Hope, Not Evidence, Drives Astrobiology

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Posted on August 25, 2016 in Astronomy, Cosmology, Darwin and Evolution, Dumb Ideas, Intelligent Design, Origin of Life, Philosophy of Science, Physics, SETI, Solar System

Earth-size exoplanets are not evidence for alien life. They are evidence for orbiting bodies.

It doesn’t take much fact to launch a party in the news media. Just announce that “an earth-like planet has been found orbiting a nearby star.” Instantly, the celebrations will start.

  • Earth-sized world ‘around nearest star’ (BBC News). Jonathan Amos writes, “the discovery of a planet potentially favourable to life in our cosmic neighbourhood is likely to fire the imagination.
  • Earth-sized planet around nearby star is astronomy dream come true (Nature). Alexandra Witze writes, “a longstanding dream of science-fiction writers — a potentially habitable world that is close enough for humans to send their first interstellar spacecraft.”
  • Aliens Next Door: Does Proxima b Host Life? (Space.com). Speculations abound: “probing that atmosphere for signs of life — would have huge implications for the abundance of life in the universe.” See also “What’s it like on Proxima b?” by Sarah Lewin on Space.com.
  • Alien World ‘Proxima b’ Around Nearest Star Could Be Earth-Like (Live Science). The video in this piece provides some harsh realities: Proxima b orbits its red dwarf every 11 earth-days. It gets X-radiation 400 times stronger than what earth receives from the sun. And astronomers aren’t sure if the world is rocky or a ball of gas.
  • Getting to Proxima b might become an existential requirement (New Scientist). Our sun will burn out in a few more billion years, but “Proxima Centauri will shine on for a trillion years, basking the planet in its warm, inviting glow. If humans or our descendants are still around, we will need somewhere to move to.” See also Stephen Baxter’s hope for our far distant future.
  • Looking For Life on Proxima b? Try Glowing Aliens (National Geographic). The unobservable aliens on our neighboring exoplanet are so smart, they’ve already evolved ways to glow in the dark! Since there’s a lot less light for them to see by, “It’s a more evolutionarily appropriate scenario.”

The announcement in Nature shows how the planet around Earth’s nearest neighboring star, Proxima Centauri, was discovered. The planet, called Proxima b, “lies squarely in the centre of the classical habitable zone for Proxima,” the authors say, but that’s just 0.05 Au (4.6 million miles) from its star. It’s 1.3 times as massive as Earth. They have to deal with bad news of trying to live around a red dwarf star: (1) possibility of tidal locking, (2) strong stellar magnetic fields, (3) strong flares, (4) high UV radiation, and (5) high X-radiation: 400 times stronger than what Earth receives. They try to hope that none of these things would strip the planet’s atmosphere away (if it even has one).

As we have shown many times, though (e.g., 06/23/16), habitability requires much more than a safe distance where water can exist in liquid form. Here’s another: does Proxima b have Van Allen Belts? The twin Van Allen Probes recently detected a “space tsunami” of supercharged electrons accelerated to almost the speed of light on March 17 by one of the greatest geomagnetic storms of the previous decade (Science Daily). The deadly electrons, which could pose severe hazards to spacecraft or astronauts, did not reach Earth because of our planet’s strong magnetic field that creates the Van Allen Belts. Our sun is a quiet star compared to most red dwarfs, and yet one coronal mass ejection gave our shields a strong hit. What about planets that don’t have that kind of protection orbiting stars that emit deadly flares on a regular basis?

Magnetic fields, moreover, are not eternal. Another paper in Nature tried to address the persistent puzzle about Earth’s magnetic field and its origin.

Recent palaeomagnetic observations report the existence of a magnetic field on Earth that is at least 3.45 billion years old. Compositional buoyancy caused by inner-core growth is the primary driver of Earth’s present-day geodynamo, but the inner core is too young to explain the existence of a magnetic field before about one billion years ago.

To address that conundrum, the authors supposed that an impact brought in enough magnesium to kick-start the convection needed to drive the geodynamo (the energy source for the field, according to consensus theory). Whether this would work is certainly to be debated, but the point is: without a magnetic shield, it doesn’t matter if a planet is in the habitable zone. Life could not survive extreme UV, X-rays and cosmic rays.

An exoplanet needs the right atmosphere. Space.com reminds readers that another exoplanet dubbed “Exo-Venus” could be a hellish world, even with oxygen.

When studying an alien world orbiting another star, one would think astronomers would be thrilled to detect oxygen in its atmosphere. Oxygen could mean life, after all. But in the case of GJ 1132b, which orbits a star 39 light-years away, the detection of oxygen would mean the exact opposite.

The exoplanet, which can be thought of as an “exo-Venus,” is, as you’d expect, a hellish world. It has a very compact orbit around its star, at a distance of only 1.4 million miles, ensuring that it’s constantly baked by the star’s powerful radiation.

So where should we look for life? Paul Rincon at the BBC News reminds us that many factors are needed besides water. The magnetic field is important. A quiet star is important. Red dwarfs, which make up 75% of stars, are not exactly the best candidates.

For those thinking an earth-like planet close to home is good, Jacob Aron at New Scientist has bad news. Interstellar probes would be eroded by space dust on the way. When you accelerate to 1/5 the speed of light—as some dreamers propose—the kinetic energy of tiny dust grains becomes significant. If a direct hit of a dust particle doesn’t wipe out your ship, it would certainly cause severe wear and tear. Aron also lists 7 questions we need to ask about Proxima b in another article on New Scientist, including “Are there aliens” there?

The Dream Is On! – Or, Dream On

Without the ability to detect life on Proxima b or any other exoplanet anytime soon, the dreamers feed on hope. “What do aliens look like?” Matthew Wills dreams on The Conversation. His answer: “The clue is in evolution.” That’s not likely to impress evolution skeptics. More precisely, Wills says: “The answer to this question really depends on how we think evolution works at the deepest level.” So why does he appeal to the Cambrian Explosion and convergent evolution for insight? Those are two of the biggest criticisms of Darwinian evolution. Darwin skeptics point to those as clues that evolutionists have no idea how evolution works at the deepest level.

Answering Fermi’s Paradox

Harvard dreamer Avi Loeb has a new answer to Enrico Fermi’s old conundrum: if aliens have evolved longer than we have, they should have come by now. Loeb’s new answer, published in the Journal of Cosmology and Astroparticle Physics, is that we are the early birds. PhysOrg explains the idea in layman terms. “A team of researchers including astrophysicists from the University of Oxford has set about trying to answer these questions—and their results raise the possibility that we Earthlings might be the first to arrive at the cosmic party.” It’s a convenient answer. Too bad there is no evidence to confirm or falsify it. Every factor in the calculation is highly speculative.

Returning to the hype about Proxima b, David Klinghoffer notes at Evolution News & Views that evolutionists feel a deep need to find life. “If it could ever be known that only one planet in the cosmos was graced with biology, that would pose an insurmountable difficulty for Darwinists.” And so they hope on.

The one constant in the hope and hype about aliens is scientific materialism. That worldview has no better process than Darwinian evolution. But since Darwinism reduces to the Stuff Happens Law, the answer to everything they say about astrobiology reduces to Stuff Happens as well. Read Doug Axe’s new book Undeniable, where he shows that some stuff never happens: namely, the emergence, without insight, of hierarchically-arranged, functionally coherent operational wholes. Like life.

 

 

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