From a Cosmic Perspective, Is Life on Earth Premature?

By Jordan Rice | August 2, 2016 3:20 pm

An artist’s interpretation of a red dwarf star orbited by potentially habitable planets. (Credit: Christine Pulliam/CfA)

In universal timescales, our solar system has only been around for a small portion of time as the universe is 13.8 billion years old while the Earth is just 4.5 billion years old. It is thought that there could be life out in the universe that developed billions of years before we did, but a new study predicts that life on Earth is premature.

In a new study to be published in the Journal of Cosmology and Astroparticle Physics, Avi Loeb, the lead author of the study from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, and his team find that life evolved here earlier than it should have.

“If you ask, ‘When is life most likely to emerge?’ you might naively say, ‘Now,’” says Avi Loeb in a press release. “But we find that the chance of life grows much higher in the distant future.”

Nearly 30 million years after the Big Bang, the first stars arose and populated the universe with essential elements such as carbon and oxygen. Conversely, in about 10 trillion years the last stars with slowly fade away and die. Loeb and his team looked at the likeliness of life starting between both of these boundaries.

The main factor ended up being the lifetimes of stars. As the more massive stars have a shorter lifetime, stars that are around three times more massive than the Sun will die before life has the chance to even begin.

The stars that are less than 10 percent the mass of the Sun will continue to glow for 10 trillion years supplying more than enough time for life to emerge on its planets. The probability of life grows over time, meaning that the chances of life are 1,000 times higher in the future than right now.

“So then you may ask, why aren’t we living in the future next to a low-mass star?” says Loeb. “One possibility is we’re premature. Another possibility is that the environment around a low-mass star is hazardous to life.”

Even though low-mass stars will live long lives, they also have some unique hazards. When they are young, the stars’ emit very strong and potentially dangerous flares and ultraviolet radiation that might strip the atmosphere from any potentially habitable world.

The next step to uncovering which theory is correct is to study nearby red dwarf stars and their orbiting planets to look for the potential for habitability. Future space missions such as the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) and the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) should provide insight into answering these questions.


This article originally appeared in

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space & Physics, top posts
MORE ABOUT: cosmology
  • Uncle Al

    a new study predicts that life on Earth is premature” Stop the whining – end it. End all Enviro-whinerisms and (metaphorically) watch all life on Earth go cherry red convertible 15 mpg with massive air conditioning plus a pale azure rock of ice in two fingers of Lagavulin within a Baccarat Massena tumbler all wither and die.

    It may take a while, but I’ll support it every wonderful step of the way.

    • Cajun Exile

      “Only the good Ilife die young…”

      • Uncle Al

        continue to glow for 10 trillion years” Humanity is defined by strobe lights – the brighter the better.

  • Mike Richardson

    One more possible solution to the so-called Fermi “paradox.” Which actually is kind of a good thing, if it means that untold other civilizations haven’t killed themselves off before us. Might mean we have a better than even chance of making it beyond the next century. One can hope.

  • KRS

    I would assume the probability of anything grows higher the more time passes, assuming there’s a greater-than-zero chance of that thing happening per unit of time. I wonder if this 1,000-fold increase in probability is out of line with that effect.

  • OWilson

    What we have here is the usual anthropocentric view promulgated by Sagan, Nye, Gore et. al. with a dash of Trekkie thrown in. It is all explained or explainable, as long as we look to our political leaders to save us from killing each other. (Political leaders are unfortunately not very good at that! :)

    I’m sure the first amphibians were happy about their extended range, the dinosaurs were proud of their power and longevity, the monkeys found their bananas, and the spider is happy in his cave with his ingenious net that catches everything he needs.

    This latest human animal can no more figure out the who, what, when, where and why of it all, than his predecessors. The real questions and answers are at least 10,000 years old.

    What is out there, and why, doesn’t make sense at the intrinsic fundamental level of our reasoning. Measurements are not answers. They are still trying to figure out what 90% of the stuff in the universe actually is.

    “Cosmic Perspective” indeed!

    A little humility and awe would be in order.

    • Erik Bosma

      We waste so much time out there because we are so afraid of what we’ll find in here.

    • Joe Cogan

      What are you talking about? Did you even read the article?

  • zlop

    Limiting is exposure to radioactivity and cosmic rays.
    How many metes, water equivalent shielding, is needed?

    • Uncle Al

      Quiet physics experiments are about a mile udnergroudn against muons from cosmic ray spallation of atmospheric nuclei. Since you host C-14 and K-40 decays, there is little point in shielding to less than internal background.

      • zlop

        “there is little point in shielding to less than internal background.” — Disruption is needed to produce large numbers of possibilities, of which a few are better than before. Evolution is determined by what is discarded.

  • John doe

    If we’re early, then maybe we’ll be the ones contacting developing civilizations. We’ll have to make sure and remember the Prime Directive haha.


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