be far lower than usually suggested. This becomes even clearer from the following evidence.

OUR UNIQUE PLANET

As it turns out, our EARTH, the only known life-supporting planet in the universe, "defies the odds" in a number of other areas that are some-times overlooked in figuring the chances for the occurrence of life. One of our biggest "long shots" is water. For instance:

In the universe as a whole, liquid water of any kind -sweet or salt - is an exotic rarity...
For contrary to common belief, the liquid state is exceptional in nature; most matter in the universe seems to consist either of flaming gases, as in the stars, or frozen solids drifting in the abyss of space. Only within a hairline band of the immense temperature spectrum of the universe - ranging through millions of degrees - can water manifest as a liquid.

Water and plenty of it is the very life blood of our existance here on earth. And our earth is lavishly and possible uniquely bathed in it. Not only is the existance of H,O on the earth unique, but the fact that it exists in a liquid state. How can you calculate the probability of the "coincidence" of life as we know it and the liquid state existing in the same temperature range ? The answer is, you don't. As Lincoin Barnett, the author of the article "The Miracle of the Sea," stated: "It is surely no accident that life as we know it exists only within this same tenuous temperature band."

But that's not all.

THE CORRECT ATMOSPHERE

Our terrestrial atmosphere is quite different from what one would normally expect in the universe.

The signal fact is that gases (argon, xenon, etc) are present here in only small amounts, much smaller than those known elsewhere in the universe. At the same time, oxygen, nitrogen, carbon dioxide and water vapor are present in much greater abundance than elsewhere....
These (analysis of meteorites) show that the rare gases are present here in only a few millionths to a billionth of their cosmic abundance.

This would account for something like a million - to - one probability factor since that's how rare such gases are compared to the rest of the universe. The same uniqueness holds true for our solid elements. Ninety - nine percent of all the matter in the universe is of the two lightest elements, hydrogen and helium. All other elements put together account for only 1% of the total. Yet hydrogen makes up only about 0.9% of the earth's composition, while helium appears only in miniscule amounts within the earth's crust. On the other hand, oxygen, silicon, aluminum, and iron which make up less than 1% of the universe account for over 85% of the earth's composition. These proportions are wholly non-typical and totally exceptional to our planet.

The list of such unusual factors actually has almost no end. And even if we were to assume that a proper planetary environment was achieved, this does not automatically guarantee that organisms will be found living in that environment. The odds for that are infinitesimally smaller yet. Knowing what we do about our planet, with its optimum conditions for supporting life, its ideal size, tilt, and rotation rate, its unique composition of elements with its super abundance of water, all powered and energized by a stable-middle-range star that emits its energy dominantly in the visual range - does it follow, then that life on earth was formed by a cosmic accident ? Not without a lot of wishful thinking.

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