Friday, February 26, 2016

Chances Aren't

I do love a good scientific debate, especially when a vote is taken at the end !  Global Warming is not the only 'science' that counts hands to win an arguement or arrive at a 'settled' decision.

A bunch of astronomical types were sitting in the US Room doing just that the other day. (My apologies for not getting around to telling of it. I was busy counting barrels). They were voting on Life elsewhere in our humungously enormous Universe. 

Are we alone or not?

Come along. Hands up.

They were trounced after the final drinks were brought to the table though.

Scientists debate likelihood of finding life on other planets
UChicago scientists debated whether remote sensing will reveal evidence of extant life on an exoplanet by the end of 2042.
In a debate hosted by the Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics, six scientists argued whether remote sensing will reveal evidence of extant life on an exoplanet-any planet outside our solar system-by the end of 2042.

Do they have a crystal ball, I wonder.  Or is that too much like the older, pre-science alchemy?
The scientists arguing for the discovery of extra-terrestrial life in the near future centered on the ideas that life is versatile, that living organisms create noticeable biosignatures by changing their environment's chemical makeup, and that with the increasing number of earth-like planets found through ventures like the Kepler mission, it shouldn't be too long before we find one with the right signs.
"The history of science is full of many surprises," said Laura Kreidberg, a PhD student in the astronomy and astrophysics. "We should be open-minded about what to expect."
The opposition focused on branching lines of logic. In addition to the possibility of false positives on biosignatures and the unlikelihood of humanity devoting serious resources to finding life, a paradox by UChicago Nobel laureate Enrico Fermi argues that if there's life among billions of planets, some should be advanced enough to have reached Earth already.
"We hope that we can find life in the universe," said Edwin Kite, an assistant professor in geophysical sciences. "But we should vote based on facts, not hopes."
There we have it. Vote on facts. !!!  Presumably a fact is a fact if enough hands carry the day.
The debate, held Nov. 18, 2015, was the penultimate event for AstroChicago 123, which honored the department's founding with talks, a film and panels on the department's past and ongoing research. It also celebrated the completion of the William Eckhardt Research Center.

In the discussion, three researchers defended each side. Audience members had the opportunity to vote before and after the debate.
Dorian Abbot, associate professor in geophysical sciences, framed the arguments for finding extra-terrestrial life in the near future, or the "yes" side. First, he described how microbial life was common and able to survive in extreme conditions on Earth. This meant that, with the raw materials essential for living matter being abundant in our universe, life could likely survive on planets within habitable zones.
Leslie Rogers, assistant professor in astronomy and astrophysics, explained how all life modifies its environment, and that biosignatures such as oxygen and ammonia would be positive evidence toward the existence of life on an exoplanet. It would only take one thousandth of the biomass in the Earth's ocean to produce a noticeable amount of ammonia.
Kreidberg said that NASA currently has the technology to find these signatures, and had a list of planets that were promising candidates for life.
Kite, framing the arguments of the "no" side, explained that at the lab and on the planetary scale, life does not arise spontaneously - the exception being Earth, which proved that life was rare. He further explained that there is no combination of atmospheric signatures that cannot be explained through non-biological processes.
Hmmmmm. I had to pull a few pints pondering even the logic in that   But heck, I am a Tavern Keeper, not an astrophysicist.
Daniel Fabrycky, assistant professor in astronomy and astrophysics, argued from the standpoint of Fermi's paradox-that with the abundance of earth-like planets, including many much older than ours, an alien civilization should have reached the stage of interstellar travel and made some contact with Earth. Following the theory further, Fabrycky argued that confirming existence of life on exoplanets would mean there's a higher probability of intelligent alien civilizations, and the fact that over billions of years none have made it to the point of reaching Earth means humanity has dismal prospects for space exploration and expansion. 
"By voting yes on your ballot, you are dooming humanity," Fabrycky quipped.
See what I mean about Global warmists.

The last argument against finding life by 2042, put forth by Jacob Bean, an assistant professor in astronomy and astrophysics, was that humanity had too many political hurdles to overcome. Should humanity devote serious funding to developing remote-sensing technology to find extant life over other projects, it might find evidence that life exists elsewhere in the universe. However, Bean expressed doubt that the astrophysics community could band together, let alone the nation, to agree to this mission and overcome the technological difficulty.
Before the debate began, 33 members of the audience voted that life on an exoplanet would not be found by 2042, and 38 voted it would. After the debate, 40 members of the audience voted life would not be found and 38 voted it would, in an unexpected turn that Angela Olinto, the Homer J. Livingston Professor in Astronomy and Astrophysics and the College, attributed to "the Chicago tradition of voting often." The ballot and a summary of the debate were placed in a time capsule to be opened 2042.
They didn't vote on whether we would still be here in 2042, thank goodness. That might have been even more dismal.

