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Space Earth Science Technology

Scientists Find That Conditions For Life May Hinge On How Fast the Universe Is Expanding (sciencemag.org) 86

sciencehabit writes: Scientists have known for several years now that stars, galaxies, and almost everything in the universe is moving away from us (and from everything else) at a faster and faster pace. Now, it turns out that the unknown forces behind the rate of this accelerating expansion - a mathematical value called the cosmological constant - may play a previously unexplored role in creating the right conditions for life. That is the conclusion that a group of physicists who studied the effects of massive cosmic explosions, called gamma ray bursts, on planets made. They found that when it comes to growing life, it's better to be far away from your neighbors - and the cosmological constant helps thin out the neighborhood.
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Scientists Find That Conditions For Life May Hinge On How Fast the Universe Is Expanding

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  • well... (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 29, 2016 @07:33PM (#51611491)

    I feel like my quality of life goes up the further I live from my neighbors.

    • by Tablizer ( 95088 )

      Evolving life and evolving nerds may not be the same thing.

      I wonder if there is not a "galactic basement" out there somewhere...

      • Evolving life and evolving nerds may not be the same thing.

        I wonder if there is not a "galactic basement" out there somewhere...

        Well, no matter which way you are looking at the rest of the universe, from here it's always up...
        Sorry but this IS the basement...

    • "Would they get to the bus stop in time, if they ever set out?’

      ‘Well—theoretically. But it’d be a distance of light-years. And they wouldn’t want to by now: not those old chaps like Tamberlaine and Genghis Khan, or Julius Caesar, or Henry the Fifth.’

      ‘Wouldn’t want to?’

      ‘That’s right. The nearest of those old ones is Napoleon. We know that because two chaps made the journey to see him. They’d started long before I came, of course, but I w

    • by GuB-42 ( 2483988 )

      You may think young couples make annoying neighbors but that's because you never lived next to a couple of decaying stars.

  • by ControlsGeek ( 156589 ) on Monday February 29, 2016 @07:35PM (#51611503)

    "when it comes to growing life, it's better to be far away from your neighbors -" . ... Not only that but I found its easier to create life if you are far away from your in-laws.

  • by turkeydance ( 1266624 ) on Monday February 29, 2016 @07:45PM (#51611571)
    so...does that mean the expanding universe provides more chances for more life?
    • by creimer ( 824291 ) on Monday February 29, 2016 @07:51PM (#51611605) Homepage
      It reduces the chances that your planet will be obliterated by the Vogons for an intergalactic highway construction project
      • It reduces the chances that your planet will be obliterated by the Vogons for an intergalactic highway construction project

        Maybe once things have expanded and the species have learned enough not to destroy each other, someone will change the cosmological constant and bring them back together.

    • by Tablizer ( 95088 )

      In the case of our "type" of universe, they said there's a trade-off: too little expansion and there's too much radiation for complex life.

      Too much expansion, and then not enough "right kind" of stars form to provide homes for complex life. (Density helps star formation). The simulation seems to have us in the "sweet spot" with enough stars but not too much radiation.

      I'm not sure if "right kind" of star has to do with star size, and/or heavy elements. Without enough star "recycle" generations passing, eleme

      • by tnk1 ( 899206 )

        Yes, the Population III stars which were basically all hydrogen with a little helium and lithium and occurred nearest the Big Bang would have had to have run through their lifespans to have produced significant amounts of heavier elements and then distributed them. The Population II stars were also "metal-poor" (in this case "metal" meaning any element above helium).

        Of course, you want "metals" not only to form life itself, but to form the actual planets and objects that life could appear on. While I imag

        • Life as we know it - neglects self-organizing patterns constructed of mostly hydrogen and helium, plasmas and repeating pulse patterns. They might be difficult to talk to, but the possibility of life in the vastness of interstellar space seems difficult to deny - too many combinations of circumstances out there to think that self-replicating patterns wouldn't happen at least somewhere in the last 10 billion years.

          • by KGIII ( 973947 )

            What are we defining as life? I guess that needs to be well defined and I've heard a few definitions. It's funny that life. It does seem to always find a way. Look at just the 'extremophiles' we have on Earth. The Earth is teeming with life and, as you said, it seems unlikely that there's nowhere else that has not also developed some form of life. It seems likely to happen in some rather varied situations. While it's a particularly unique set of circumstances for the life we see here, odds are that that has

        • by Tablizer ( 95088 )

          While I imagine there might have been at least some planets in Pop II stars, you're going to want to look first at Population I stars for planets and life.

          I suspect you meant "first at Population III stars".

      • by KGIII ( 973947 )

        A recent-watched documentary suggested that if the universe had expanded at a greater rate that gravity would not have been a strong enough force for things to be attraction so that not only would not the right kind of stars form, nothing would have formed.

