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(io9)   Life may be rare in the galaxy, and it comes down to our asteroid belt   (io9.com) divider line 44
    More: Interesting, asteroid belt, galaxies, planet formation, protoplanetary disk, panspermia, Astronomical Society, extinction events, organic compounds  
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4981 clicks; posted to Geek » on 05 Nov 2012 at 7:37 AM (1 year ago)   |  Favorite    |   share:  Share on Twitter share via Email Share on Facebook   more»



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2012-11-05 07:39:25 AM
That's funny, cause I've always thought of my own belt as a nuisance.
 
2012-11-05 07:39:49 AM
We've only been detecting planets for the last 20 years or so, and of that the vast majority have been massive worlds big enough to detect, yet now we're making assumptions based on the frequency of asteroid belts, which I am amazed to learn are detectable at all. Can we really detect asteroid belts? If so, how?
 
2012-11-05 07:42:22 AM

Slaxl: We've only been detecting planets for the last 20 years or so, and of that the vast majority have been massive worlds big enough to detect, yet now we're making assumptions based on the frequency of asteroid belts, which I am amazed to learn are detectable at all. Can we really detect asteroid belts? If so, how?


You can tell the older systems by the Orions hitched to their asteroid belts, which was the style at the time.
 
2012-11-05 07:44:20 AM
Interesting article. I, for one, did not know there used to be a large onion hanging from the belt. Apparently it was the style a few million years ago. I did not expect to learn that today.
 
2012-11-05 07:45:15 AM

Angry Drunk Bureaucrat: Slaxl: We've only been detecting planets for the last 20 years or so, and of that the vast majority have been massive worlds big enough to detect, yet now we're making assumptions based on the frequency of asteroid belts, which I am amazed to learn are detectable at all. Can we really detect asteroid belts? If so, how?

You can tell the older systems by the Orions hitched to their asteroid belts, which was the style at the time.


You comma damn!
 
2012-11-05 07:47:26 AM
First I read that UFO hobbyists are giving up on their dreams then I read this?

What a shame
 
2012-11-05 07:48:41 AM
TFA: In fact, only 4% of all observed solar systems have an asteroid belt that sits past the so-called "snow line"

Perhaps 4% is improbable, but you're still talking 8 BILLION solar systems with an asteroid belt in this galaxy alone. That's like saying that humans are rare on planet Earth.
 
2012-11-05 07:53:14 AM

Babwa Wawa: TFA: In fact, only 4% of all observed solar systems have an asteroid belt that sits past the so-called "snow line"

Perhaps 4% is improbable, but you're still talking 8 BILLION solar systems with an asteroid belt in this galaxy alone. That's like saying that humans are rare on planet Earth.


But if you add one word, it makes it significantly more accurate "That's like saying that intelligent humans are rare on planet Earth"
 
2012-11-05 07:59:59 AM

I_Am_Weasel: But if you add one word, it makes it significantly more accurate "That's like saying that intelligent humans are rare on planet Earth"


Fair point.
 
2012-11-05 08:03:45 AM

Angry Drunk Bureaucrat: yet now we're making assumptions based on the frequency of asteroid belts,


It's an old theory. If theories aren't discounted, they have a tendency to come back around when new information is discovered.
 
2012-11-05 08:15:34 AM

Babwa Wawa: TFA: In fact, only 4% of all observed solar systems have an asteroid belt that sits past the so-called "snow line"

Perhaps 4% is improbable, but you're still talking 8 BILLION solar systems with an asteroid belt in this galaxy alone. That's like saying that humans are rare on planet Earth.


4% in universe and biology numbers is not improbable at all as you correctly deduced, it's actually pretty huge. It does explain why life isn't as abundant as initial numbers would have made us believe.

I like a lot the Weeners in the article about the poker rules, however without having won any other hand is kind of hard to guess the rules of the game, we just have to keep looking.
 
2012-11-05 08:16:09 AM
Out of curiosity, how do they detect asteroid belts in distant solar systems when they (usually) can't even visually detect planets in them?

