‘Goldilocks zone’ exoplanets would not be habitable without an ocean

UEA: Oceans moderate the climate

Story submitted by Eric Worrall

h/t The Register – University of East Anglia researchers have challenged the view that any planet in the Goldilocks zone (the right distance from a star so water is likely to be liquid) is likely to be habitable.

New research shows that without an ocean, and the right rate of rotation, a planet is likely to experience extremes of temperature which make it unlikely to harbour life.

Source: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2014/07/21/exoplanet_habitability_study_says_planets_need_oceans_to_support_life/

From the Abstract; http://online.liebertpub.com/doi/abs/10.1089/ast.2014.1171

“The climate and, hence, potential habitability of a planet crucially depends on how its atmospheric and ocean circulation transports heat from warmer to cooler regions. However, previous studies of planetary climate have concentrated on modeling the dynamics of atmospheres, while dramatically simplifying the treatment of oceans, which neglects or misrepresents the effect of the ocean in the total heat transport. Even the majority of studies with a dynamic ocean have used a simple so-called aquaplanet that has no continental barriers, which is a configuration that dramatically changes the ocean dynamics.

Here, the significance of the response of poleward ocean heat transport to planetary rotation period is shown with a simple meridional barrier—the simplest representation of any continental configuration. The poleward ocean heat transport increases significantly as the planetary rotation period is increased. The peak heat transport more than doubles when the rotation period is increased by a factor of ten. There are also significant changes to ocean temperature at depth, with implications for the carbon cycle. There is strong agreement between the model results and a scale analysis of the governing equations. This result highlights the importance of both planetary rotation period and the ocean circulation when considering planetary habitability.”

According to Dr. David Stevens, from UEA school of mathematics;

“Mars for example is in the sun’s habitable zone, but it has no oceans – causing air temperatures to swing over a range of 100°C. Oceans help to make a planet’s climate more stable, so factoring them into climate models is vital for knowing whether the planet could develop and sustain life,”

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100 thoughts on “‘Goldilocks zone’ exoplanets would not be habitable without an ocean

  1. Has anyone cosidered searching for signs of intelligent life at the University of East Anglia?

  2. “Mars for example is in the sun’s habitable zone, but it has no oceans – causing air temperatures to swing over a range of 100°C.”

    Russians live in Siberia where temperatures can swing over 90 C. Mars air temperature swing is not too bad if only it had air. Mars has virtually no atmosphere with atmospheric pressure less than 1% of earth. If you can’t even breathe, no use complaining about being too hot or too cold.

  3. This all presumes that life can only exist as it does on earth. Life adapts to it’s environment. Who’s to say the extent of life’s adaptability? Here on earth we find life at all extremes, from steaming pools of water, to deep ocean hydrothermal vents, to freezing arctic conditions.

  4. I think the point about Mars is that temperatures swing through 100°C in the course of a day. Also, without oceans, one presumes that life would have difficulty “starting off” since almost all land animals and plants on this planet can trace their ancestry to aquatic forebears. While there are places on Earth, as noted, that swing through 90°C, that’s annually, not daily, and life towards the polar zones evolved elsewhere, moving into the polar niches because they were available and there was no competition. The polar bear is a good example of this.

  5. “Mars for example is in the sun’s habitable zone, but it has no oceans – causing air temperatures to swing over a range of 100°C. ”

    But that’s great. Martian atmosphere is over 95% carbon dioxide. And better still, NASA has about 30-folded their previous Martian CO2 ice mass estimations http://spaceref.com/onorbit/nasa-spacecraft-reveals-dramatic-changes-in-mars-atmosphere.html.

    Surely the Martian temperature there swings, but when will the peak kick off the positive feedback to sublime all that CO2 into the Martian atmosphere permanently? Mars is claimed to have enough water to cover the planet at an average depth of 35 meters.

    Now when CACA physics is settled and all, what’s stopping Obama’s favorite shrink to run his best models to forecast the birth of Martian oceans?

  6. Jaakko Kateenkorva says at July 22, 2014 at 1:16 am

    But that’s great. Martian atmosphere is over 95% carbon dioxide. And better still, NASA has about 30-folded their previous Martian CO2 ice mass estimations.

    95% of not a lot is still not a lot.

    Looking at other planets is interesting in its own right. There is really no need to look for practical applications at home.
    It’s literally on another planet.

  7. Those great diurnal swings on Mars despite the atmosphere actually having more CO2 than Earth are due to the virtual absence of H2O, the really important greenhouse gas in the atmosphere, as well as the absence of oceans with their massive heat capacity.
    That said I’ve experienced diurnal swings of about 40 degrees Celsius in inland Australia where the air is very dry and the ocean far away. Probably even greater figures occur in e. g. Central Asia.

    I agree that the configuration of continents and oceans and the resulting pattern of poleward heat transport is extremely important for global climate. So much is obvious from the geologic record, but it is rather odd to hear it from UEA, since it is not in accord with CAGW orthodoxy where CO2 is the one and only permitted control knob for climate.

  8. So many systems within our environment, all interlocked and reacting with each other in such complex ways that even the experts (climate scientists) don’t fully understand all of it. But I’m damn sure they know a lot more than the collective minds of a cave full of “deniers” ; politicians, big biz, and the fruit loops.

    Our climate has always varied within acceptable ranges, but the trends away from these figures is alarming.

    A cartoon on the habitat of those who have trouble understanding reality . . . . . .

    http://cartoonmick.wordpress.com/editorial-political/#jp-carousel-891

    Cheers
    Mick

  9. cartoonmick says:
    July 22, 2014 at 1:54 am

    Oh we’re “flat earthers” again? Very nice. Very tolerant of opposing viewpoints there, mick. Did you spend all night thinking that one up?

  10. One interesting fact about Mars, its atmosphere, which is mostly CO2, contains (by my calculation) more CO2 than Earth’s atmosphere.

