Abstract: Habitable does not mean inhabited. Earth’s advanced life may well be a miracle, as so many dangers lurk in the galaxy.

Up to twenty years ago, a reasonable opinion among scientists was that there might be just one solar system. Ours. Scientists like to project gravitas; advocating the potential existence of a profusion of planets with little green men all over didn’t look serious. Cardinals held the same opinion, five centuries earlier, and burned Giordano Bruno for suggesting that stars had planets with intelligent life on it, as the shocking concept seemed to compromise the special relationship between humanity and divinity.

However, studying delicately the lights of stars, how they vary in intensity, how they doppler-shift, thousands of planets have been found… most of them very strange (maybe because of our present observational methods). Solar systems seem ubiquitous… But NONE of them like ours… And our own Sun is gloriously alone, not in a cluster. Astronomers reported in 2013 that there could be as many as 40 billion habitable Earth-size planets in the galaxy. Suddenly wisdom had gone to the far side. However, as I said, our solar system is special, in more ways then one, as far as we can see, so far… And consider this frightening sight:

Centaurus A: Lobes Of Tremendous Black Hole Explosion Fully Visible

A really big bang deleterious to life: Centaurus A: Lobes Of Tremendous Black Hole Explosion Are Fully Visible

Yes, that’s the center of a galaxy, and it has experienced a galactic size explosion from its central black hole. Giant  black holes at the core of giant galaxies regularly suffer giant explosions, making probably the central zone of giant galaxies unsuitable for animal life.

One out of every five sun-like stars in our galaxy has a planet the size of Earth circling it in the Goldilocks zone, it seems — not too hot, not too cold — with surface temperatures compatible with liquid water. Yet, we have a monster black hole at the center of our giant galaxy,  just like the one exploding above.

The Milky way’s black hole is called Sagittarius A*. It exploded last two million years ago. Early Homo Erectus, down south, saw it. The furious lobes of the explosion are still spreading out, hundreds of thousands of light years away.

We are talking here about explosions potentially stronger than the strongest supernova by many orders of magnitude (depending upon the size of what’s falling into Sagittarius. By the way, a large interstellar cloud is just heading that way, and astronomers hope to see fireworks soon, just like an avalanche makes sparks, but on an immensely greaters scale).

Such galactic drama has a potential impact on the presence of advanced life. The richer the galaxy gets in various features with potentially catastrophic developments, the lower the probability of advanced life to flourish. Reciprocally, the metallic content of stars has to be enough to develop life. Metals are found closer to the center of galaxies. Hence the galaxy itself is endowed with a potentially inhabited-with-indigenous life zone (generally labelled by the misleading “habitable” adjective; the main point of this present essay is the distinction between planets that humanity could colonize, and planets harboring advanced indigenous life; anything with a brain is advanced).

The profusion of potentially habitable planets is all the more remarkable, as the primitive methods used so far require the planet to pass between us and its star.

(The research, started on the ground in Europe, expanded with dedicated satellites, the French Corot and NASA’s Kepler spacecraft.) Sun-like stars are “yellow dwarves”. They live ten billion years. Red Dwarves live much longer (giving more time for life to evolve)

From that, overlooking the distinction between “habitable” and “inhabited“, the New York Times deduced: “The known odds of something — or someone — living far, far away from Earth improved beyond astronomers’ boldest dreams on Monday. “

However, it’s not that simple.

Primitive bacterial life is probably frequent. However advanced life (animals) is probably very rare, as many are the potential catastrophes which would set life backwards. The case of Earth shows that one needs billions of years to go from primitive life to the creation of animals.

After life forms making oxygen on Earth appeared, the atmosphere went from reducing (full of strong greenhouse methane) to oxidizing (full of oxygen). As methane mostly disappeared, so did the greenhouse. Earth froze, all the way down to the equator:

When Snowball Earth Nearly Killed Life

When Snowball Earth Nearly Killed Life

Yet volcanoes kept on belching CO2 through the ice. That CO2 built up above the ice, caused a strong greenhouse, and the ice melted. Life had survived. Mighty volcanism has saved the Earth, just in time.

