June 12, 2014
Millions Of Extraterrestrials
The first time I remember ever watching the original Star Wars movies, I was around seven years old. I was sick and had keen kept home from school. Needing something to entertain me, as it would not have me due to sleep all day and then be awake all night, my mother put in the Star Wars movies and of the three of them, the scene that stood out to me most was the famous cantina scene. You all know it. My very mention of it likely has that catchy tune stuck in your head – you are welcome. Even watching it today – original versions only, mind you – the scene is incredible. The amazing puppet work, the costumes, the effects. They are all great. I look at it now as what cinema used to and how, while CGI has improved some aspects of sci-fi, others were just fine how they were. Back then, when I first watched the movie as a kid, I remember being fascinated by all the different aliens and I wondered if all of these creatures could actually exist.
According to a study led by Dr. Louis Irwin, Professor Emeritus and former Chair of Biological Sciences at the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP), there could be as many as 100 million planets in the Milky Way Galaxy that could have complex life on them. Note that by “complex life,” the study is referring to life greater than the microbial level. This estimate comes from a study in which Irwin and his fellow researchers surveyed the every-growing list of known exoplanets, planets found in other solar systems, and using a formula that takes into consideration things like planetary density, temperature, substrate (liquid, solid, or gas), its chemistry, its distance from its star, and its estimated age, the team created a “biological complexity index,” or BCI, which would rate planets on a scale of 1 to 1.0 according to the number and degree of characteristics that exoplanet had that are believed to be crucial for it to be able to support multiple forms of complex, multicellular, life.
What the BCI calculation showed was that one to two percent of all exoplanets in the survey had a higher BCI rating than Jupiter’s moon Europa which is thought to have an underground global ocean that could theoretically harbor many different forms of life. According to this, based on the conservative estimate of their being 10 billion stars in the Milky Way, and given an assumption of an average of one planet per star, this led to the theory of there being maybe 100 million, or more, planets that could potentially support complex life. More so, this estimate is a low-end one and could be as much as ten times as high given the number of stars in our galaxy.
Of course, just because a planet meets the conditions needed to support life it does not mean that they actually do. Also, according to Dr. Irwin, there is a difference between “complex” life and “intelligent” life. This study includes anything potentially larger than a microbe, which makes it even more unlikely that we will be shaking hands – and hopefully not having them be torn off – by Wookies at some point.
According to Dr. Irwin, “One the one hand, it seems highly unlikely that we are alone. On the other hand, we are likely so far away from life at our level of complexity that a meeting with such alien forms is extremely improbable for the foreseeable future.”
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