    According to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atmosphere_of_Mars
    … Mars’s atmospheric mass of 25 teratonnes compares to Earth’s 5148 teratonnes with a scale height of about 11 kilometres (6.8 mi) versus Earth’s 7 kilometres (4.3 mi). …

    Given that CO2 on Earth is around 400ppm, a rough estimate of the mass of CO2 in Earth’s atmosphere = 400 / 1000000 * 5148 = 2 teratonnes of CO2 – vs Mars’ 25 teratonnes of (mostly) CO2.

    In addition, since the height of the Martian atmosphere is a lot less than Earth, all that Martian CO2 is more concentrated close to the surface, forming a much denser CO2 blanket than Earth enjoys.

  11. I would imagine that one of the necessary requirements for life on a planet is the existence of a magnetic field.

  12. @ Dr. David Stevens, from UEA school: “….Oceans help to make a planet’s climate more stable…”
    Dr. Stevens and colleagues will presumably need nother 100 years to understand that
    “climate is the continuation of the ocean by other means”, http://www.whatisclimate.com/ ;
    or in the words of Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) “Water is the driver of nature”, of which on this planet the oceans hold 1000 times more than the atmosphere, but have only a mean temperature of about + 4°C.

  13. “Looking at other planets is interesting in its own right.”

    How about cAGW favourite planet Venus? The temperature there is claimed to be pretty stable. Supposedly 460 °C day or night, at the poles or at the equator. Whether Venusian 0.002% water vapor is enough to theoretically make up an ocean there or not, it’s negligible enough to justify a request for best CACA hypothesis and models to be tested with Martian parameters.

    Since cAGW seems to rely on laboratory experiments over observations at planetary scale, it would be interesting to see if/how e.g. the ideal gas law pV = nRT applies in their best models.

  14. Without a large moon, a planet will not have a stable axis of rotation OR a strong magnetic field (assuming a partially liquid iron core). Without a strong magnetic field, solar radiation will gradually crack atmospheric water molecules and whisk the hydrogen away, eventually depleting the oceans. (Alternatively, the world would be a “waterball” with oceans hundreds of miles deep, with nutrient-deprived sterile surface layers.)

    In short, a world similar to Earth will be vanishingly rare, because it will need a moon similar to ours, and those are formed by a very precisely-angled collision with a La Grange point sister planet. (The impact is also necessary to eject superdeep oceans and silicate mantels into orbit, leaving a basalt ball with a thin ocean suitable for plate tectonics.)

  15. Without a reasonable rate of rotation the planet would not generate enough of a magnetosphere to ward off the devastating effects of the solar wind and most of it’s atmosphere would be driven off in very short order. The lowering of atmospheric pressure would then cause the oceans to evaporate so whether it’s in the right zone or not, it still needs to rotate and have a liquid mantle with a solid core.
    Equally without the balancing effect of a moon similar to ours the spin that would be needed would generate such a wobble that the environment would be highly unpredictable.
    Of course there might be some form of life that we don’t yet understand that could tolerate all of this.

  16. I see that importance is laid on consistency of models–or at least lack of crippling discrepancies. Have the researchers compared their findings with actual data?

  17. Anyone who doesn’t know yet that it is the mass of the atmosphere (and the distance from the Sun) that governs the global mean temperature on a planet, is part of the problem (and that includes WUWT, for seriously presenting this article, without acknowledging that larger context)–the problem being an insane breakdown of competence in science, as shown by the fragmented, fractious public “debate”. Venus has no ocean, but a hundred times the atmosphere of Earth, and a Venus/Earth temperature ratio (at points of equal pressure, over the range of Earth tropospheric pressures) that precisely reflects their relative distances from the Sun and nothing else (although Venus too–like Mars–has a 96.5% carbon dioxide atmosphere, compared to Earth’s 0.04%).

    The problem now is, no one among the alarmists and lukewarmers wants to admit they are wrong, and that we are faced with no valid climate science and no competent climate scientists.

  18. Life started in the oceans so having large areas of water is probably important. Also there needs to be CO2 in the atmosphere because that is where the carbon came from for the carbon based life. I don’t think the mentioned this salient fact.

  19. # Eric Warrell

    CO2 is labeled a GHG but that adsorption is accompanied by rapid radiation. So CO2 looses heat rapidly (a point lost on the alarmists) so any surface heat on Mars would rapidly radiate away. One reason why Mars is cold.

  20. For centuries folks have debated what “animates” life asn in mixing stuff together and you have an organism which is “smart” enough to reproduce. Aristotle, Plato to Aquinas. Some seem to think that finding a planet simple show “animation” exists. Which, of course, avoids the original issue regarding how or creating the animation via experimentation. After all, no need to look when all the tools are at hand here and you likely don’t need lots and lots of very expensive astronomy hardware.

    And why spend public funds on these pursuits? Wouldn’t it be better to simple have the government conduct things that can actually be useful to the, well, the public? Like Muslim outreach, for example? At least have a plebiscite.

  21. Of course, It is water in all it’s states that is the “control knob” not CO2.

    This is so obvious it’s surprising that it needs restating. Thought clearly it does need restating in the current avalanche of BS science getting throught peer review.

  22. Were the basic assumptions tested with Neptune before the hypothesis was constructed? Neptune’s mantle is sometimes called a water–ammonia ocean, but still its temperatures vary between extremes of about -200 °C at 1 bar and 5,000 °C in the core.

    In any case, Neptune sounds like an excellent candidate to study on planetary scale, not only heat transfer from warmer to cooler regions, but especially the practical impact of IR-absorption properties of methane (1.5 ± 0.5%). The winds accelerating close to supersonic speed should keep it’s concentration pretty constant in the local atmosphere.

  23. Another example of a scientist producing a model to validate his own fantasies. If Earth’s oceans disappeared tomorrow, does anyone doubt that life would remain somewhere on the planet for as long as there was any moisture at all?

  24. I’d guess water is important if you want life on a planet. Duh. Especially if the atmosphere starts out with a lot CO2 that you’d like to get out of the atmosphere. Venus could have made great use of an ocean or two. I don’t know what the seasonal range of surface temps on Venus is. Moderated by the crushing atmosphere, worsened by the slow rotation rate. I doubt it’s 100C°.

