Rare Earth hypothesis

Rare Earth hypothesis

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In planetary astronomy and astrobiology
Astrobiology
Astrobiology is the study of the origin, evolution, distribution, and future of life in the universe. This interdisciplinary field encompasses the search for habitable environments in our Solar System and habitable planets outside our Solar System, the search for evidence of prebiotic chemistry,...

, the Rare Earth hypothesis argues that the emergence of complex multicellular life (metazoa) on Earth
Earth
Earth is the third planet from the Sun, and the densest and fifth-largest of the eight planets in the Solar System. It is also the largest of the Solar System's four terrestrial planets...

 required an improbable combination of astrophysical
Astrophysics
Astrophysics is the branch of astronomy that deals with the physics of the universe, including the physical properties of celestial objects, as well as their interactions and behavior...

 and geological
Geology
Geology is the science comprising the study of solid Earth, the rocks of which it is composed, and the processes by which it evolves. Geology gives insight into the history of the Earth, as it provides the primary evidence for plate tectonics, the evolutionary history of life, and past climates...

 events and circumstances. The term "Rare Earth" comes from Rare Earth: Why Complex Life Is Uncommon in the Universe (2000), a book by Peter Ward
Peter Ward (paleontologist)
Peter Douglas Ward is a paleontologist and professor of Biology and of Earth and Space Sciences at the University of Washington, Seattle, and has written popular science works for a general audience. He is also an adviser to the Microbes Mind Forum....

, a geologist and paleontologist, and Donald E. Brownlee
Donald E. Brownlee
Don Brownlee is a professor of astronomy at the University of Washington and the principal investigator for NASA's STARDUST mission. His primary research interests include astrobiology, comets, cosmic dust, and porsche evangelism....

, an astronomer and astrobiologist
Astrobiology
Astrobiology is the study of the origin, evolution, distribution, and future of life in the universe. This interdisciplinary field encompasses the search for habitable environments in our Solar System and habitable planets outside our Solar System, the search for evidence of prebiotic chemistry,...

. Their book is the source for much of this article.

The rare earth hypothesis is the contrary of the widely accepted principle of mediocrity (also called the Copernican principle
Copernican principle
In physical cosmology, the Copernican principle, named after Nicolaus Copernicus, states that the Earth is not in a central, specially favored position. More recently, the principle has been generalized to the relativistic concept that humans are not privileged observers of the universe...

), advocated by Carl Sagan
Carl Sagan
Carl Edward Sagan was an American astronomer, astrophysicist, cosmologist, author, science popularizer and science communicator in astronomy and natural sciences. He published more than 600 scientific papers and articles and was author, co-author or editor of more than 20 books...

 and Frank Drake
Frank Drake
Frank Donald Drake PhD is an American astronomer and astrophysicist. He is most notable as one of the pioneers in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, including the founding of SETI, mounting the first observational attempts at detecting extraterrestrial communications in 1961 in Project...

, among others. The principle of mediocrity concludes that the Earth is a typical rocky planet
Planet
A planet is a celestial body orbiting a star or stellar remnant that is massive enough to be rounded by its own gravity, is not massive enough to cause thermonuclear fusion, and has cleared its neighbouring region of planetesimals.The term planet is ancient, with ties to history, science,...

 in a typical planetary system
Planetary system
A planetary system consists of the various non-stellar objects orbiting a star such as planets, dwarf planets , asteroids, meteoroids, comets, and cosmic dust...

, located in an unexceptional region of a common barred-spiral galaxy. Hence it is probable that the universe teems with complex life. Ward and Brownlee argue to the contrary: planets, planetary system
Planetary system
A planetary system consists of the various non-stellar objects orbiting a star such as planets, dwarf planets , asteroids, meteoroids, comets, and cosmic dust...

s, and galactic regions that are as friendly to complex life as are the Earth, the solar system, and our region of the Milky Way
Milky Way
The Milky Way is the galaxy that contains the Solar System. This name derives from its appearance as a dim un-resolved "milky" glowing band arching across the night sky...

 are very rare.