That “snowball Earth” catastrophe repeated a few times before the Earth oxygen based system became stable. Catastrophe had been engaged, several times, but the disappearance of oxygen creating life forms had been avoided, just barely.

Many are the other catastrophes we have become aware of, that could wipe out advanced life: proximal supernovas or gamma ray explosions.

Cataclysmic eruption of the central galactic black hole happen frequently. The lobes from the last one are still visible, perpendicularly high off the galactic plane.  The radiation is still making the Magellanic Stream simmer, 200,000 light years away. Such explosions have got to have sterilized a good part of the galaxy.

In 2014 when part of the huge gas cloud known as G2 falls into Sagittarius A*, we will learn better how inhospitable the central galaxy is for advanced life.

Many of the star systems revealed out there have surprising feature: heavy planets (“super Jupiters“) grazing their own stars. It’s unlikely those giants were formed where they are. They probably swept their entire systems, destroying all the rocky planets in their giant way. We don’t understand these cataclysmic dynamics, but they seem frequent.

Solar energy received on Earth fluctuated and changed a lot, as the Sun itself changed. Maybe the energy received from the Sun doubled over the last five billion years. But, as it turned out, just so, that Earthly life could survive. Also the inner nuclear reactor with its convective magma and tectonic plates was able to keep the carbon dioxide up in the air, just so.

This looks like a double miracle, and maybe, it’s all what it is. If it’s really a double miracle (that is the square of two very low probabilities), advanced life could be very rare, indeed.

The Goldilocks zones, the habitable zones, that astronomers presently consider seem to be all too large to allow life to evolve over billions of years. They have to be much narrower and not just for those around red dwarves.

Red Dwarves are (by far) the most frequent and long living stars. But they seem prone to X Ray flaring, inimical to life as we can imagine it, and possibly eroding planetary atmospheres.

One of our Goldilocks, Mars, started well, but lost its CO2 and became too cold. The other Goldilocks, Venus, suffered the opposite major technical malfunction: a runaway CO2 greenhouse.

Mars’ axis of rotation tilts on the solar system’s plane enormously: by 60 degrees, over millions of years. So Mars experiences considerable climatic variations over the eons, as it goes through slow super winters and super summers (it’s imaginable that, as the poles melt, Mars is much more habitable during super summers; thus life underground, hibernating is also imaginable there).

Earth’s Moon prevents this sort of crazy hyper seasons. While, differently from Venus, Earth rotates at reasonable clip, homogenizing the temperatures. Venus takes 243 days to rotate.

It is startling that, of the four inner and only rocky planets, just one, Earth has a rotation compatible with the long term evolution of advanced life.

Earth has also two striking characteristics: it has a very large moon that store much of the angular momentum of the Earth-Moon system. Without Moon, the Earth would rotate on itself once every 8 hours (after 5 billion years of braking by Solar tides; the braking by Moon tides is much stronger).

The Moon used to hover at least ten times closer than now, when Earth’s days were at most 6 hours long.

The tidal force is the difference between gravitational attraction in two closely separated places, so it’s the differential of said attraction (which is proportional to 1/dd; d being the distance). Hence the tidal force is inversely proportional to the cube of the distance.

Thus on early Earth tides a kilometer high were common, washing back and forth every three hours. a hyper super tsunami every three hours, going deep inside the continents. Not exactly conditions you expect all over the universe.

Hence biological material fabricated on the continental margins in shallow pools  would get mixed with the oceans readily. That would guarantee an accelerated launch of life (and indeed we know life started on Earth very fast).

Acceleration may imply existence, though: life, once started for real, is very adaptable. So the tremendous mixing of the kilometer tides may be a necessary condition for life!

If such is the case, it goes without saying life is exceedingly rare. (I’m exaggerating the point a bit here; yet, it’s entirely possible that the tides made the difference between bacterial life in a few dozens of million years, and having it in a few billions. Incubators where life starting processes are engaged work better with mixing.)

The theory of formation of the Moon is wobbly (recent detailed computations of the simplest impact theory do not work). All we know for sure, thanks to the Moon rocks from Apollo, is that the Moon is made of Earth mantle materials.

