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Modern Astronomy

Modern Astronomy

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Published by: inertiamass on Jan 22, 2012
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From Metrodorus to Frank Drake, supporters of the idea that other
intelligent life-forms must exist in the universe have based their
belief on the idea that there are so many stars in the cosmos that
surely, among them all, some besides our Sun must have planets
on which the right conditions for life exist. Indirect support for this
idea began appearing in the late 1990s, when several groups of
astronomers found evidence that certain other stars do in fact have
planets. Biologists on Earth have also discovered living things thriv-
ing in conditions that would not have been expected to sustain life.
For instance, whole ecosystems have developed around vents spew-
ing gas and hot water on the deep-sea floor, far from oxygen and
sunlight. High temperatures and chemicals that would poison most
living things do not harm these creatures.
However, not all scientists agree that life—let alone intelligent
life—is likely to have arisen in other planetary systems. Renowned
evolutionary biologist Ernst Mayr told Time reporter Frederic Golden
in 2000, “The chance that this improbable phenomenon [the cre-
ation of life] could have occurred several times is exceedingly small,
no matter how many millions of planets in the universe.” Similarly,
paleontologist Peter Ward and astronomer Donald Brownlee con-
cluded in Rare Earth, a book published in 2000, that although simple
life-forms such as microorganisms may have appeared on other
planets, complex life is rare. High temperatures, harsh radiation, and
collisions with comets or asteroids usually would have destroyed liv-
ing things before they could develop very far. Ward and Brownlee
maintain that conscious, intelligent life may be unique to Earth.

1981. From 1976 to 1984, he was the Goldwin Smith Professor of
Astronomy at Cornell.

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