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August 26th: The Conditions Needed for the Inception of Life

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Date: August 26, 2011

Title: The Conditions Needed for the Inception of Life

Podcaster: Liminality

Link: http://www.binaryparticle.com/

Description: Billions of galaxies, sextillions of stars. The right chemicals, the right temperature, the right place… Earth. Today we’ll take a look at some of the many things that had to line up in the universe for us to be here.

Bio: Liminality is the creator of http://www.binaryparticle.com/, a science wiki, and a fan of astronomy.

Sponsor: This episode of “365 Days of Astronomy” is sponsored in-kind by Stuart Lowe and Chromoscope. Chromoscope lets you explore our view of the Milky Way and the distant Universe in a range of wavelengths from gamma-rays to radio waves. Explore
for yourself at www.chromoscope.net.

This episode of 365 Days Of Astronomy has also been sponsored by Greg Dorais, just because it’s a really cool podcast.

Transcript:

Hello, I’m liminality from binaryparticle.com

It’s quite an interesting sensation, isn’t it? to think about the astronomical scale and realize that the solar system is nothing more than a little dot among all the other millions of stars, that our lives, the entire history of all the living beings that we are aware of, are all contained in that small but special region, the third planet of the Sun, the Earth. Many things have had to happen to make that planet unique, the only place where, as far as we know, life can develop.

To me, one of the most interesting questions in science is why are the laws of physics the way they are, what determines their properties, it just happens that our universe had the appropriate characteristics for some life to emerge, like the strength of the fundamental forces of nature, the way elements interact and are put together, the intensity of dark energy, so galaxies and planetary systems can form… If you were to change any of those things too much, it would probably be much harder for life to exist, if not impossible. This has an interesting relationship with the idea of there being a multiverse, because, if that’s true, then each universe could have different properties, and even if most of them are not suitable for life, just like most of the observable universe is not suitable for life, the few of them who could sustain life would be enough to account for us being here.

It’s not only laws of physics, most of the matter in the universe is just hydrogen and helium, the heavier elements that make up your body were produced by stars that died and scattered their components all across the galaxy and reached this place that had just enough distance from the Sun for water not to boil or freeze and with the appropriate environment for life to slowly arise, but it was far from perfect, the early Earth was full of toxic gasses, organisms managed to survive, but it took most of Earth’s history for them to evolve into multicellular life, after that, there was a rapid expansion and many different types of species started to emerge. One of the leading theories for how life developed in such a tough environment describes how a “primordial soup” with the right elements and energy created amino acids that eventually formed the complex structures that are now the basic components of life.

Other celestial bodies must receive part of the credit too, without the moon, the direction of Earth’s rotation would unstable, which would have profound consequences on the seasons, and Jupiter acts as a shield, attracting the asteroids that could otherwise hit the Earth.

Then there are all the things that had to happen on this pale blue dot for you or I to exist, the microbes that transformed to oxygen the Earth’s atmosphere that was mostly made of carbon dioxide at the time, the extinction of the dinosaurs that allowed mammals to expand, all the lives that have led to the event of us being here.

Many things had to line up for this wonderful coincidence to occur, but there is a huge number of stars so it’s entirely possible, I would even dare to say probable that there is some form of life out there, and that our planet is just one of many homes of organisms, floating on the empty vastness of space.

I often like to imagine the universe as an explosion, and that in the rapidly expanding smoke, a few of the particles develop what we would call life, life that evolves, competes and eventually dies, all in a few milliseconds relative to us, but millions of years relative to them.

I leave you with one of my favourite quotes from Carl Sagan “We are a way for the universe to know itself”

If you want to be part of a new science database, or just read some interesting things about science, visit binaryparticle.com

Thanks for listening.

End of podcast:

365 Days of Astronomy
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The 365 Days of Astronomy Podcast is produced by the Astrosphere New Media Association. Audio post-production by Preston Gibson. Bandwidth donated by libsyn.com and wizzard media. Web design by Clockwork Active Media Systems. You may reproduce and distribute this audio for non-commercial purposes. Please consider supporting the podcast with a few dollars (or Euros!). Visit us on the web at 365DaysOfAstronomy.org or email us at info@365DaysOfAstronomy.org. Until tomorrow…goodbye.

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