And yeah, there are 300 billion or so stars in our galaxy (according to teh google), so 4% of that is still 12 billion.

And this

Despite the astronomical chaos produced by impact events, asteroids delivered water, organic compounds, and heavy elements to Earth - what are all crucial for the emerge of life. They were also likely responsible for the formation of our moon (which we know is crucial for seasonal stability), and even the introduction of life itself (via panspermia).

Isn't panspermia generally said to not be very likely at all?
 
2012-11-05 08:33:53 AM

machoprogrammer: Out of curiosity, how do they detect asteroid belts in distant solar systems when they (usually) can't even visually detect planets in them?

And yeah, there are 300 billion or so stars in our galaxy (according to teh google), so 4% of that is still 12 billion.

And this

Despite the astronomical chaos produced by impact events, asteroids delivered water, organic compounds, and heavy elements to Earth - what are all crucial for the emerge of life. They were also likely responsible for the formation of our moon (which we know is crucial for seasonal stability), and even the introduction of life itself (via panspermia).

Isn't panspermia generally said to not be very likely at all?


I've also heard seasonal stability and tides and other lunar attributions discounted as not likely necessary for life.

While an asteroid belt may have tipped a few odds in our favor, even if that made it 100 times for likely than it would have been for us to get life... the numbers involved are too large to really matter between .01% and 1% chance of life. Unless you get into a % of life in the statistical ballpark of once in a universe, it's happen(ed/ing) somewhere else.
 
2012-11-05 08:45:33 AM
"the dearth of life in the galaxy"

Oh, so we've checked the whole thing then? That was easy!
 
2012-11-05 09:02:08 AM

Ostman: Oh, so we've checked the whole thing then? That was easy!


Not really - the author has spent weeks on this.
 
2012-11-05 09:03:48 AM
Well its great for us but it wasnt so lucky for the planet that was disintegrated there.
 
2012-11-05 09:17:56 AM
The basic assumption before the 70s (and a good one based on what was known) was that all life was dependent on the sun as a primary source of energy. The discovery of vent communities changed that assumption.

Any discovery of alien life is in all likelihood force a couple existing basic assumptions on the nature of living organisms to change.
 
2012-11-05 09:23:38 AM
I don't get that 'dearth of life' line. Lets say alpha centauri..or..say...vega, that's better, has life. and they're at the exact same spot technologically as us. How would the tell if there was life here by telescope? radio signal, maybe but probably not, signal is way too weak and would probably be 'noise' or maybe a 'wow' signal to them.

Until we go there, or make a telescope that can view planetary surfaces...we ain't gonna know squat.
 
2012-11-05 10:10:25 AM

mantidor: I like a lot the Weeners


snicker
 
2012-11-05 10:41:45 AM
Life on Earth would not have been possible if it weren't for:

The moon
The magnetic field
Jupiter (for clearing away lots of junk)
For Earth being in the solar green belt
For the sun being in the galactic green belt
...and now, because of the astroid belt.

Meh.

Somewhere out there is an alien cosmologist working on a list of things that explain why life can only exist on his / her / it's planet. If life was made possible on Earth by of an unlikely combination of unique features, there's probably a zillion other combinations of unique features that will also make life possible.
 
2012-11-05 10:43:24 AM

You Are All Sheep: Until we ... make a telescope that can view planetary surfaces...we ain't gonna know squat.


I don't have time to figure it out right now, but I have to wonder if an optical interferometer between Hawaii and Chile could resolve an earth-like planet out at, say, 25 light years?

Or would it have to be on opposite sides of the sun?
 
2012-11-05 10:58:01 AM
I find the whole argument rather weak. Even without asteroid belts this suggests that planets in other solar systems are more homogeneous piles of rock that need asteroids smashing into them to introduce new elements to create conditions for life. Also that gravity wouldn't naturally bring smaller piles of rock to orbit larger ones to create moons necessary for seasons. I'm going to go ahead and assume that the same laws of physics are at play everywhere and not just in our observable solar system.
 
