Saturday, June 30, 2012

Beam Eli Up Scotty, There's No Intelligent Life on This Planet

Steinn Sigurðsson, an old buddy from USENET daze, explains why everybunny should be excited about the search for exoplanets
Why do we need to spend any more effort on extra-solar planets?
We found some, they’re there. Lumps of rocks, gasballs. We’re done, right?

This, loosely paraphrased, was a serious question I got last week.
The context was a question of why I was spending serious effort on exoplanet research, rather than focusing exclusively on other subfields.
I’ve heard similar comments from physicists, some particle physicists are notoriously focused in their consideration of what counts as “real physics”, but this came from an astronomer; and one that I know does stars, inside the galaxy, sometimes, not just extragalactic.

We live on a planet.
We are surrounded by planets.
It behooves us to understand them in some detail,
and as with so many other phenomena, more data is really helpful.
and exobiology
All of this is pushing us to constrain the presence of exolife, on all fronts: we will soon, within decades, directly test Mars, Europa and Titan for the presence of life, and see if it is there and whether it is the same as on Earth; we will also get a direct look at the asteroids and comets, just in case there is something weird going on there – these are places with chemical substrates and interesting levels of free energy flows.
with some pointed snark
Part of the reason for this is short term view of political administrations, well summarised by Scott Hubbard’s quote at a panel: “Will it discover life before the end of the second administration?” – asked about the Mars Lander planning in the last decade.
Eli has always been of the Fermi School on alien technology, e.g. "Where is everybody?"   As to exobio perhaps Eli can explain. At the time the NASA exobiology program started the Bunny was closely associated with someone who played an important role is setting it up and he knows many people who hopped on the bandwagon.  Suffice it to say that much of the research, although it is good research has bugger all to do with life on other planets, although the proposals all (they have to) depart from that point.

The thing that really sticks in peoples craw tho is how the manned space flight crew glommed onto exobio to justify a joy ride to Mars. That sucked the wind out of a lot of other stuff.

So yeah, exobiology is a program looking for a mission.


David B. Benson said...

Eugene Koonin, in his book "The Logic of Chance"
(appendix the second) offers an estimate of abiogensis based on his deep understanding of biology. However, his estimate is probably far, far too high [See Ward & Brownlee]. Nonetheless it is the smallest non-zero probablities I have ever seen.

Conclusion: the ain't no exobiology [except possibly for earthly life forms elsewhere in this solar system].

Brian said...

I read W&B's Rare Earth and was unconvinced. Also even they think exoplanet life is common (they just think intelligent life isn't).

Exobiology might just be searching for something to study, but if we're lucky with Mars Science Lander, they might have something in six months.

As for exoplanets, I'd say the analogy to physics would be to say the 1919 solar eclipse verified Einstein, so we're done. No more need to study that field after that point.

J Bowers said...

I'd have thought Europa was a better candidate? Then again, there have been fewer movies set on that moon.

David B. Benson said...

Brian --- W&B didn't know much molecular biology at the time of writing "Rare Earth". Koonin's line of reasoning leaves no room for doubt other than the possible transport of life forms to Mars or Europa.

climatehawk1 said...

Thanks for the memories--I used to whack away at Steinn back in the day.

EliRabett said...

A huge amout of the research on outer planets has moved to Europa because of the exobio funding, but it is simply out of reach for manned fantasy fans. The next unmanned large mission will almost certainly be Europa centered

Russell said...

The logic of scientific discovery demands investment in SEDI.

The Search for Endoterrestrial Intelligence will use ground penetrating radar to seek out endoplanets orbiting the Earth's core.

The discovery of these remnants of the Great Bombardment will energize tens of thousands of taxpaying believers in Lemurian crystal work, modern astrology, and abiotic petroleum.

Rattus Norvegicus said...

In the David Appel does not represent intelligent life department. We present for your approval an accusation that the pdf containing the death threats to Phil Jones was fabricated. The kicker? It took me less than 10 seconds to find the original request ("top of the tree", as I put it). Just use the backspace key!