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The universe – a jungle teeming with life or a desert?


Kevin Fong is is a leading expert on space medicine in the UK and the co-director of the Centre for Aviation Space and Extreme Environment Medicine at University College London. He is also a Lecturer in Physiology at UCL.

When you look up above on a clear night, at an open sky filled with stars, what are you really seeing?  A jungle teeming with life or a desert?


One Response

  1. In a Universe that is comprised of billions of galaxies and these galaxies are comprised of billions of stars, it is difficult to imagine that the Earth is in any way unique. This is the more so when we see that life on Earth is based on the element Carbon. Carbon is produced in stars and despite the very special circumstances under which it is produced (the triple alpha process), it is relatively abundant. In a universe that has the necessary raw material to create and sustain Carbon-based life, it would seem likely that life will exist wherever conditions are right for it to do so.
    Three decades ago, our planetary system was regarded as a special circumstance. Now we know of at least 150 other planetary systems surrounding near by stars. It would seem that planeteary systems are a natural consequence of the formation of certain types of star. Accordingly, there must be literally billions of planetery systems in the Universe as a whole. At every stage in the past, when we have considered our planet ‘unique’, it has been shown that this is not true. It is not the centre of the Universe and it it not even the centre of our galaxy.
    We must also define what we mean by ‘life’. It may well be the case that highly evolved species, like our own, may be rare, but there is every chance that bacteria could exist in many locations even in comets.
    Bacteria exist in some very hostile environments here on Earth so there is every reason to expect that they could exist in equally hostile environments that are not on Earth. It was the cyano bacteria that first began to modify the Earth’s atmosphere by producing oxygen which in turn led to the evolution of higher life-forms. It would appear that the presence of water is the determining factor for the existance and evolution of life and molecules of water have been detected along with a whole range of organic molecules in such regions as the Orion Nebula, a region in which proto-planetary systems are forming. So right from the start, these nascent systems appear to have all the necessary raw materials to create and sustain life-albeit in a primitive state. Under these circumstances, I cannot imagine that our planet is the sole abode of life in such a vast Universe.

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