  25. What wonderful news! Our heroes!? Surely, England will reward such useful scientists?

    UEA is so expert with overall global effects and their models are so spot on accurate that UEA can step out and tell us about other worlds and what makes those exo-planets habitable or not.

    Useful scientists apply their hard earned accurate knowledge of Earth’s processes to useful fields of science for the betterment of mankind here on Earth.
    UEA studies are replete with direct observations, hard data and well proved algorithms and the findings are replicable and falsifiable.

    I assume UEA is defending their budget requests soon?

  26. rogerthesurf says:
    July 22, 2014 at 12:56 am
    ————
    Mars used to have an atmosphere, but lost it when it lost it’s magnetic field.
    Of course how long the magnetic field lasts depends on how long the core stays fluid, which is related to mass.

  27. jones says:
    July 22, 2014 at 1:50 am
    Is there any uncertainty in this?
    ————————-
    I’m not sure.

  28. cartoonmick says:
    July 22, 2014 at 1:54 am
    Our climate has always varied within acceptable ranges, but the trends away from these figures is alarming.

    Really! what exactly are the trends away from “these figures” and what is alarming about them? Looks like business as usual to me.

    And flat earthers? Give me a break!

  29. cartoonmick says:
    July 22, 2014 at 1:54 am
    —–
    In the last million years, the earth has been both several degrees warmer and several degrees colder than today.
    Yet you persist on believing that a change of a few tenths of a degree puts us all at risk.

    And you complain about our scientific knowledge?

  30. The energy flux in our system is from the Sun > ocean > ocean surface > atmosphere > space.

    It is the interaction of the various energy transport mechanisms at the oceans surface that dominate and control the temperature and weather.

    It is hard to imagine advanced life developing without the ocean surface interface zone.

  31. First order, i.e., climate, effects, Earth’s atmosphere is a by-product of the ocean, warmed by the Sun.

    Second order, cloud albedo. Third order, greenhouse effect. Fourth order, orbital mechanics. Fifth order, regional currents. Sixth order, eddy currents. Seventh order, weather. Unmeasurably small, anthropogenics.

  32. Mick Says “But I’m damn sure they know a lot more than the collective minds of a cave full of “deniers” ; politicians, big biz, and the fruit loops.”

    Well of course they know a lot more, which is why they have to work so hard to cover up what they know!

    Cheers!

  33. cartoonmick says:
    July 22, 2014 at 1:54 am

    Our climate has always varied within acceptable ranges, but the trends away from these figures is alarming.
    ____________________
    I know that this isn’t your first appearance here in guise of an ignoramus troll, spewing insults. You not only threw insults at skeptics, but also linked to a cartoon inferring skeptics believe in a flat earth, neither of which were your original idea. You just showed the world that you let others do your thinking for you. You also invoked certain known logical fallacies to make your point. As further proof that you haven’t learned to think for yourself, you claim that climate signals are trending away from normal. Really? What is normal? Temperatures, sea level, whatever… all are within the known historical range. Feel free to prove that statement wrong. Find out for yourself.

    Here’s another challenge for you: find one modern temperature data set which clearly shows a CO2 signal in the modern temperature record. Let’s make it easier… just go back for the last 20 years. Here’s a hint- there isn’t one. That’s right, after all the hoopla, there is not a single temperature record which clearly links the modern rise in CO2 to temperature. Don’t take my word for it, (as is your habit to do so,) find out for yourself.

    You either want to find out the truth of things, or continue to exist comfortably within your shell of ignorance. A final challenge: consider that you just might not be as creative or smart as you think you are and then learn to do what it takes to improve your capacities for logic and reason. Then, you might not be so quick to publicly lash out at others and declare yourself a fool.

  34. The retention of a planetary atmosphere depends on the mass of the planet and temperatures encountered. The mass of Mars is so low that escape velocity is low enough that H2O, H2, O2, and N2 can leak into space by a range of processes. Initial water vapor in Mars atmosphere is dissociated by UV (as in Earths upper atmosphere), so H2 is quickly lost. The O2 and N2 are more slowly lost but eventually diffuse high enough to be ionized as in our ionosphere, and are lost by high end velocity of the Maxwellian distribution exceeding escape velocity and also blown off by solar wind. CO2 is lost much more slowly, so dominates the remaining atmosphere. Water is mainly retained in underground ice formations.

  35. Our climate has always varied within acceptable ranges, but the trends away from these figures is alarming.
    =======================
    20 thousand years ago much of where we live today was under a mile of ice. 8 thousand years ago the arctic was ice free. further back in time, Antarctica was ice free. Yet the change in average temperature that caused this is no more than the change in many places day to day and year to year.

    there is no such thing as “acceptable ranges” in climate.

  36. I need to add (as a previous commenter did) that the loss of Mars magnetic field was also critical to solar wind being able to remove Mars atmosphere. Earth’s magnetic field appears to be heading for a reversal soon, and will likely go to near zero for a while, but transient loss has little effect on atmosphere, it is long term average. However, the loss would affect power transmission and communication.

  37. There is an interesting book: “Rare Earth: Why Complex Life is Uncommon in the Universe” by Peter D Ward & Donald Brownlee which gives some insight into the conditions which may favour the development of life and complex life. Worth a read if you’ve not yet come across it.

  38. I believe a far more important factor is a magnetic field generated by a spinning liquid iron core. Mar’s core has cooled and is solid, so it doesn’t have a magnetic shield. That is why Mars may never be inhabitable for humans! The solar wind and the Sun’s radiation continuously bombard the surface of Mars, making it as hazardous as living in space. What is the chance of developing an agriculture required to support a population. Probably small to nil. And without a magnetic shield, Mars will never be able to retain a viable atmosphere.

    Earth is very unique in many ways. There are probably millions of similar planets in our galaxy. However, until we develop true space travel technology (like .8x speed of light), this discussion is only an academic exercise.

    Bill

  39. it is the mass of the atmosphere (and the distance from the Sun) that governs the global mean temperature on a planet
    ====================
    likely gravity also plays a part. it would be interesting to see if doubling the amount of N2 in earth’s atmosphere would in theory change temperatures. according to GHG theory it should not. yet it is hard to imagine that an atmosphere nearly twice as massive would have no effect.