Somehow the two planets split in two. (Fission. Get it? It maybe a hint.)

Another thing we know for sure is that Earth has, at its core, a giant nuclear fission reactor, keeping Earth’s  core hotter than the surface of the sun. An unimaginable liquid ocean of liquid iron deep down inside below our feet undergoes iron weather. Hell itself, the old fashion way, pales in comparison.

Could the Moon and the giant nuclear reactor have the same origin? This is my provocative question of the day. The Moon, our life giver, could well have formed from giant nuclear explosions, of another of our life givers, what became the nuke at the core. I can already hear herds of ecologists yelp in the distance. I present the facts, you pseudo-ecologists don’t decide upon them. It’s clear that nuclear fission is not in Drake equation: if nothing else, it’s too politically incorrect.

All the preceding makes this clear:

Many are the inhabitable planets, yet few will be inhabitated by serious denizens.

This means that the cosmos is all for our taking. The only question is how to get there. The closest stars in the Proxima, Beta and Alpha Centauri system are not attainable, for a human crew, with existing technology.

However, if we mastered clean colossal energy production, of the order of the entire present energy production of humanity, we could get a colony there (only presently imaginable technology would be fusion).

Giordano Bruno, professor, astronomer, and priest suggested that there were many other inhabitated systems around the stars. That insult against Islam Christianity was punished the hard way: the Vatican, the famous terrorist organization of god crazies, put a device in Giordano’s mouth that pierced his palate, and having made sure that way that he could not tell the truth, the terrorists then burned him alive. After seven years of torture.

The horror of truth was unbearable to theo-plutocrats.

Now we face something even worse: everywhere out there is very primitive life. It is likely gracing 40 billion worlds. But, if one has to duplicate the succession of miracles and improbabilities that made Earth, to earn advanced life, it may be just here that civilization ever rose to contemplate them.

Congratulations to India for launching yesterday a mission to Mars ostensibly to find out if there is life there (by finding CH4; while life is presently unlikely, Mars has much to teach, including whether it started there). That’s the spirit!

The spirit is to have minds go where even imagination itself did not go before.

If we sit back, and look at the universe we have now, from Dark Matter, to Dark Energy, to Sagittarius, to the nuclear reactor below, to billions of Earths, to a strange Higgs, to Non Aristotelian logic, we see a wealth, an opulence of possibilities inconceivable twenty years ago.

Progress is not just about doing better what was done yesterday. It’s also about previously inconceivable blossoms of entirely new mental universes.


Patrice Ayme

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39 Responses to “40 BILLION EARTHS? Yes & NO.”

  1. Dominique Deux Says:

    In the early days of the Fourth International (the Trotskyite movement), right after WWI, a leader of the movement got himself unceremoniously booted out for having voiced a perfectly logical proposition.

    Comrade Posadas said that there were a great, great many inhabitable worlds out there (an accepted notion since Fontenelle). Probability predicted a sizable number of actually inhabited worlds, some in a more advanced state than others.

    Thus it was fairly certain that one (or more) very advanced races were alive out there (the very reasoning behind SETI activities).

    Being technologically advanced, they must master space travel, AND (that’s the cincher) being politically advanced, they had no choice – they must be Trotskyite.

    Now, what distinguished Trotskyites from other Marx-inspired militant organizations is that they firmly believed in bringing the joys and benefits of proletarian revolution to all of mankind simultaneously, rather than first building a safe proletarian citadel in Russia, as Stalin would have it. (That genetical trait carried on in their current descendants, the neocons, who love to spread democracy at gun tip.)

    Therefore (Posadas insisted) those Trotskyite star warriors would be, even now, scouring the Galaxy for inhabited worlds, establishing universal Socialism and happiness with their superior weaponry. Earth’s turn would come in good time.

    Thus local efforts to spread Revolution with primitive means were useless as well as risky. The faithful only had to wait for the red-star space ships to land.

    Leon Davidovitch was not amused.

    As for myself I think that agonizing over the existence of sentient races out there is a huge waste of time, unless meant for recreation. Like a lichen patch on its boulder earnestly wondering if there are other boulders out there, and how the lichen patches look like on them. That may stroke the lichen’s ego, but it does not impact the great scheme of things – except if the boulder is on reindeer territory, since reindeer thrive on lichen.