2012-11-05 10:58:42 AM

Uncle Tractor:

Somewhere out there is an alien cosmologist working on a list of things that explain why life can only exist on his / her / it's planet. If life was made possible on Earth by of an unlikely combination of unique features, there's probably a zillion other combinations of unique features that will also make life possible.


I agree. I think living in the habitable zone is good start, but that might even turn out not to be a factor if the chemistry is just right on a farther away planet.
 
2012-11-05 11:00:22 AM
So asteroids are like my father, I brought you life and I can damn sure take it out.
 
2012-11-05 11:07:03 AM
We don't need an asteroid belt to cause occasional mass extinctions. Comets and mantle plumes do just fine. The moon isn't there because of the asteroid belt. Any article about the frequency of life in the universe has a lot of conjecture but this one seems particularly weak.
 
2012-11-05 11:08:14 AM
Aren't the laws of physics dependent upon our current knowledge of known matter and current mathematical equations? (don't these things change and evolve over time?)

Couldn't the laws account for life given some different circumstances? (i.e.. planets much larger then any known ones acting like a gravitational shield?)

If science is about observing, and with our observations into deep space in all actuality still in the early stages of gestation (given the age of the universe) is'nt it a bit early on to make flat out statements about what makes a world hospitable for life?
 
2012-11-05 11:11:48 AM
Oh yeah one more thing (per my previous post).

Regarding the rules of science, Isn't a control group of one pretty weak science to begin with?

Should we not find life on other planets first before decreeing what makes for a hospitable planet?
 
2012-11-05 12:22:06 PM

mantidor:
I like a lot the Weeners


I bet you do.

/ jk
 
2012-11-05 12:28:46 PM

AuralArgument: Aren't the laws of physics dependent upon our current knowledge of known matter and current mathematical equations? (don't these things change and evolve over time?)

Couldn't the laws account for life given some different circumstances? (i.e.. planets much larger then any known ones acting like a gravitational shield?)

If science is about observing, and with our observations into deep space in all actuality still in the early stages of gestation (given the age of the universe) is'nt it a bit early on to make flat out statements about what makes a world hospitable for life?


What's interesting to me in relation to this is that life on Earth keeps turning up where it shouldn't, like next to those deep ocean hydrothermal vents, and science has to keep adapting to the new information once it's been reviewed and tested.

I don't see why that principle can't be extended to different planets, never-mind existing ecosystems on the one planet we're still learning about.
 
2012-11-05 12:57:46 PM
machoprogrammer:
Isn't panspermia generally said to not be very likely at all?

I dunno, once I saw this video with like, eight guys, and this woman dressed as an air stewardess.

Uncle Tractor:
Somewhere out there is an alien cosmologist working on a list of things that explain why life can only exist on his / her / it's planet. If life was made possible on Earth by of an unlikely combination of unique features, there's probably a zillion other combinations of unique features that will also make life possible.

I'm inclined to this view myself. The Weak Anthropic Principle is a hard bias to get around, and we are far from being able to legitimately assert that "life" will always be anything at all like the life on our planet.
 
2012-11-05 01:24:25 PM
What I still don't get is how, in all the search for life across the universe, they're basically looking for earth-like planets. The whole field seems to be extrapolated from life on Earth, and (varied as it is), that's only one case study. Last I checked, it isn't the best practice to base an entire field of theories on one case study.

It may help find life as we know it, but what about the who-knows-how-many ways life as we don't know it could form?
 
2012-11-05 01:36:27 PM

MayoSlather: I find the whole argument rather weak. Even without asteroid belts this suggests that planets in other solar systems are more homogeneous piles of rock that need asteroids smashing into them to introduce new elements to create conditions for life. Also that gravity wouldn't naturally bring smaller piles of rock to orbit larger ones to create moons necessary for seasons. I'm going to go ahead and assume that the same laws of physics are at play everywhere and not just in our observable solar system.


Except evidence suggests that that may not be the case.
 