  40. When one considers that all the towels produced since the beginning of the industrial revolution are probably sufficient to dry up all the world’s oceans, it’s clear that the planet is in mortal danger unless we implement a special cap-and-trade tax on towels and other instruments of mass absorption.

    That’s where this is headed, so let’s get out in front of it and get us some of that taxpayer cheese.

  41. “New research shows that without an ocean, and the right rate of rotation, a planet is likely to experience extremes of temperature which make it unlikely to harbour life as we know it.”

    There, fixed it.

  42. I hope they don’t use disgraced UEA scientists to decide on which exoplanet we should spend 10 trillion on to check it out. They would appear, along with their fellows at Hadley, to have little understanding of the earth’s climate. I’m still tee’d off that I sent 5000 containers of barbeques to UK as a speculative investment. I’ve converted them all to heaters but I’ll still take a big hit on the deal.

  43. JohnWho says:
    July 22, 2014 at 6:52 am

    “New research shows that without an ocean, and the right rate of rotation, a planet is likely to experience extremes of temperature which make it unlikely to harbour life as we know it, JIM”

    Fixed your fix.

  44. More accurate to say that life as we know it on the surface of a planet is unlikely? I can easily envision life underground using the thermal mass of the rock/soil above it to even out the temperature swings, for example. sulfur vents for energy, yadda yadda. It’s not nearly as cut-and-dried as they make it out to be… they start with an assumption and disregard every possibility that disagrees with the starting premise. (hmm… sounds familiar…)

  45. David L says:
    July 22, 2014 at 1:00 am
    This all presumes that life can only exist as it does on earth. Life adapts to it’s environment. Who’s to say the extent of life’s adaptability? Here on earth we find life at all extremes, from steaming pools of water, to deep ocean hydrothermal vents, to freezing arctic conditions.
    —————————————————-
    And you presume it to do more. We only have one example of life existing on a planet, so it is the evidence that we have. It follows that life in one area of the planet can not be segregated from another to demonstrate a range of habital planets. Your criticism applies to your comment as much as it does to the article. Talking about life on other planets is pure speculation. You happen to prefer your speculation over theirs.

  46. This is great news.

    All the inhabited planets in my unpublished blockbuster science fiction novel have oceans.

    Is that confirmation bias prescience or what?

  47. In fact, there are many more requirements for a habitable planet. Things like rotation, tilt, volcanic activity, water vapor, mineral and chemical balance, oxygen and many more. Think of the odds of all the needed components required for a habitable planet.

  48. “anticommie says:
    In fact, there are many more requirements for a habitable planet. Things like rotation, tilt, volcanic activity, water vapor, mineral and chemical balance, oxygen and many more. Think of the odds of all the needed components required for a habitable planet.”

    Warning, the website at the bottom of this post has a Christian bent, but it’s a science site, and it talks about the anthropic principle, i.e., that the universe appears “designed” for the sake of human life – seems to be a relevant matter of discussion on this topic.

    If you just want the main scientific meat (sorry vegetarians) and don’t want to click on a link with a religious bent , two paragraphs from the link are as follows:

    “…In 1961, astronomers acknowledged just two characteristics of the universe as “fine-tuned” to make physical life possible.1 The more obvious one was the ratio of the gravitational force constant to the electromagnetic force constant. It cannot differ from its value by any more than one part in 10(40th power) (one part in ten thousand trillion trillion trillion) without eliminating the possibility for life. Today, the number of known cosmic characteristics recognized as fine-tuned for life—any conceivable kind of physical life—stands at thirty-eight.2 Of these, the most sensitive is the space energy density (the self-stretching property of the universe). Its value cannot vary by more than one part in 10(120th power) and still allow for the kinds of stars and planets physical life requires.3

    Evidence of specific preparation for human existence shows up in the characteristics of the solar system, as well. In the early 1960s astronomers could identify just a few solar system characteristics that required fine-tuning for human life to be possible. By the end of 2001, astronomers had identified more than 150 finely-tuned characteristics.4 In the 1960s the odds that any given planet in the universe would possess the necessary conditions to support intelligent physical life were shown to be less than one in ten thousand.5 In 2001 those odds shrank to less than one in a number so large it might as well be infinity (10(173th power)).

    More at the link, if you feel inclined. If you are into the whole science/religion debate, Dr. Hugh Ross is a great resource .

    http://www.reasons.org/articles/anthropic-principle-a-precise-plan-for-humanity

  49. If there was/is a “plan” for human existence it was/is the most roundabout, inefficient, awkward, happenstance plan in the history of the universe.

    The anthropic principle proves nothing. It’s essentially a tautology: Any observable universe must by definition be capable of producing an observer.

  50. Eustace Cranch on July 22, 2014 at 9:09 am
    If there was/is a “plan” for human existence it was/is the most roundabout, inefficient, awkward,
    happenstance plan in the history of the universe.
    ——————
    This is about the most logically rediculous line of thinking i can imagine. But, you are in good company as Dr. S has made similar claims. The amount of hubristic assumption that goes into this line of thinking makes my soul shudder. Please enlighten us to a superior plan for the existence of man.

  51. Hey, Joseph, thanks for the support, but it’s all good. Anthony has a fantastic site here (Thanks again Anthony!) that allows ideas to be freely exchanged. People here are very intelligent, let them read all the input and decide for themselves.

  52. @FergalR at 12:25 am
    Has anyone considered searching for signs of intelligent life at the University of East Anglia?
    +1
    The book, Rare Earth (Ward 2000) was there long before UEA.

    Indeed, Ward et al made the case that a large Moon and Plate Tectonics are two of ten essential factors for the development of intelligent life. The Moon stabilizes the axis of the planet, without which the axis could at times be inclined over 45 degrees, guaranteeing huge permanent ice caps. Plate Tectonics is what keeps the planet from being 100% ocean covered. Without Plate Tectonics, erosion would eliminate all dry land except for volcanos that temporarily make it above water.

