The Broken Equation

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Of the major classes of stars, how many of them have worlds that could support life? But what about a more massive star? At some point, they'll be massive enough to burn through their fuel too quickly, and intelligent life could never arise.

What Is The Anti-Life Equation?

On the other end, a low-mass star may be too unstable, flaring and blowing off a planet's atmosphere, or with little enough ultraviolet light that life cannot arise. We might worry about if there are enough heavy elements to support life on a world, or if a certain location in the galaxy renders the environment too chaotic for life.


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Sugar molecules in the gas surrounding a young, Sun-like star. The raw ingredients for life may exist everywhere, but not every planet that contains them will develop life. This is something we've learned a tremendous amount about from our exoplanet studies, but tremendous questions remain. What makes a world habitable? In the early solar system, Venus, Earth, and Mars all had similar conditions. In the outer Solar System, worlds like Enceladus and Europa, with sub-surface oceans, may have underwater life. In systems with gas giants at Earth-like locations, large moons could see life arise on them.

At this point, by the way, we can multiply those first four numbers together to get an estimate for the number of worlds with good chances at life within our galaxy: billion.

That's a promising start. Structures on ALH meteorite, which has a Martian origin. Some argue that the structures shown here may be ancient Martian life. This is a great time to line up with Drake again, because this is one of the great unknown questions in the search for life beyond Earth.

Of all the potentially habitable worlds, how many of them take that first incredible step, where life arises from non-life? Or, if primitive life originates in interstellar space, how many worlds see life take hold on the surface, in the oceans, or in the atmosphere? We don't even know the answer for our own Solar System, where it's arguable that we may have as many as 8 other worlds where life arose at some point. Or, alternatively, it could be exceedingly rare: a one-in-a-million shot or worse.

The Broken Equation by Josh Jones

Signatures of organic, life-giving molecules are found all over the cosmos, including in the largest, nearby star-forming region: the Orion Nebula. Someday soon, we may be able to look for biosignatures in the atmospheres of Earth-sized worlds around other stars. The uncertainties here are huge, and any number that you can pick is as ill-motivated as any other. Someday in the future, we'll have the capability of performing our first tests, however.

When our telescope technology enables us to determine the atmospheric contents of worlds, we can look for the presence or absence of biosignatures like methane, molecular oxygen, and carbon dioxide. It will be indirect evidence, but it should be an incredible step towards inferring whether worlds have life on them or not. If we say there's a 1-in, chance that a potentially habitable world has life on it, as good a guess as any, that means there are 10 million worlds in the Milky Way where life exists.

B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth 122 – The Broken Equation 01 (of 02) (2014)

Ligand-gated Q-cells are essential channels with multiple biological applications, and are particularly needed for the human body to function. Single celled organisms can reproduce very quickly, but in order to develop complex functions and structures, multicellular organisms are required. What no one will argue about, however, is whether an organism is complex and differentiated: with different body parts with different functions and structures, in a macroscopic, multicellular arrangement. It took billions of years of life thriving on Earth until we evolved the first multicellular organism, and then hundreds of millions of years more until we developed gender in reproduction; without both, out-competing single-celled life would be impossible, as they'd out-evolve the larger forms of life.

A bonobo 'fishing' for termites is an example of a complex, differentiated organism that uses primitive tools.

Collected In

Again, Earth is our only laboratory for this, but let's be optimistic in the absence of evidence, and assume there's a 1-in-1, chance that a world that starts with a primitive, replicating, information-encoding strand of life can lead to something like the Cambrian explosion. That gives us 10, worlds in the Milky Way teeming with diverse, multicellular, highly differentiated forms of life. Given the distance between the stars, that means there's likely another planet where this has occurred just a few hundred light years away.

Alan Chinchar's rendition of the proposed Space Station Freedom in orbit. This is a superior question to the ones asked by the Drake equation.


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  7. Who cares if this is the first or the tenth time a technologically advanced civilization arose? Who cares if they're using radio waves? Who cares if they blow themselves up or self-extinct, or whether they have spacefaring ambitions or not? The big question is whether there are extraterrestrials who are intelligent the way we're intelligent, and that means scientifically and technologically advanced. The 'holy cow' mosaic of the Mars Phoenix mission, with revealed water-ice clearly visible underneath the lander's legs. In order to learn the maximum amount possible about the presence or absence of life on a world, you absolutely must touch down and look, explicitly, for the surefire signatures.

    There's no evidence for this anywhere other than Earth, of course, which means there's a huge range of possibilities. Here on Earth, it's been about ,, years since the Cambrian explosion, and we've only had a technologically advanced species on the planet for less than 1, years. Once intelligence, tool use and curiosity combine in a single species, perhaps interstellar ambitions become inevitable. Knowing how many worlds there are out there in the Milky Way with life on them, and finding even one, would have tremendous implications for our existence, and for understanding our place in the Universe.

    However in accurate astronomy, many hundreds of harmonic terms may be implied to define the position of, for example, a planet. Looking at the Red bars - one sees that the Eccentricity effect is made up of a dominant 7. It is difficult to imagine an application where the second harmonic would need to be considered. Next, - looking at the Green bars - one sees that the Obliquity effect has zero 1st, 3rd or 6th harmonics, because the effect cycles twice throughout the year. For application in sundials, the 9. The best accuracy one can obtain with a normal sundial is 30 seconds.

    For applications in advanced astronomical clocks three components are used. For optical sun-tracking devices, one might consider both the signals. In the left image below, an exaggeratedly large value of the Eccentricity has been chosen. This shows that at least two harmonics would be required to simulate the true values Th image on the right, using the true value of the eccentricity clearly indicates how close the true effect is to a single sine curve.

    As above, an exaggeratedly value of the Obliquity has been chosen.

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    This shows that this effect is more complex than the Eccentricity effect.