Fermi’s Paradox: Gaia, life begets life

In my continuing pursuit of Fermi’s Paradox, we have yet another theory: The Gaia Hypothesis.

As simply as I can… The early formation and saturation of microbial life on Earth allowed for the stabilization of the conditions that supported life. Life begat life. Without life assisting in the stabilization of the carbon cycle, the atmospheric conditions would have swung to extremes. Extremes which, like Mars and Venus, too cold or too hot, would have extinguished life.

If microbial life doesn’t form quickly enough, stick around long enough, and permeate the ecosphere then any planet (in the Goldilocks zone) will drift into uninhabitable conditions. Biological life has had 3.8 billion years to transform the planet’s surface. And it has. Without early life, the theory goes, Earth would have succumbed to runaway greenhouse conditions like Venus, boiling off its water, rendering it inhospitable. Or, would have froze up—permanently, like Mars.

Now, I have trouble with this theory as it ignores the impact of the other features that, among many others, are unique to Earth, namely, a massive Moon, active tectonic plates and just enough radiation to retain the perfect balance of volcanism and carbon weathering and biotic sequestration. But, it cannot be denied that early life DID have an impact and DID assist in the creation of conditions ripe for multicellular life’s burgeoning explosion in the last 600 million years or so.

(Besides, if it weren’t for the Carboniferous period and the surrounding ±50 millions years, the gigatons of carbon (coal and crude oil) would never have been deposited and made available to humans for exploitation. This is yet another future series topic that we’ll explore regarding Fermi’s Paradox.)

The Gaian Bottleneck, as it’s called, undoubtedly had an impact. Is it the sole reason for the dearth of aliens we expect to see in the night sky? No. But it can be added to the coin-flip probability equation we’ve been building. 2^70 Unique.

Boom!
ET, where for art thou?

 

Fermi’s Paradox: Radioactivity

Premise: The collision of Theia, approximately 4.4 billion years ago, resulted in the transfer of just the right amount of radioactive elements (Uranium & Thorium, mostly) to provide for the perfectly balanced Carbon cycle we enjoy today.

Theia striking primordial Earth

Theia’s impact produced, not only the Moon (which is instrumental to Earth’s stability among other things) and not only gave Earth a much larger Iron/Nickel core (resulting in an oversized and critically necessary magnetosphere), but also transferred a Goldilocks amount of Uranium and Thorium to the Earth’s core to allow the Carbon cycle to exist.

Plate tectonics and vulcanism allow for sequestered Carbon (the sediment of billions of years of photosynthetic death and deposition) to be recycled into the atmosphere providing the perfect amount of CO2, turning Earth into the greenhouse paradise we enjoy today.

It is the core of the Earth that warms our planet and not the atmospheric  greenhouse effect - Matière et Révolution
The perfect amount of radioactivity to maintain a molten mantel.

Without just the right amount of radioactivity, Earth’s core would either cool, ending the Carbon cycle (in addition to collapsing the magnetosphere) or boil the surface causing far too much vulcanism for life to exist on the planet.

This is just one more reason to accept that Earth is unique in the Universe and that Fermi’s Paradox is not a paradox at all.

We are probabilistically alone. 2^70 alone.

Dear Mudge, Shitty Odds

Dear Mudge,

I think we mortals spend far too much time contemplating The End.

It seems as soon as our consciousness settles in, at about thirteen or fourteen, we begin to visualize, explore and worry about our final moments and the fraction of a nano-second thereafter. Here we go again with having brains far-too-big-for-our-own-good.

Dogs don’t contemplate death. Parrots, pandas, and porcupines live for the moment and the moment only. Maybe elephants and dolphins consider their future expiration, but I doubt it.

Why us? Why are we morbidly enthralled with The End?

I don’t know. But since we’re here, talking about our collective demise, I’m gonna bore you again with more big-picture pontificating… Namely: Fermi’s Paradox and how humanity’s end, or at least its technological collapse, is preordained.

The Holocene is ending. The window for humanity’s bloom was brief and frankly anomalous in the epoch-spanning scheme of things: CO2vsTemp_Holocene

That blue squiggle up there at the right, hovering around 0C, is the Holocene—an unusually long (for us), warm period in Earth’s history. During that tiny window of geological time civilization came to be.

Whether the Holocene ends and temperatures begin to drop, or the anthropogenic CO2 humanity continues to pump into the atmosphere overrides it and we head into a new PETM (Paleocene/Eocene Thermal Maxima) the Holocene is toast, in a manner of speaking. But while it lasted, the Holocene was one of a long line of fortuitous accidents benefiting—us.

There are so many serendipitous events that undergird the existence of life, first of all, and secondly, humanity and humanity’s technological position in the Universe, that, just being here is a fucking miracle. The factors that make up our “luck” are mind-blowingly extensive. Here’s my go-to mind-trick for explaining this miraculous streak of good fortune: Imagine flipping a coin 70 times and every flip lands up heads.

That’s 1 / 2^70 = 2·2·2·2·2·2·2·2·2·2·2·2·2·2·2·2·2·2·2·2·2·2·2·2·2·2·2·2·2·2·2·2·2·2·2·2·
2·2·2·2·2·2·2·2·2·2·2·2·2·2·2·2·2·2·2·2·2·2·2·2·2·2·2·2·2·2·2·2·2·2 =
1,180,591,620,717,411,303,424 = 1 SEXTILLION

The odds of us (technologically existing) are 1 out of 1 sextillion.

I’ll not bore you further with the source of all these coin flips, but things like: Goldilocks zone, distance from galactic center, our G2V sun, Theia/Moon, rocky planet, ice comet bombardment, 3 billion years of biological life cleansing the seas and depositing vast stores of carbon (oil/coal/nat.gas), trees, grass, livestock—are all factors from which these flips are derived.