  53. Dr. Strangelove says:
    July 22, 2014 at 12:38 am
    “Mars for example is in the sun’s habitable zone, but it has no oceans – causing air temperatures to swing over a range of 100°C.”

    Russians live in Siberia where temperatures can swing over 90 C. Mars air temperature swing is not too bad if only it had air. Mars has virtually no atmosphere with atmospheric pressure less than 1% of earth. If you can’t even breathe, no use complaining about being too hot or too cold.

    If I recall correctly, Mars has little or no magnetic field and lacks a corresponding Van Allen radiation belt. On earth, the Van Allen radiation belt helps preserve the atmosphere from destruction by the solar wind.

    If I recall correctly.

  54. Let me be clear (channeling Barack), I am pointing out the ridiculousness of speculating about and then argueing on this subject, not on whether there is or is not a plan. We don’t know is the only reasonable answer. We don’t know if there is a plan, we don’t know what makes a good plan, we don’t know what it means to have or not have a plan.

  55. “We don’t know if there is a plan, we don’t know what makes a good plan, we don’t know what it means to have or not have a plan.”

    Did not know this was morphing into a USA politics discussion. Agree that this does describe the current Administration.

  56. Frodo says (July 22, 2014 at 8:38 am): “…and it talks about the anthropic principle, i.e., that the universe appears “designed” for the sake of human life…”

    FYI, ants refer to it as “the formic principle”. :-)

    I find it hard to believe that the universe was “designed” for human life, because so much of it is hostile to organic life (and tries to wipe us out by chucking kinetic impactors at us). Personally, I think we’re only here to invent the cybernetic life form(s) that will replace us and inhabit much more cosmic real estate than we ever could. :-)

  57. David L says:
    July 22, 2014 at 1:00 am
    This all presumes that life can only exist as it does on earth. Life adapts to it’s environment. Who’s to say the extent of life’s adaptability? Here on earth we find life at all extremes, from steaming pools of water, to deep ocean hydrothermal vents, to freezing arctic conditions.

    On earth, the extremophile metabolism has only arisen among single-celled microbes, at volcanic sites such as hydrothermal vents. These organisms can derive energy from sources other than oxygen, such as iron or sulfur etc. If hypothetically, a multicellular extremophile were to evolve, it would need a blood system to transport a suitable reducible chemical energy source such as sulphuric acid … o wait

  58. There are about 2^80 stars in the visible universe. Some think that producing a life form which knows how to split the atom is a doddle compared with throwing 80 heads in a row. Others think that it might require rather more stars than chance evolution has at its disposal. While there are those who eagerly await our first conversations with alien intelligences, there are those who do not, simply because there are NOT ENOUGH STARS, as Enrico Fermi realised.

  59. No flipping gigantic moon, no ocean currents (probably no ocean at all), no magnetic field, no stable axial tilt, so no life.

  60. –rogerthesurf says:
    July 22, 2014 at 12:56 am

    Cant have water without atmospheric pressure which presumably is related to the gravity/mass of the planet.
    I think I learnt that in high school. Anyone disagree?–

    A ocean of water could make an atmosphere of H20 gas.
    I would guess that having gases other then H20 would lessen the disassociation of H20
    from sunlight- such a process would take a long time in regards losing the atmosphere.
    Or if one had average global ocean depth of 1000 meter on the planet Mercury, one should have a H20 atmosphere for millions of years.

    So Mercury has very slow rotation, no axis tilt, has very intense solar flux, and has no atmosphere.
    If added a 1000 meter deep ocean, what happens?
    Regardless of intense sunlight the lack of atmosphere would immediately cause the water to vaporize and remaining water to freeze in direct sunlight. So dump a lot of water on surface and it’s fairly explosive. But after billions of tons of water has evaporated it would form a very thin atmosphere. [Mars is about same size, and very thin atmosphere and about 25 trillion tons [which is equal to 2500 cubic km of water. Mercury surface area is 75 million square kilometers and 1 km depth that totals 75,000 trillion tonnes]. Anyways once billions of tons of water evaporated and froze the surface water, the vapor pressure and the cold H20 would make it less explosive or significantly reduce the rate it evaporates.
    Once one has vaporized 1 meter depth as far as global average, the atmosphere’s mass is 1/10th of Earth {Earth atmospheric mass if 10 tons per square meter]. The gravity of Mercury- 1/3rd of Earth, one make pressure 3/100th of earth’s pressure, But roughly equal Earth’s water vapor partial pressure [or exceeding Earth's average partial vapor pressure]. And in terms of mass and pressure this is about 3 times Mars.
    So with this 75 trillion tons of atmosphere, one would have water evaporating in similar fashion as it does on Earth, but the low pressure would cause water to have much lower boiling point as compared to Earth. So in sunlight the ice would melt to become liquid and as wild guess boiling point of the water might around 50 C. And one would have weather. Clouds would form, and one would get rain. And in poles and night side one get snow and ice formation. And much wind would be happening.
    And one would be at few months from point in time where one dumped 75,000 trillion tonnes
    or water on Mercury’s surface. Or it seems to me that the surface of Mercury lacks thermal energy
    to be able to vaporize 1 meter on average depth of water, but given time- years and centuries the sunlight would gain enough thermal energy so as to vaporize more than 1 meter average depth

  61. mike18xx says:
    July 22, 2014 at 2:43 am
    //////////////////

    Are you sure?

    I accept that there is a strong argument that a moon may be required, but you have to bear in mind that our relationship with our moon has varied dramatically these past 4.5 billion years, it use to be significantly closer, and this resulted in a day lasting about 4 hours (not 24 hours). the day has got longer as the moon has receded.

    The majority of planets in our solar systems have moons, so moons are not at all rare. Obviously the more planetary moons there may be, more complexity is thrown into the mix, but I do not readily see why we one would need a moon just like ours to act as a steadying influence on the planet.

    But even if the statistics for a planet with a moon is vanishingly small, just by force of numbers that would suggest that there are still plenty of ‘Earth’ like planets theoretically possible.

    The fact that we still today consider that there are realistic possibilities of life having existed on Mars when it had water and an atmosphere, and that life may exist on Titan, if not now, then in the future as the sun begins to expand, suggests that the possibilites are larger than you seem to suggest..