By concluding that complex life is uncommon, the Rare Earth hypothesis is a possible solution to the Fermi paradox
Fermi paradox
The Fermi paradox is the apparent contradiction between high estimates of the probability of the existence of extraterrestrial civilizations and the lack of evidence for, or contact with, such civilizations....

: "If extraterrestrial aliens are common, why aren't they obvious?"

Why complex life may be very rare


The Rare Earth hypothesis argues that the emergence of complex life requires a host of fortuitous circumstances. A number of such circumstances are set out below under the following headings: galactic habitable zone
Habitable zone
In astronomy and astrobiology, a habitable zone is an umbrella term for regions that are considered favourable to life. The concept is inferred from the empirical study of conditions favourable for Life on Earth...

, a central star and planetary system having the requisite character, the circumstellar habitable zone, the size of the planet, the advantage of a large satellite, conditions needed to assure the planet has a magnetosphere
Magnetosphere
A magnetosphere is formed when a stream of charged particles, such as the solar wind, interacts with and is deflected by the intrinsic magnetic field of a planet or similar body. Earth is surrounded by a magnetosphere, as are the other planets with intrinsic magnetic fields: Mercury, Jupiter,...

 and plate tectonics
Plate tectonics
Plate tectonics is a scientific theory that describes the large scale motions of Earth's lithosphere...

, the chemistry of the lithosphere
Lithosphere
The lithosphere is the rigid outermost shell of a rocky planet. On Earth, it comprises the crust and the portion of the upper mantle that behaves elastically on time scales of thousands of years or greater.- Earth's lithosphere :...

, atmosphere
Atmosphere
An atmosphere is a layer of gases that may surround a material body of sufficient mass, and that is held in place by the gravity of the body. An atmosphere may be retained for a longer duration, if the gravity is high and the atmosphere's temperature is low...

, and oceans, the role of "evolutionary pumps" such as massive glaciation and rare bolide impacts, and whatever led to the still mysterious Cambrian explosion
Cambrian explosion
The Cambrian explosion or Cambrian radiation was the relatively rapid appearance, around , of most major phyla, as demonstrated in the fossil record, accompanied by major diversification of other organisms, including animals, phytoplankton, and calcimicrobes...

 of animal phyla
Phylum
In biology, a phylum The term was coined by Georges Cuvier from Greek φῦλον phylon, "race, stock," related to φυλή phyle, "tribe, clan." is a taxonomic rank below kingdom and above class. "Phylum" is equivalent to the botanical term division....

. The emergence of intelligent life may have required yet other rare events.

In order for a small rocky planet to support complex life, Ward and Brownlee argue, the values of several variables must fall within narrow ranges. The universe
Universe
The Universe is commonly defined as the totality of everything that exists, including all matter and energy, the planets, stars, galaxies, and the contents of intergalactic space. Definitions and usage vary and similar terms include the cosmos, the world and nature...

 is so vast that it could contain many Earth-like planets. But if such planets exist, they are likely to be separated from each other by many thousands of light years. Such distances may preclude communication among any intelligent species evolving on such planets, which would solve the Fermi paradox
Fermi paradox
The Fermi paradox is the apparent contradiction between high estimates of the probability of the existence of extraterrestrial civilizations and the lack of evidence for, or contact with, such civilizations....

.

The galactic habitable zone



Rare Earth suggests that much of the known universe, including large parts of our galaxy, cannot support complex life; Ward and Brownlee refer to such regions as "dead zones." Those parts of a galaxy where complex life is possible make up the galactic habitable zone. This zone is primarily a function of distance from the galactic center. As that distance increases:
  1. Star metallicity
    Metallicity
    In astronomy and physical cosmology, the metallicity of an object is the proportion of its matter made up of chemical elements other than hydrogen and helium...