  2. Paul Handover Says:

    Wow, fascinating.


  3. Patrice Ayme Says:

    Dear Paul: Yes, Paul, this is the best way to sum it up. Amusingly, and tellingly, none of this fascinating recent stuff has to do with the TOE, the “Theory Of Everything”. Much advertized by the likes of the honorable wheelchair bound Hawking. They tell us all the time, they have it all, but then, they missed the big picture. (Even the “Higgs” CERN found is not clearly the one expected!)

    BTW, my own theoretical scheme predicted Dark Matter (and perhaps even Dark Energy, although I don’t know enough about it to be sure), in a very simple way. It’s an enemy of TOE.

    P/S: my WordPress reply system does not work today..


  4. Patrice Ayme Says:

    Fascinating story, Dominique! Very interesting.
    Now that “agonizing over the existence of sentient races out there is a huge waste of time, unless meant for recreation”, I beg to strongly differ with.
    First, as I will argue in an essay soon, “recreation” is serious business. After all, it re-creates…

    Why do I disagree? A whole number of reasons.
    Oh, BTW, I did not even mention the French COROT was launched for checking the antics of other stars… thus the SUN. we learned lots, not just that there are other planets.

    I suspect the Sun is capable of serious blasts, like super Mass Coronal Ejections (one of these would fry civilization, and could well happen… although the Sun is asleep right now).

    It seems that there is no GALACTIC civilization. Yet, there should be, si la civilisation etait un long fleuve tranquille. Or if the path from bio slime to advanced civilization capable sentience was not extremely unlikely (as I just argued in the essay above!).


  5. Alexi Helligar Says:

    Apparently, life flourished in the oceans beneath the ice of snowball Earth. Warm volcanic vents had a lot to do with it.


  6. Patrice Ayme Says:

    Yes, well, perhaps. And even sure. Yet it was a close call. Several very close calls.

    It seems to me that pure themophilic organisms were primitive. Right now, first there are no vents everywhere. It’s an archipelago of vents, along the dorsals.

    Second, lots of the species around the vents, namely the animals found there, evolved long after the snowball episodes.

    Third, the Snowball Earths episodes were long, and several, and could well have frozen all over, killing billions of years of evolution.

    Fourth, the volcanoes of Earth are fundamentally energized by the Core Earth Reactor Nuclearly Fissioning (CERNF, ha ha ha ha; I struggled to find a sound that will irritate the anti-nuclears).

    CERNF: A very energetic device Venus does not seem to have.


  7. Alexi Helligar Says:

    The story goes that Earth’s dynamism was triggered by its collision with a Mars sized proto-planet called Theia. As you said the story has problems but it is a good fit for a lot of what we observe. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Giant_impact_hypothesis
    Giant impact hypothesis – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

    The giant impact hypothesis states that the Moon was formed out of the debris from a collision between the Earth and a body the size of Mars, approximately 4.5 Gya (four and a half billion years) ago. The colliding body is sometimes called Theia, for the mythical Greek Titan…

    As for the precarious condition of life in the Universe, this is well-known. It took almost all of Earth’s history for a technological consciousness to arise. This implies that technological consciousness might be very very rare indeed.


  8. Patrice Ayme Says:

    Dear Alexi: Ha, I’m not original enough? Oops!

    As I said in the essay, the impact theory has some drastic problems. Starting with the fact that the Moon is made with the same material as Earth. Re-oops! Also the dynamics don’t work.

    Maybe the precarious conditions are well known, but the explosion of Sagittarius A* was discovered in 2013.

    And it’s not just about the precarity; the giant tides may well have accelerated life (important to go do geology on Mars!) What I said is that the Moon and the CERNF may well be related.

    That would make the Earth totally exceptional. You need not just goldilocks, but nuclearlocksIf Venus (in the goldilocks!) had a CERNF, it may well be habitable to thermophilic bacteria. As it is, even solid lead is unwelcome.