  62. Since we do not know how life started on Earth, we do not really know what is necesary for life to seed (if that is the right expression), and hence what to look for. This is further complicated since life may take a completely different form on a different planet, and may not even be carbon based (although carbon would appear to be a near essential factor).

    Of course, we do not know what the odds of multicellular is. What we know is that it took about 3 billion years for this to evolve such that multicellular life on planet Earth has been in existence for only a short period of time. The great step in life was not the move out of the oceans, but rather the step from singular to multicellular organisms.

    Since it took so long for the multicellular step, it may be that this step is extremely difficult. It might even mean that habitable conditions need to endure for billions of years. that may also narrow down the field.

    Whilst it is all conjecture, I would be surprised if there was no life in the universe other than here on planet Earth. Multi-cellular, well that is a different ball game and as for intelligent life, the odds of that do not appear to be that great, but since we do not know how life is triggered, nor what prompted it to evolve from single to multicellular form, we really do not know what is required. . .

  63. There is no Goldilocks zone.

    Life happened on earth because it could. And it happened in several places with completely different “environments.”

    Ergo, life may happen wherever it can.

    So far as WE know, it is like the big bang; and has only happened once. Well on one planet.

    • Richard Varney writes

      Of course, we do not know what the odds of multicellular is. What we know is that it took about 3 billion years for this to evolve such that multicellular life on planet Earth has been in existence for only a short period of time. The great step in life was not the move out of the oceans, but rather the step from singular to multicellular organisms.

      Exactly. This is the crucial step that happened on earth and the breakthrough was the evolution of photosynthesis, initially by cyanbacteria and later plants. This introduced oxygen into the atmosphere for the first time. Multi-cell life is either plants or animals. All animals from ants to fish to people need oxygen. All food on earth is produced by the carbon fixation enzyme Rubisco .

      The complex biochemical process behind photosynthesis was evolved by cyanbacteria from two previous “anoxygenic” processes in iron or sulfur environments. The cyanbacteria revolution was important because now the only environment needed was water, air and sunlight so they rapidly spread all around the world, and especially across all the oceans. Suddenly oxygen was being generated by photosynthesis whose imprint is clearly seen in the geological record beginning with the Great Oxidation about 2.3 billion years ago. However the long term build up of oxygen in the atmosphere is a very subtle effect, that is still not fully understood. Essentially 99.5% of emitted oxygen is consequently reabsorbed, but its relationship to CO2 levels is particularly interesting. Some interesting facts about photosynthesis that need to be explained are the following.

      1. Current levels of photosynthesis on earth would deplete all CO2 in the atmosphere in just 9 years.
      2. Photosynthesis in the Oceans depletes all available phosphorous needed by aquatic plants and algae in just 86 years.
      3. Most of the CO2 absorbed by plants is soon liberated to the atmosphere when they die or are eaten by animals, while only a tiny amount of carbon is buried in sediments. Even by including this recycling effect we still find CO2 depletion of the atmosphere takes a mere 13,000 years while phosphorous depletion takes only 29,000 years. So what are we doing wrong?

      The incredible story of life on earth is that these trapped sediments are not lost from the environment for ever because plate tectonics recycles material over very long timescales today. Subduction, mountain building and sea level change continuously re-exposes the raw materials for life through weathering. Plate tectonics is essential to re-cycle the raw materials for life on earth !

  64. “richard verney says:
    Since we do not know how life started on Earth, we do not really know what is necessary for life to seed (if that is the right expression), and hence what to look for. “

    You ain’t kiddin. I don’t want to antagonize the mods more than I have already, so I’ll leave off the link, but the following paragraphs comprise a small portion of an article from site I linked to in an earlier post:

    “…New evidence indicates that life in its minimal form is chemically complex even if morphologically simple. The smallest bacterial genomes capable of independent survival include between 1500-1900 gene products.47-50 These bacteria are believed to be the oldest organisms on Earth and quite likely reflect the complexity of first life on Earth and the minimum complexity of independent life.51 The smallest known genome, that of Mycoplasma genitalium, is comprised of 470 gene products.52 However, M. genitalium is not an appropriate model for the origin of life, for it depends on host biochemistry to survive and, therefore, cannot exist independently. Nonetheless, M. genitalium is a good model for determining the bare minimum requirements for life. Theoretical and experimental work using M. genitalium indicate that life requires at least 250-350 gene products (having eliminated, in theory, genes used for parasitic interactions).53-55
    Biophysicist Hubert Yockey has calculated the probability of forming a single gene product (one that is functionally equivalent to the ubiquitous protein cyctochrome C) as one chance in 10(75th power). 56 Given this probability, Yockey calculated that if the hypothetical primordial soup contained about 10(44) amino acids, a hundred billion trillion years would yield a 95% chance for random formation of a functional protein only 110 amino acids in length (a single gene product).57 The universe is about 15 billion years old. This means that less than one trillionth of the time has passed that would be needed to make even one of the 250-350 gene products necessary for minimal life, or one of the 1500 gene products necessary for independent life.

    Further complicating the supra-astronomical probabilities that must be overcome for even the simplest life to arise by natural processes is the changing view of bacteria. No longer regarded as cells with a random, nondescript internal structure, bacteria are now recognized as having remarkable internal organization, both spatially and temporally, at the protein level.58, 59 This internal organization of bacterial cells is universal and is needed for their survival. This means that origin-of-life researchers must account for not only the simultaneous appearance of 250-350 gene products but also their organization inside the cell….”

    That’s a lot of random chance, folks. And the above is just a part that talks about the complexity of even the simplest life; not about the conditions of the early earth, which was basically hostile, not at all conducive, to the formation of any of these substances, . Only God knows how all this came about (sorry I couldn’t help myself :-) ).