Now that I’ve got you crying for The End…

Given all the “luck” we’ve had getting here, and it’s been a stunning chain of events, that luck can’t possibly hold. The party is most definitely coming to an end.

As we know, there are a couple of dozen excellent ways for that to happen. Will it end in an instant or a tortuous dwindling of resources; a massive calamitous extinguishing BANG! Or a crippling thwack against our infrastructure leaving ragged remnants to piddle along for millennia? Who’s to know?

But, the odds are against us. So, toot your horn, raise a glass, sing a song, love the one you’re with…

Then again, who fuckin’ cares how it all ends? None of us make it out of here alive.

Stewie the Stoic would remind us however, that…

[Addendum: The Fermi Paradox tie-in? Humanity enjoyed a string of incredible luck. Any other intelligent life, arising in the Universe, would require an equally improbable run of happy coincidences. Therefore, the question regarding the absence of life we see in the Universe (Fermi’s Paradox) can be answered by our own improbable existence. We are a most outrageous cosmic accident.]

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fermi’s Paradox: Theia & the Volcano

Olympus Mons, the largest known volcano in the solar system sits atop a tectonically dead Mars.

OlympusMons

Mars is tectonically dead as it’s not as large as Earth, has a much smaller molten core and did not get hit by a Theia-like planet early in its formation. Eventually its electro-magneto engine slowed to a near stop, its core cooled, its volcanoes froze up.

Theia was the Mars sized planet that is theorized to have hit Earth early in the history of the solar system.

Theia

When Theia hit, much of its own iron & nickel core was transferred to Earth. The remainder of that planet was strewn around Earth in a massive debris disk that eventually formed the Moon.

Moon

This rare incident is most likely the prime reason life exists on Earth.

What did this impact contribute toward our humanly existence?

Firstly, this impact added an extra large iron/nickel core which provides the massive molten dynamo which drives the Magnetosphere. The Magnetosphere protects Earth from both solar and galactic winds (radiation). Winds that would blow our atmosphere away just as they did on Mars. This extra iron/nickel core also continues to contribute to the amount of magma on which the tectonic plates float.

Secondly, this impact gave us the Moon — the largest moon in the solar system (in comparison to its host planet). And most likely a very rare sized moon for most of the galaxy/universe—especially for Goldilocks distance, rocky planets like Earth.

The existence of the Moon may actually be more important to our health and well being than we think.

The moon is like a shield that has obviously absorbed thousands of asteroid impacts in its history, many which would have struck Earth.

The Moon’s size means that it adds to tectonic flexing of Earth’s inner molten core thereby stress-heating the mantel (which is important, more on this later).

The Moon’s size also induces the tidal movement of Earth’s vast water system, a thing that probably aided the formation and rapid evolution of coastal life.

But back to the extra heavy iron/nickel core donated by Theia…

Earth’s tectonic plates and their constant movement–pulling and crushing together–contributes in multiple dimensions to the recycling of critical life sustaining elements. Vulcanism allows buried carbon, sequestered by hundreds of millions of years of plant growth and death, to be blasted back into the atmosphere as CO2. Which is a good thing. Without Carbon recycling the Earth would have froze and never emerged from its deep freeze.

Plate tectonics create mountain ranges—mineral-rich rock lifted into the sky where weathering erodes the rock and all the elements of life, allowing these minerals to drain into streams, rivers and the oceans where algae and zooplankton can consume them and thrive.

Continental plates and volcanoes keep the planet alive by recycling nutrients and green house gasses. There is the water cycle, the carbon cycle and the nutrients cycle—two of which would not happen without active tectonic plates and volcanoes.

However, this activity comes at a cost. Volcanoes and massive lava flows have destroyed millions of square kilometers of plant and animal life most likely contributing to if not causing most of the past extinction events. Even relatively small eruptions: Toba, Yellowstone, Krakatoa, Taupo, and hundreds of others cooled the planet, sometimes five to ten degrees Centigrade. A decades long volcanic winter would be no fun for a young technologically burgeoning species.

Theia and her contribution helped produce the environment where humanity could exist and thrive. But it also doomed us to live on a dangerous planet that has proven it regards life not at all.

We’re here because of Theia. A rare incident in the Cosmos. Fermi’s Paradox is not a paradox at all. We are unique in the Universe. But if Earth’s volcanoes have anything say in the matter, being unique may mean being dead.

[A note on anthropogenic CO2: Although volcanoes recycle CO2 which helps keep the planet warm, humans have been acting like their own world-wide volcano. We’ve been taking ancient, buried carbon (oil, coal and natural gas) and releasing it at impossible rates as CO2 back into the atmosphere. We are our own volcano. Will our actions result in causing another extinction event?]

Fermi’s Paradox: Space Crap

Did you know the FCC is one of the agencies that governs satellites and the potential for them to turn into space crap. That’s a technical term: everyone knows aliens empty their sewage lines and dump their garbage before they streak off at FTL speeds.

Starlink

The more humans shoot stuff into LEO (low earth orbit) the higher the probability that eventually, that stuff smacks into other stuff and then game over. Millions of itty-bitty specs, screaming around the planet, that will fuck-you-up if they hit you. No more space access for humanity for centuries. Not at least until they find a way to launch a Jedi laser garbageman to clean up the mess.

But more than this, the fact that space crap (rocks, pebbles, dust, astrophysical-shrapnel) circling in quantity any habitable planet, will pretty much preclude any intelligent species from ever getting off the surface and up into orbit.

Add this to the reasons Fermi’s Paradox is not a conundrum.

Earth is 2^70 unique—a coin, flipped 70 times, all landing heads—unique.