        However, given your statement, I'm inclined to wonder if there's more flexibility and somewhere betwixt the two where some things would form and not others. It makes sense that there's some gray area. I'm not sure if it was expressly stated but it was ce

      • by Bengie ( 1121981 )
        If you assume Earth is the only planet with life, then the Universe is not in a sweet spot, just an unlikely anomaly with a selection bias.
  • I ain't fucking with no gamma rays, that's for damn sure.

  • by koan ( 80826 )

    This just affirms my belief that the Universe was always ordained (pun intended) to allow life to emerge.
    It is, and was (at the start) a mathematical certainty.

    We start with a singular point, it expands, becomes more complex, elements are created and eventually planets then life.

    There's a lot of yatta yatta in between those points but you get my drift.

    • Or, there could be "zillions" of universes all with different laws of physics. The vast majority are probably "duds" in terms of complex life. We are not "lucky" in the usual sense, but only in the sense that ponderers of existence will only exist in universes that allow ponderers to form. There are no existence-ponderers in the dud universes (by definition of "dud" here). I'd call that a form of feedback-based perspective, not luck.

      Or, maybe there's something weird going on with quantum physics-like probab

      • by tnk1 ( 899206 )

        Well, if you look at it another way, this universe *was* always destined to produce life. It was generated by whatever process determines the parameters with the parameters that would produce life.

        Obviously, the concept of "destiny" here as a romantic notion is not really applicable, but if you mean it in the sense that there was no other option than it would appear with these parameters, I think you could make a case for it.

        I just think the concept of the multiverse is just another rabbit-hole. If the un

  • Are we talking about only carbon based lifeforms that are similar size to us and have the same senses that we evolved based on conditions on Earth surface? Then there is no doubt that we will find our universe to be specially designed for "life", since we are obviously there.

    Or are we talking about intelligence that might exist thanks to complex matter and energy interactions on event horizons of black holes? The range of hospitable univeses for that might be slightly different.

  • by Dr. Spork ( 142693 ) on Monday February 29, 2016 @09:32PM (#51612129)
    Unless you're really close to a gamma ray burst, your planet will not be radiation-sterilized. And since most life is in the oceans and underground, it will not notice when the ozone layer is burned off. Anyway, the effect would be temporary. I have a feeling that this is a case of physicists who don't understand the difference between the resilience of familiar lifeforms and the resilience of life.
  • Many a boy on his way to school has been scared for life by those unfortunate NSFL events.

    But what can the family do? They love her dearly and like to keep their elders close, even when she would be better off in the dementia ward of the local nursing home.
  • TFS mentions a "cosmological constant" as the reason for the acceleration of the expansion of the universe. I thought that the cosmological constant was a so-called "fudge factor" to back the steady state theory-- and that Einstein said it was the biggest blunder of his career. Can someone enlighten me about which constant is being referred to in the summary?
    • TFS mentions a "cosmological constant" as the reason for the acceleration of the expansion of the universe. I thought that the cosmological constant was a so-called "fudge factor" to back the steady state theory-- and that Einstein said it was the biggest blunder of his career. Can someone enlighten me about which constant is being referred to in the summary?

      The same one. It's back.

      • by HybridST ( 894157 ) on Tuesday March 01, 2016 @12:08AM (#51612689) Homepage

        I'm not a physicist (oops - i mean IANAP) so the standard dose of salt should apply but i have watched many lectures online about many topics within physics. My understanding is that it really is the same term but used a bit differently.

        Einstein favoured a steady state term(iirc he used gamma for it) in the equations for GR which was called the cosmological constant. Along came hubble who discovered the expansion of the universe and Einstein finally gave up on the fudge-factor term he had inserted to keep the universe mostly static..

        60 or so years go by until scientists in the mid 90's discover that the expansion of the universe is accelerating contrary to most of their expectations. They reinstate the fudge-factor term but this time to represent so-called dark energy and it's effects on space-time.

        That pretty much brings it up to date. For more info find Susskind lectures on all kinds of physics on youtube and on the Stanford site with a few honourable mentions in the repository of the Perimeter Institute's public lectures available at their site.

  • As all are aware Einstein's math showed an expanding Universe so came up with the cosmological constant to keep the universe a closed system and satisfy the then common understanding of the Universe at the time.

    He later removed it calling it the worst mistake in his life. How is this article able to disprove Einstein which is a sure sign it's wrong, yet make it to the mainstream.

    They must be ready for a fight to justify their claim over a bad choice of what to call it.

    • by ChromaticDragon ( 1034458 ) on Monday February 29, 2016 @10:44PM (#51612403)

      You raise a worthy query.

      But I'd like to raise a couple of concerns. First, you could just have done a quick websearch on "Cosmological Constant". The Wikipedia article alone is enough to answer your query although the math there might turn some away. Second, though, and much more concerning to me is this strange apparent deification of Einstein. The man was a decent scientist. But he was surrounded by and worked with many other incredibly talented folk. On many things he was correct. However, he was on the wrong side of many debates. One of the cool things about Einstein was that he was able to admit when he was wrong (though it may have taken a bit of time and patience for folk to demonstrate where and why he was wrong).