     declines. Metals (which in astronomy means all elements other than hydrogen and helium) are necessary to the formation of terrestrial planets.
  2. The X-ray
    X-ray
    X-radiation is a form of electromagnetic radiation. X-rays have a wavelength in the range of 0.01 to 10 nanometers, corresponding to frequencies in the range 30 petahertz to 30 exahertz and energies in the range 120 eV to 120 keV. They are shorter in wavelength than UV rays and longer than gamma...

     and gamma ray
    Gamma ray
    Gamma radiation, also known as gamma rays or hyphenated as gamma-rays and denoted as γ, is electromagnetic radiation of high frequency . Gamma rays are usually naturally produced on Earth by decay of high energy states in atomic nuclei...

     radiation from the black hole
    Supermassive black hole
    A supermassive black hole is the largest type of black hole in a galaxy, in the order of hundreds of thousands to billions of solar masses. Most, and possibly all galaxies, including the Milky Way, are believed to contain supermassive black holes at their centers.Supermassive black holes have...

     at the galactic center
    Galactic Center
    The Galactic Center is the rotational center of the Milky Way galaxy. It is located at a distance of 8.33±0.35 kpc from the Earth in the direction of the constellations Sagittarius, Ophiuchus, and Scorpius where the Milky Way appears brightest...

    , and from nearby neutron star
    Neutron star
    A neutron star is a type of stellar remnant that can result from the gravitational collapse of a massive star during a Type II, Type Ib or Type Ic supernova event. Such stars are composed almost entirely of neutrons, which are subatomic particles without electrical charge and with a slightly larger...

    s, becomes less intense. Radiation of this nature is considered dangerous to complex life, hence the Rare Earth hypothesis predicts that the early universe, and galactic regions where stellar density is high and supernova
    Supernova
    A supernova is a stellar explosion that is more energetic than a nova. It is pronounced with the plural supernovae or supernovas. Supernovae are extremely luminous and cause a burst of radiation that often briefly outshines an entire galaxy, before fading from view over several weeks or months...

    e are common, will be unfit for the development of complex life.
  3. Gravitational perturbation of planets and planetesimals by nearby stars becomes less likely as the density of stars decreases. Hence the further a planet lies from the galactic center or a spiral arm, the less likely it is to be struck by a large bolide. A sufficiently large impact may extinguish
    Extinction
    In biology and ecology, extinction is the end of an organism or of a group of organisms , normally a species. The moment of extinction is generally considered to be the death of the last individual of the species, although the capacity to breed and recover may have been lost before this point...

     all complex life on a planet.

(1) rules out the outer reaches of a galaxy; (2) and (3) rule out galactic inner regions, globular cluster
Globular cluster
A globular cluster is a spherical collection of stars that orbits a galactic core as a satellite. Globular clusters are very tightly bound by gravity, which gives them their spherical shapes and relatively high stellar densities toward their centers. The name of this category of star cluster is...

s, and the spiral arms of spiral galaxies
Spiral galaxy
A spiral galaxy is a certain kind of galaxy originally described by Edwin Hubble in his 1936 work The Realm of the Nebulae and, as such, forms part of the Hubble sequence. Spiral galaxies consist of a flat, rotating disk containing stars, gas and dust, and a central concentration of stars known as...

. These arms are not physical objects, but regions of a galaxy characterized by a higher rate of star formation, moving very slowly through the galaxy in a wave-like manner. As one moves from the center of a galaxy to its furthest extremity, the ability to support life rises then falls. Hence the galactic habitable zone may be ring-shaped, sandwiched between its uninhabitable center and outer reaches.

While a planetary system may enjoy a location favorable to complex life, it must also maintain that location for a span of time sufficiently long for complex life to evolve. Hence a central star with a galactic orbit that steers clear of galactic regions where radiation levels are high, such as the galactic center and the spiral arms, would appear most favourable. If the central star's galactic orbit is eccentric
Orbital eccentricity
The orbital eccentricity of an astronomical body is the amount by which its orbit deviates from a perfect circle, where 0 is perfectly circular, and 1.0 is a parabola, and no longer a closed orbit...