    BTW, a generalization of CERNF may well have caused mass extinctions such as the one 260 million years ago. I mean not with an eruption not as big as the Moon, but still pretty big. I hold my line that such giant, grounded volcanism brought the extinctions.


  9. aaron greenbird Says:

    i’m going out on a limb here, but….the tricky issue of the human archtype/genome, the anthropos, and the origin of the earth— and the emergence of the sun and moon and the problems posed by the capture of the earth-sun- moon in the planetary system was delved into by folks we call ‘gnostics’, (they called themselves, telestai–those who are aimed….) the Nag Hammadi texts and other copic writings suggest amazing similarities between some of what you write above and themselves….just a thought……aaron


    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      Well Aaron, I was actually thinking about something similar this week. In light of the Quantum and Non Aristotelian Logic. Let me put it this way: did some modern forms of thinking erase some older, more subtle,forms? Perhaps. Certainly more subtle, older questions were erased. They were erased because they were too subtle by half. But subtility is what progresses the most fundamentally.
      An example of this is Euclidean geometry, which erased older more subtle forms of Greek mathematics (including the “irrationality of square root of two”, which was put in “Euclid” later).


  10. Paul Handover Says:

    I know I’m being crass and shallow in saying this … But after a day’s heavy writing, relaxing in bed trawling my favourite blogsites should be a lovely way of quietening the mind. Therefore, my dear Patrice, I fervently await a post from you that I can understand! 😉


    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      I was going to put something out, I write much more than I publish, but it was maybe too much out on a limb. Something along the lines, precisely, of sleep/dreaming/vacations… The necessity of them all to escape what I call Intellectual Fascism, an internal phenomemenon…

      Anyway thanks for the compliment. Heartflet and important. But it seems to me 40 billion Earths is something to chew on. The final message is that we may well be it. And we are the ones to give them meaning (although we do not have the means to expand to the stars, we are not far; solving that is roughly identical with solving the survival of the biosphere… Both requiring, at first sight, mastery of thermonuclear fusion.)


      • Paul Handover Says:

        Do you know? That thought hadn’t entered my mind. That there might be some interconnection, for want of a better term, between our increasing ability to see so far, and our blindness to see within. Am I making any sense with this notion?


        • Patrice Ayme Says:

          Yes, of course. It’s a totally excellent notion, Paul. It even affects household physics names, such as Hawking. My position with him was charity, since ever, but recently he has grated on my nerves beyond the screaming point.

          Another thing is fear, fully obvious in the case of nuclear energy (basically our one and only savior in view at this point, although solar pannels in the Sahara would help, after shooting all the terrorists, that is, so the French army should be paid by the rest of Europe, esp. Germany).


  11. Lovell Says:

    Dear Patrice,

    Must it always be assumed that dark matter and dark energy is co-terminus with visible matter?

    Wouldn’t it be possible to assume that dark matter and dark energy is the eternal property or the default state and composition of the universe and that the emergence of visible matter via BB is just a freak cosmological occurrence?


    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      Dear Lovell: Dark Matter and Dark Energy are ways to explain observed facts. They have absolutely NO PLACE in Big bang theory. Nothing is assumed about them, everything is observed.
      However a lot is assumed for the Big Bang theory (for example the inflaton field). The inflaton field is not observed directly, just indirectly assumed to create a universe as observed.

      I have my own theory about what mat be going on, and I have to write about it (I already did, but not very clearly). There are new results coherent with my theory. Basically in my system, Quantum Interactions tend to create the Dark Matter. So my cosmology could be proven in the lab, after showing deviation from expected Quantum Mechanics that would exhibit a very high cosmological speed, tau, at least ten billion times C (so far unobserved).

      Interestingly, in my approach, the same mechanism may prove both Dark Matter and Dark Energy (although I don’t know enough about DE to be sure).


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  14. Patrice Ayme Says:

    Patrice Ayme
    [Sent to Gödel Lost Letter P =NP blog.]

    February 22, 2014 12:01 pm

    That Earth enjoys no special privileges is a philosophical position that denies observation.

    Even inside the Solar System, Earth is very special, with a magnetic field acting as a shield, a stabilized rotation axis, a large Moon, an active plate tectonic and CO2 spewing volcanoes, and a huge core nuclear reactor.