2012-11-05 01:53:46 PM

psychosis_inducing: What I still don't get is how, in all the search for life across the universe, they're basically looking for earth-like planets. The whole field seems to be extrapolated from life on Earth, and (varied as it is), that's only one case study. Last I checked, it isn't the best practice to base an entire field of theories on one case study.

It may help find life as we know it, but what about the who-knows-how-many ways life as we don't know it could form?


Most of it is simple logistics: We know life CAN develop on earth-like planets, so searching for these forms of life first makes practical sense. Life could be floating in the middle layers of gas giants' atmosphere, but odds are it will never develop exoplanetary communications capability. Ditto for aquatic and subterranean lifeforms. Lifeforms that can develop without liquid water are more problematic and pose conceptual, not just scientific challenges. Since we're searching from light years away, looking for the most obvious signs simply makes sense.
 
2012-11-05 03:25:59 PM
Our asteroid belt is unique

Stopped reading here. What possible proof could they have for such an assertion?
 
2012-11-05 04:31:00 PM

machoprogrammer: Out of curiosity, how do they detect asteroid belts in distant solar systems when they (usually) can't even visually detect planets in them?

And yeah, there are 300 billion or so stars in our galaxy (according to teh google), so 4% of that is still 12 billion.

And this

Despite the astronomical chaos produced by impact events, asteroids delivered water, organic compounds, and heavy elements to Earth - what are all crucial for the emerge of life. They were also likely responsible for the formation of our moon (which we know is crucial for seasonal stability), and even the introduction of life itself (via panspermia).

Isn't panspermia generally said to not be very likely at all?


The leading theory is the moon was formed when 2 planets collided early on in the solar system, the result was earth and the moon. The reason I didn't say the earth was hit was because the matter from both bodies were so mixed up in the collision that they both reformed. Much like mixing iced tea and lemonade to get an Arnold Palmer, or in this case 2. Early on asteroids contributed to the buildup of planets, how much they contributed after the formation is the question.

As for pansmermia, I'm not going to touch the life part. However there have been studies that have shown that when bodies collide with earth material is ejected. It's entirely feasible and more than likely there are bits of earth throughout the solar system and even beyond. There was a link a few months ago posted under science that listed different bodies and the amount of earth material on them. If life can survive being ejected into space, space, and then entry to another body then...
 
2012-11-05 04:43:46 PM
This is one of those stupid damn bullshiat crap things about how life exists on Earth because Earth's environment is unique. Exactly like that stupid stupid stupid crap about the galactic arms and our distance from the center of the galaxy.

We may very well BE just lucky, but the Earth/Moon system's history is a much better thing to pull out of your ass if you're pulling things out of your ass.
 
2012-11-05 04:49:10 PM

StoneColdAtheist: psychosis_inducing: What I still don't get is how, in all the search for life across the universe, they're basically looking for earth-like planets. The whole field seems to be extrapolated from life on Earth, and (varied as it is), that's only one case study. Last I checked, it isn't the best practice to base an entire field of theories on one case study.

It may help find life as we know it, but what about the who-knows-how-many ways life as we don't know it could form?

Most of it is simple logistics: We know life CAN develop on earth-like planets, so searching for these forms of life first makes practical sense. Life could be floating in the middle layers of gas giants' atmosphere, but odds are it will never develop exoplanetary communications capability. Ditto for aquatic and subterranean lifeforms. Lifeforms that can develop without liquid water are more problematic and pose conceptual, not just scientific challenges. Since we're searching from light years away, looking for the most obvious signs simply makes sense.



I have yet to hear anybody explain how looking for "other Earths" is different from looking for "other Venus-es" (Veni?)
 
2012-11-05 04:58:30 PM
Life outside our solar system is very likely. It's just a matter of when and where. And, can we kill it before it kills us?
 
2012-11-05 05:00:48 PM
Given that gas giants are essentially protostars not big enough for fusion, and the fraction of gas giants that have proven to have rings on closer scrutiny, somehow I don't think asteroid belts will prove all that rare.
 
2012-11-05 05:04:44 PM

machoprogrammer: Out of curiosity, how do they detect asteroid belts in distant solar systems when they (usually) can't even visually detect planets in them?