      But the Cosmological Constant? Nah. That one is easy. He added it, as you've described as much because of what he wanted to be true rather than what evidence had shown to be true. But when he did so, the evidence wasn't so strong either way. Pretty much as soon as the evidence rolled in, he backed off.

      So why is it back in play now? Well, you need to understand it's been back for years now. This aspect isn't new. The authors of this article don't need to defend it. Indeed, nobody really does. Why? Because more evidence keeps rolling in and now we know we need it. Evidence trumps theories.

      But this isn't a binary thing. It's not off/on. It, at the very least, is negative/zero/positive. Einstein set it to a negative value. He'd hoped this resulted in a static universe. Now we know that even that isn't correct. It's static, but unstable. When removing it, he essentially set it to zero. This matched an expanding universe. But as the evidence kept rolling in, it's clear that the universe isn't just expanding - it's expanding at an ever increasing rate. To get that, you need a positive value.

    • by KGIII ( 973947 )

      Hmm... I have to refer back to Brian Greene again. IIRC...

      Einstein was right, he thought he was wrong. It's seen as unfortunate that he died believing he was wrong about when he was actually right. At the other end of the spectrum, it's also unfortunate that he died believing that God does play dice.

      At least that's how I recall him saying it. Buggered if I know... I'm just pretty sure that's what Brian Greene (or maybe one of the many physicists in his documentary) said. It was either his series on the univ

      • Hmm... I have to refer back to Brian Greene again. IIRC...

        I've read his book "The Elegant Universe". He's very much into string theory, his description of gravity and it's ability to transverse dimensions explains dark matter to me - right or wrong I'm comfortable with my understanding of it. It's best described in the DVD's that comes with the book. The book itself is easy reading and the library normally carries it.

        But it's the 8 episode series season 1 of "How the Universe works" narrated by Mike Rowe (of Dirty Jobs) I've watched untold times, it puts me to sle

  • Unfortunately for this claim, there's a fascinating "clumping" effect as larger gas clouds collect, forming supernova capable stars within the cloud, and then causing a cascade of stellar formation when the first supernovae explode. The result is that local concentrqtions are disrupted into new, more stqable, more evenly populated states. The supernovae act much like "backfires" in stellar formation by triggering early formaton, which partially exhausts the resources of the cloud.

    The result is a surprising

  • by jandersen ( 462034 ) on Tuesday March 01, 2016 @05:34AM (#51613509)

    I think, in the background of this article and others like it hovers the assumption that life is a rare, unlikely event. I would argue that the opposite is the case: life is something that must arise in any dynamic system, unless there are specific conditions against it. Since the Miller-Urey experiment in the 50es we have seen a growing body of evidence suggesting that the components of life are generated all the time, everywhere, cosmologically speaking, and that life itself is simply another level of chemical complexity, to put it simply.

    I said 'dynamic system' for a reason: dynamic systems are mathematical abstractions of the physical world, and even on that level you can begin to see glimpses of something central for life: spotaneous, localised decreases in entropy. Drawing lines from there to life itself is of course wildly speculative, but I am very much in favour of the idea that the universe is teeming with life; read Stephen Baxter's "exultant (sic)" for some interesting thoughts about this idea (as well as some good SF).

    • by Empiric ( 675968 )
      The Miller-Urey experiment is farcical handwaving in terms of claiming support for spontaneous generation of complex life. Applying electrical and chemical processes to biochemicals, we achieve... other biochemicals. This is not remotely production of life.
      • The Miller-Urey experiment is farcical handwaving in terms of claiming support for spontaneous generation of complex life.

        No, not really; it is a simple demonstration of the fact that some of the molecules used by living organisms can be produced under conditions similar to what science at the time thought Earth might have been like. Since then we have discovered many other environments in which plausible precursors to biological molecules are produced; it all adds up. I recommend the writings of Nick Lane (professor at UCL: http://traditions.cultural-chi... [cultural-china.com]) - he makes a lot of sense, and I am sure he isn't the only one eithe

  • Because of propaganda, one of the biggest stumbling blocks for Creationists is that there is no theory of abiogenesis. Also because of propaganda, scientists dismiss abiogenesis as an important theoretical foundation for evolution. I’ll give you a computer analogy: Evolution ignoring abiogenesis is like learning algorithms and data structures without learning computer architecture. Actually, most software engineers are like this, and they’re quite successful, but ignorance of the underlying

  • Life depends on my very arcane research.

    Please give me more funding.
  • From a probability perspective, the Drake equations are crap. If there are 10 to the 29th stars in the universe, then that means in order for life to be unique in the universe, we need 29 events in a row with a 1 in 10 chance of occurring. If we're just trying to be unique in this here local galaxy of 100 billion stars, then we only needs 11 events in a row with a 1 in 10 chance of happening.

You had mail. Paul read it, so ask him what it said.

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