    My guess is that, 100+ years from now, the consensus in the scientific world will be that aliens seeded “simple” life on the early Earth, and we eventually evolved from that

  65. cartoonmick says:
    July 22, 2014 at 1:54 am

    archonix says:

    July 22, 2014 at 2:24 am

    Oh we’re “flat earthers” again? Very nice. Very tolerant of opposing viewpoints there, mick. Did you spend all night thinking that one up?
    =============

    You’re right “archonix”, there was a bit of a “sledgehammer” in my posting here. My apologies. Shall try to be careful in the future.
    Cheers
    Mick

  66. The temperature swing is 0 C to -100 C. It would be worse if it’s 0 C to 100 C. Mars has bigger problems than temperature swing. Virtually no atmosphere. The composition of the atmosphere is irrelevant because there are so few gas molecules in it. No magnetic field to shield against cosmic rays and solar storms. These ionizing radiations are lethal. No water which is essential to life as we know it. Good luck to those planning to colonize Mars. No wonder others call it science fiction.

  67. Life is not just an alignment of proteins and DNA etc. If it were so, it would be easy to reanimate a freshly killed organism. Repair the damage to a dead bacteria and reanimate. Even with all the proteins and cell mechanisms in place, we are clueless, as to how one can make it stand up and dance. GK

  68. > > Mike18xx: (see large moon post up-page)
    > richard verney: “I accept that there is a strong argument that a moon may be required, but you have to bear in mind that our relationship with our moon has varied dramatically these past 4.5 billion years, it use to be significantly closer, and this resulted in a day lasting about 4 hours (not 24 hours). the day has got longer as the moon has receded….”

    – The only difference orbital distance makes is the size of the tides; what’s important is that the impact by “Theia” blew off the lighter silicate mantle and (hypothesized) super-deep ocean, and, post-impact, imparted a strong magnetic field due to tidal action upon the Earth’s molten iron outer core.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Giant_impact_hypothesis#Possible_origin_of_Theia

    > “The majority of planets in our solar systems have moons, so moons are not at all rare…”

    – Only Pluto has a moon which is a significant fraction of planetary mass. E.g., Mars’ two moons are comparatively infinitesimal.

    > “But even if the statistics for a planet with a moon is vanishingly small, just by force of numbers that would suggest that there are still plenty of ‘Earth’ like planets theoretically possible.”

    – It drastically thins the numbers. I.e., it’s entirely possible that *half* of galactic neighborhood sun-type solar systems have rocky planets in habitual zones, but that *none* of them have an Earth-life planet due to lack of a large moons creating suitable conditions for land-based life.

    Without a large, similarly-formed moon, the associated planet will lack rapid rotation, strong magnetic fields, crustal plate-tectonics, and a neither too thick nor thin ocean.

  69. The total amount of oxygen in the atmosphere – 21% is equal to all the organic carbon produced by photosynthesis that is currently buried in rocks. This level essentially doesn’t change despite how much we burn fossil fuels. A lump of coal represents an oxygen source for the atmosphere. Since the industrial revolution oxygen levels in the atmosphere have changed insignificantly, because this fossil fuels are a tiny portion of total buried carbon. Life and the earth’s geo-climate feedbacks keep CO2 levels very low and that is why we measure % rises in CO2. Naturally CO2 levels are kept very low because so that the climate remains optimized for large liquid oceans, photosynthesis and multi-cellular life. A value of 300 ppm CO2 optimises from radiative heat loss from the atmosphere to space at current temperatures. When eventually mankind either develops a nuclear energy source (e.g. fusion) or else returns to neolithic living, CO2 levels will return to optimum levels of around 300 ppm at least until the next ice age starts.

  70. Gary Hladik says:
    So it’s turtles aliens all the way down? :-)”

    Yup. And don’t get me wrong – I love science. I of course thoroughly reject a young earth – that’s ridiculous given a mountain of evidence for a billions-years-old earth. I just as strongly reject the idea that we evolved, starting with inorganic matter, by mere natural process/chance in a mere 4-5 billion odd years. For one thing, the probability – both for life’s beginning (even laying aside what, exactly, caused the “spark of life” in inorganic matter once it somehow assembled itself into the simplest life-supporting form possible) and also evolved to us in the estimated age of the earth is basically zero. Not in the age of the earth, not in the age of the universe, not in multiple order of magnitudes higher than the age of the universe.

    The truth, I think, lies somewhere between a young earth and some billions of years of total natural/random processes. I’m willing to accept just about anything in between – God can do whatever the Mordor he wants. But, science will never use the “G” word – so when the probabilities are just too great to ignore, and as time has gone by science discovers life to be more and more complex, not less – there will have to be some kind of explanation. My guess is that the alien thing will suffice.

  71. Frodo,
    You have written 2 posts which attempt to argue the near impossibility of our universe and life arising by chance.

    You first stated that the ratio of the gravitational constant to the EM constant is so finely tuned that it cannot differ from 1 part in 10^40. This sounds like a slam dunk if you consider only the traditional universe theory – that is our universe, all that is, came into being from a single event. However, I am gladdened by the more recent conjectures around various kinds of multiple events. There are some physicists who are talking about infinite multiverses which seed infinities more when their branes touch and form further big bangs.

    If ours is one of an infinite number, it isn’t any surprise that our universe is so finely tuned. In fact, there must logically be an infinity of such perfectly tuned universes.

    On your second point of how impossible it is for even bacteria to have evolved in the time available, a similar argument can be applied. In fact, there isn’t any need to postulate multi verses at all. Our universe contains so many stars that with all these trillions upon trillions of life laboratories working in parallel, there has been plenty of time for the numbers game to play out on one of them. And whatever world this happened to be, we would be discussing the same thing. Why our world?

    However, I will go further and take issue with your assertion that we would even need the amount of time that you suggest. Since we don’t know how life started we cannot possibly say how long it should take. That is a bit like an argumentum ad ignoratium.

  72. I started a response, it was a little too snarky. Also, I have a number of other things to do. Instead, I‘m perfectly willing for anyone interested to read your stuff and my stuff, then, hopefully, research the matter for themselves, and come to their own conclusions. Have a great day!

  73. Liquid water + organic compounds + energy source + a billion years or so

    IMO the above could readily produce sing-celled life and has done so in many, many places in the universe. Maybe even elsewhere in our own solar system, e.g. Europa.