    These facts are related:

    However, although it has been proposed that there are 40 billion planets in habitable zones in the Milky Way alone, nobody has pondered how probable and necessary it is for a planet to have both water for billions of years, and a very active core nuclear reactor.

    Moreover, one has to take into account Galactic Core explosions:

    Hence it seems likely to me that the Earth is very privileged, and we are the only civilization. That makes a simulation highly unlikely.


    • KW Regan Says:

      KW Regan
      February 22, 2014 12:36 pm
      Agreed in the larger sense, but to define the Copernican Principle I chose the qualifier “cosmological” to distinguish away from such terrestrial considerations and also “anthropic” ones.


  15. Patrice Ayme Says:

    Humoristic parody “science”: non-zero probability that search for life in cosmos encounters “necro-biology” (zombies)

    Click to access 1403.8146v1.pdf


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  17. ianmillerblog Says:

    There is another possible cause of Moon formation: Theia formed at at Earth sun Lagrange point (Belbruno, E., Gott, J.R. 2005. Where did the Moon come from? Astron. J. 129: 1724–1745). When it got big enough, it would be dislodged and smack into the Earth. The Moon would have the same composition because it was made from the same stuff that Earth was. Now, the real question is, why is Earth the largest wettest rocky planet? In the standard theory there is no explanation, other than luck. In my alternative theory, in my ebook “Planetary Formation and Biogenesis”, the starting accretion processes are chemical, and occur at certain temperature zones, and Earth was at the zone that favours water and aluminium-rich material (and note that the Moon has anorthosite in the highlands. No other rocky planet appears to have such rock, or granitic rock, in profusion than Earth/Moon.) Now, if that is right, there will be plenty of planets with these characteristics. Further, the reducing conditions will also be on such planets, and life plausible, although probably only for planets around G type stars, and heavy K type stars. According to that theory, the habitable zone and the Earth-type formation zone do not overlap very well outside these stars.

    There is a the possibility of a water world with life around a red dwarf, with the Saturn equivalent, though (which should merge into the habitable zone for a number of mid-sized red dwarfs).


    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      This Theia made at the Earth L point reminds of those who now want the Yucatan bolide to have boosted the Deccan Traps, or Cosmic Inflation to have added to Dark Energy. When one has a good explanation, two is one too many.

      Before Theia got huge the pieces would have dropped into the Earth, I reckon…

      My proposition for the Moon’s formation is very different from any I have seen before.

      It seems to me that the “habitable zone” is all about water. Maybe we should call it the “water zone”. So then there should be plenty of water. A problem with Red Dwarves (by far the most frequent stars) is that their habitable zones are narrow, small, and the stars tend to be unstable, and occasionally flare. So one could imagine plenty of habitable planets around Red Dwarves, with just bacteria, as higher life would be periodically zapped.

      In any case, excellent prospect for colonies…

      Recently free standing water was observed around a star. Not surprising: Hydrogen is the most frequent element, Helium second… And Oxygen a distant third.


  18. Patrice Ayme Says:

    Simulating the creation of the Solar System shows it looks unlikely. Mars has only 5% probability. Etc… (September 2014 article.)



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  30. Patrice Ayme Says:

    My own explanation of the Fermi paradox is not nukes, but rarity of advanced life from rarity of a succession of miracles. So plenty of habitable planets, plenty with microbes, yet very few inhabited by advanced life. However I consider nearly certain there was life on Mars.


  31. Patrice Ayme Says:

    [To Ian Miller.]
    Very interesting, especially the chaos, with stars going the wrong way… It seems Hubble photographed star nursery clouds. But I agree that lots of planet are colonizable, but few would have advanced life… another argument is that gravity would be too great to leave super earths…: https://patriceayme.wordpress.com/2013/11/06/40-billion-earths-yes-no/


  32. Patrice Ayme Says:

    Inhabitated and habitable are very different notions. Especially at the megafauna level. Megafauna nearly went extinct several times on Earth. Especially during the Snowball Earths episodes.

    40 BILLION EARTHS? Yes & NO.


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