And yeah, there are 300 billion or so stars in our galaxy (according to teh google), so 4% of that is still 12 billion.

And this

Despite the astronomical chaos produced by impact events, asteroids delivered water, organic compounds, and heavy elements to Earth - what are all crucial for the emerge of life. They were also likely responsible for the formation of our moon (which we know is crucial for seasonal stability), and even the introduction of life itself (via panspermia).

Isn't panspermia generally said to not be very likely at all?


I was about to post that. I like how the author just threw that one in there as it was a fact.
 
2012-11-05 08:18:31 PM

You Are All Sheep: I don't get that 'dearth of life' line. Lets say alpha centauri..or..say...vega, that's better, has life. and they're at the exact same spot technologically as us. How would the tell if there was life here by telescope? radio signal, maybe but probably not, signal is way too weak and would probably be 'noise' or maybe a 'wow' signal to them.

Until we go there, or make a telescope that can view planetary surfaces...we ain't gonna know squat.


One proposal I've heard is to use a laser (which can travel much further than conventional radio before becoming indistinguishable from background radiation) to send a signal to a planet that might harbor life, and listen for a response. That solves one problem, but several others problems remain: even if there's an alien civilization on that planet, it needs to be able to receive laser signals (and we don't yet have that ability on Earth), it would have to successfully decode any message we send, and then it would have to send a reply using the same kind of laser signal (there's no guarantee that it wouldn't choose to ignore the message). And even then, depending on how far away the planet is, the scientists who sent the original message from Earth might be retired or even deceased by the time we'd get a reply.
 
2012-11-05 08:40:52 PM

No Such Agency: machoprogrammer:
Isn't panspermia generally said to not be very likely at all?

I dunno, once I saw this video with like, eight guys, and this woman dressed as an air stewardess.

Uncle Tractor:
Somewhere out there is an alien cosmologist working on a list of things that explain why life can only exist on his / her / it's planet. If life was made possible on Earth by of an unlikely combination of unique features, there's probably a zillion other combinations of unique features that will also make life possible.

I'm inclined to this view myself. The Weak Anthropic Principle is a hard bias to get around, and we are far from being able to legitimately assert that "life" will always be anything at all like the life on our planet.


Some of the life on our planet is hardly like the other life on our planet. Arsenic using bacteria, for example.
 
2012-11-05 08:42:51 PM
I dont agree with most of the article except one part : Jupiter's gravity might have saved us from being bombarded into extinction repeatedly by rogue asteroids.
 
2012-11-05 08:46:58 PM

Lt_Ryan: machoprogrammer: Out of curiosity, how do they detect asteroid belts in distant solar systems when they (usually) can't even visually detect planets in them?

And yeah, there are 300 billion or so stars in our galaxy (according to teh google), so 4% of that is still 12 billion.

And this

Despite the astronomical chaos produced by impact events, asteroids delivered water, organic compounds, and heavy elements to Earth - what are all crucial for the emerge of life. They were also likely responsible for the formation of our moon (which we know is crucial for seasonal stability), and even the introduction of life itself (via panspermia).

Isn't panspermia generally said to not be very likely at all?

The leading theory is the moon was formed when 2 planets collided early on in the solar system, the result was earth and the moon. The reason I didn't say the earth was hit was because the matter from both bodies were so mixed up in the collision that they both reformed. Much like mixing iced tea and lemonade to get an Arnold Palmer, or in this case 2. Early on asteroids contributed to the buildup of planets, how much they contributed after the formation is the question.

As for pansmermia, I'm not going to touch the life part. However there have been studies that have shown that when bodies collide with earth material is ejected. It's entirely feasible and more than likely there are bits of earth throughout the solar system and even beyond. There was a link a few months ago posted under science that listed different bodies and the amount of earth material on them. If life can survive being ejected into space, space, and then entry to another body then...


IIRC, there was a satellite recovered that had been infected by accident before it was sent up. The bacteria went into hibernation, and was still alive at the time of recovery.
 
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