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At Forbes: Maybe fine-tuning doesn’t matter as much as some claim. Many planets might support life…

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Earth/NASA, DSCVR

From Ethan Siegel at Forbes:

Based on everything we know, it seems like the conditions that make life possible are a lot more diverse and flexible than most people would expect.

Take Earth’s large moon, for example. The gravitational forces from it keep our planet rotating on the same axis over time. Our present axial tilt is 23.5 degrees, but this will vary over very long timescales between 22.1° and 24.5°. A world like Mars, on the other hand, has almost the same axial tilt as Earth: around 25°. But over tens of millions of years, this will vary by ten times as much as it does on Earth: from a minimum of 13° to a maximum of 40°.

This results in huge variations in the climate at various latitudes on Mars, far bigger than any ice age will deliver on Earth. But so long as life can either survive long-term temperature changes or migrate to more temperate climate zones, this shouldn’t be a dealbreaker. Interestingly, the tidal forces from our Moon have also slowed the length of our day: from ~8 hours to 24 hours over the past four billion years. This doesn’t seem to have affected life at all. More.

It’s convenient for Siegel that no one has found life anywhere but on Earth. He is free to assume whatever he likes about the extraterrestrial conditions that imagined life forms could survive, and still call it science. If we find do life elsewhere, later generations of physicist writers will not be so lucky.

See also:At Forbes: About extraterrestrial life, “fancy probabilistic analysis” just isn’t science All true. But that said, we have found complex organic molecules on Saturn’s moon Enceladus, which should provide a basis for genuine research. From a minimalist perspective, what if we encounter a number of instances where the setting seems to be right but life or intelligent life is markedly absent? In certain situations, persistently not finding something can be a source of information. (Ethan Siegel)

and

What becomes of science when the evidence does not matter?

2 Replies to “At Forbes: Maybe fine-tuning doesn’t matter as much as some claim. Many planets might support life…

  1. 1
    ScuzzaMan says:

    Such propositions of the form:

    maybe X, therefore definitely Z

    are hardly compelling. They don’t rise to the level of being an actual argument, being rather more a non sequitur.

    We are unimpressed.

  2. 2
    vmahuna says:

    Besides the Large Moon thing helping to stabilize our axis, there are things like Earth’s crust is thinner than Venus’s. So Earth has tectonic plates, and Venus does not. Movement of our plates helps produce long term changes in climate, etc.

    Earth also has an oversized iron core, which produces an extraordinarily strong magnetosphere for a planet our size. Mars doesn’t have an atmosphere because it was stripped off by the solar wind. Earth’s atmosphere is still doing just fine behind our van Allen Belts.

    Read “Rare Earth” or any of the newer books on the the MANY special things about Earth and the Earth-Moon system that allow Life here. Getting 1 or 2 of the pieces right doesn’t get you another Earth. It gets you a blazing Hell like Venus or an arid icebox like Mars. So you either get the Total Package, or you get nothing usable.

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