One critical note was heard from those listening. Don Wolberg piped up...

Did I miss something, but in the "debate" recorded in this item, there was no biologist/zoologist/botanist or a paleontologist, those folks who one would assume might have something to say about the origin and evolution of living things. I continue to be astounded by how "retro" and naïve the astronomers seem to be in these matters--they are much too much of the Star Wars generation! It is clear that Fermi had a point. If they are there where are they. More accurately, living things are very likely very, very, very rare in the universe simply because going from not alive to alive involves serendipity of processes almost unimaginably rare. By the same reasoning the rarity of process likely makes each instance unique and would proceed along different tracks.
And talking of uniqueness, which is more about counting than voting, David Klinghoffer had some things to say.

One in 700 Quintillion: 

Exoplanet Study Confirms Terran Exceptionalism
Rare privilege carries with it exceptional responsibility. That might be why many people resist the conclusion of what our colleague Wesley Smith calls human exceptionalism. The unique status and dignity of human beings compared to animals is affirmed by daily experience. 

The uniquely privileged status of our planet and our species in relationship to the cosmos isn't obvious in the same way. 

It needs rigorous scientific confirmation that goes beyond the instructions of common sense. 

The thesis of what you might call terran exceptionalism received impressive additional support this week from astrophysicist Erik Zackrisson at Sweden's Uppsala University. Nathaniel Scharping, Discover Magazine blogger, summarizes, calling the research -- which sets Earth's uniqueness at one in 700 quintillion -- "beautiful and terrifying at the same time." 

Seven hundred quintillion is the estimated number of planets in the universe.
Zackrisson's [computer] model combined information about known exoplanets with our understanding of the early universe and the laws of physics to recreate the past 13.8 billion years.
Zackrisson found that Earth appears to have been dealt a fairly lucky hand. 

In a galaxy like the Milky Way, for example, most of the planets Zackrisson's model generated looked very different than Earth -- they were larger, older and very unlikely to support life. 
Zackrisson's work suggests an alternative to the commonly held assumption that planets similar to Earth must exist, based on the sheer number of planets out there. Ever since Copernicus put forth the theory that Earth is not the center of the universe, scientists have expanded the map of the cosmos and diminished our planet's relative uniqueness. Current estimates hold that there are some 100 billion galaxies in the universe containing about 10^18 stars, or a billion trillion.
One of the most fundamental requirements for a planet to sustain life is to orbit in the "habitable zone" of a star -- the "Goldilocks" region where the temperature is just right and liquid water can exist. Astronomers have, to this point, discovered around 30 exoplanets in the habitable zones of stars. Simply extrapolating that figure based on the known number of stars suggests that there should be about 50 billion such planets in the Milky Way alone. Probability seems to dictate that Earth-twins are out there somewhere.
But according to Zackrisson, most planets in the universe shouldn't look like Earth. His model indicates that Earth's existence presents a mild statistical anomaly in the multiplicity of planets. Most of the worlds predicted by his model exist in galaxies larger than the Milky Way and orbit stars with different compositions -- an important factor in determining a planet's characteristics. 

His research indicates that, from a purely statistical standpoint, Earth perhaps shouldn't exist.
One in 700 quintillion is "a fairly lucky hand," a "mild statistical anomaly"? 

As Scharping points out, that is one in seven zero zero zero zero zero zero zero zero zero zero zero zero zero zero zero zero zero zero zero zero. 

I'm not sure if the understatement is intended to be droll. But note the last sentence: Statistically speaking, "Earth perhaps shouldn't exist."
That's "terrifying" all right if the image of humanity you carry around in your head is the one associated with materialism, insisting that we are ordinary, unexceptional, hairless apes, cosmic flotsam, hardly worth a yawn.
Note also that no-one got around to asking where all the drinks came from.

My Supplier smiles somewhere.



  1. In the beginning was the word...

    Eventually scientists are getting nearer to understanding the word...

    1. And the word was 'What'll you have". :)


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