    Don’t see where tides/rotation/magnetic fields are necessary.

  74. Remember, out of all the octillions of organic molecules dancing around in the universe, a self-replicating molecule only has to happen once and then it’s off to the races.

  75. This is a new study?

    Maybe I’ve got my info wrong but I thought this was already well-known. Certainly to SF writers, it was…

  76. Vince Causey says:
    July 23, 2014 at 5:51 am
    Frodo,
    However, I will go further and take issue with your assertion that we would even need the amount of time that you suggest. Since we don’t know how life started we cannot possibly say how long it should take. That is a bit like an argumentum ad ignoratium.
    ——————
    This of course goes both ways, whether argueing for life being likely or unlikely. Man kind does not posses the knowledge to make a more informed opinion than ‘I don’t know’ (at least not publicly, que twilight zone). The error bars on any calculation on the likelyhood of life off earth are as large as your imagination, or, if you prefer Descartes, as large as your will.

  77. Frodo says (July 23, 2014 at 5:42 am): “My guess is that the alien thing will suffice.”

    My point is that the G–er, “aliens”–all the way down thing doesn’t suffice. At some point you have to put up a “NO MORE TURTLES/ALIENS BEYOND THIS POINT” sign, or you’ve explained nothing.

    As for probabilities, I have conclusively proved Hubert Yockey’s calculations wrong, just as I have proved that Hulk can wield Thor’s hammer (by wielding Thor with the hammer in Thor’s grasp). :-)

  78. This is kind of obvious. Oceans bring thermal inertia to the climate. In addition many bioscientists concerned with the origin of life think that oceans may be needed as the incubator.

  79. just as I have proved that Hulk can wield Thor’s hammer (by wielding Thor with the hammer in Thor’s grasp)

    ###

    No you haven’t. You still need to prove that the Hulk can wield Thor whilst Thor wields his hammer.

  80. Eustace

    “Don’t see where tides/rotation/magnetic fields are necessary.”

    Without planetary magnetic field, no shield against cosmic rays and solar UV light. Cosmic rays can damage DNA and UV light is a germicide. They kill microbes. Without single-cell life, no multi-cell life. Or maybe evolution can bypass the microbe stage and the organic molecules will turn into a cat. But the cat will acquire cancer and die.

  81. Sorry it’s the atmosphere that shields UV light. So you also need an atmosphere.

  82. On second thought, if the creatures live under the sea, they are protected from cosmic rays and UV light even without atmosphere and magnetic field. It will be a world of fishes and the man from Atlantis.

  83. How much UV gets down to a “black smoker” on the ocean bottom?

    Liquid water? Check. Plenty of energy? Check. Organic molecules? Check.

    And in Earth’s case, lots of life.

  84. “How much UV gets down to a “black smoker” on the ocean bottom?”

    I’d say virtually none. Spent nuclear fuel rods emit gamma rays which are 10,000 times more energetic than UV. The fuel rods are kept in cooling pools 26 ft. underwater. Nuclear plant workers walk above these pools protected only by 26 ft. of water. It is safe and they don’t usually die of gamma ray radiation poisoning. We can throw away our nuclear waste in the sea. 5,000 ft. of water is a lot safer than 26 ft. But the fishes will protest.

  85. Frodo~ The evolutionary biologists attempting to unravel the origins of life do not typically begin their narratives with genes, and would never imagine that the simplest biological structures we find today, viruses, sprang into existence spontaneously with hundreds of genes that magically work well together. DNA cannot replicate itself on its own, so obviously could not have been present at the origin of life. In short~ there was an evolutionary process before genes. By bringing up viruses, you inadvertently created an analogy which helps tune the mind as to HOW to think about the origins of life. Viruses cannot exist alone. They are not alive, but have DNA which can be understood as a string of genes. Viruses arose upon a scaffold that previously existed~ living things with DNA. Viruses cannot exist or function without the capability of living cells to translate DNA code into proteins and enzymes. Likewise, DNA cannot exist on its own. RNA is required so that DNA can replicate itself and thus create an evolutionary process. DNA cannot replicate on its own, but RNA can, so logically, RNA is a candidate for a precursor to DNA, just as living DNA bearing cells were precursors to viruses. There are RNA viruses too, but my point is, that you cannot use the simplest gene structures that are currently known to exist, and then assume they must represent the simplest living things that have ever existed. That displays both a lack of understanding of the current evolutionary origins point of view, and a lack of imagination. The DNA evolution of life we study at present was most certainly erected upon a scaffold of much simpler RNA evolution, but there are scant traces of the scaffold left (but they are there, and still essential to the current process). The RNA WORLD which is proposed to have existed before the DNA WORLD, is so logical and parsimonious that it is silly to criticize it, because of how evolution works. The driving process in evolution is replication. Any molecule that makes copies of itself will start an evolutionary process. DNA doesn’t make copies of itself, so genes cannot be present at the origin of life. RNA does self-replicate, and can spontaneously form out of an animo acid bath and electrical energy (and yes, animo acids are well known to spontaneously form in the same conditions). I am not going to take the time to cite references regarding the details of what I’m saying, because A) the gist of this post is that you are thinking about it the wrong way, and B) I don’t really care if you agree or not, and no appeal to ‘authority’ would sway your point of view, because you don’t understand the fundamentals of evolution. All creationist arguments against the theory of evolution are founded upon complete ignorance of what the theory of evolution is about. A good test is this~ if your understanding of evolutionary theory is that it is about random chance, then you don’t understand it, and obviously haven’t even tried to. That is the simplest way I can put it.

  86. For an informative discussion on the molecular origin of life, including “Spiegelmann’s monster”, a simple self-replicating virus in a beaker of simple chemicals, check out the last couple of chapters of The Ancestor’s Tale by Richard Dawkins.

  87. Ric Werme says:
    July 22, 2014 at 4:58 am

    I don’t know what the seasonal range of surface temps on Venus is. … I doubt it’s 100C°.

    More like 1K. CO2 is such an effective receiver and re-transmitter of IR that day/night pole/equator variation/differences are tiny. They’re short-circuited at lightspeed.

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