 (elliptic or hyperbolic), it will pass through some spiral arms, but if the orbit is a near perfect circle and the orbital velocity equals the "rotational" velocity of the spiral arms, the star will drift into a spiral arm region only gradually—if at all. Therefore Rare Earth proponents conclude that a life-bearing star must have a galactic orbit that is nearly circular about the center of its galaxy. The required synchronization of the orbital velocity of a central star with the wave velocity of the spiral arms can occur only within a fairly narrow range of distances from the galactic center. This region is termed the "galactic habitable zone". Lineweaver et al. calculate that the galactic habitable zone is a ring 7 to 9 kiloparsecs
Parsec
The parsec is a unit of length used in astronomy. It is about 3.26 light-years, or just under 31 trillion kilometres ....

 in diameter, that includes no more than 10% of the stars in the Milky Way
Milky Way
The Milky Way is the galaxy that contains the Solar System. This name derives from its appearance as a dim un-resolved "milky" glowing band arching across the night sky...

. Based on conservative estimates of the total number of stars in the galaxy, this could represent something like 20 to 40 billion stars. Gonzalez et al. would halve these numbers; he estimates that at most 5% of stars in the Milky Way fall in the galactic habitable zone.

The orbit of the Sun around the center of the Milky Way is indeed almost perfectly circular, with a period of 226 Ma
Galactic year
The galactic year, also known as a cosmic year, is the duration of time required for the Solar System to orbit once around the center of the Milky Way Galaxy. Estimates of the length of one orbit range from 225 to 250 million "terrestrial" years....

 (1 Ma = 1 million years), one closely matching the rotational period of the galaxy. While the Rare Earth hypothesis predicts that the Sun should rarely, if ever, have passed through a spiral arm since its formation, astronomer Karen Masters has calculated that the orbit of the Sun takes it through a major spiral arm approximately every 100 million years. Some researchers have suggested that several mass extinctions do correspond with previous crossings of the spiral arms.

A central star of the right character


The terrestrial example suggests complex life requires water in the liquid state and its planet must therefore be at an appropriate distance. This is the core of the notion of the habitable zone
Habitable zone
In astronomy and astrobiology, a habitable zone is an umbrella term for regions that are considered favourable to life. The concept is inferred from the empirical study of conditions favourable for Life on Earth...

 or Goldilocks Principle
Goldilocks Principle
The Goldilocks principle states that something must fall within certain margins, as opposed to reaching extremes. It is used, for example, in the Rare Earth hypothesis to state that a planet must neither be too far away from, nor too close to the sun to support life. Either extreme would result in...

. The habitable zone forms a ring around the central star. If a planet orbits its sun too closely or too far away, the surface temperature is incompatible with water being liquid (though sub-surface water, as suggested for Europa
Europa (moon)
Europa Slightly smaller than Earth's Moon, Europa is primarily made of silicate rock and probably has an iron core. It has a tenuous atmosphere composed primarily of oxygen. Its surface is composed of ice and is one of the smoothest in the Solar System. This surface is striated by cracks and...

, Enceladus
Enceladus (moon)
Enceladus is the sixth-largest of the moons of Saturn. It was discovered in 1789 by William Herschel. Until the two Voyager spacecraft passed near it in the early 1980s very little was known about this small moon besides the identification of water ice on its surface...

, and Ceres, may be possible at varying locations). Kasting et al. (1993) estimate that the habitable zone for the Sun ranges from 0.95 to 1.15 astronomical units.

The habitable zone varies with the type and age of the central star. The habitable zone for a main sequence star very gradually moves out over time until the star becomes a white dwarf, at which time the habitable zone vanishes. The habitable zone is closely connected to the greenhouse warming afforded by atmospheric water vapor (H2O), carbon dioxide (CO2), and/or other greenhouse gases. Even though the Earth's atmosphere contains a water vapor concentration from 0% (in arid regions) to 4% (in rain forest and ocean regions) and only 387 parts per million of CO2, these small amounts suffice to raise the average surface temperature of the Earth by about 40°C from what it would otherwise be, with the dominant contribution being due to water vapor, which together with clouds makes up between 66% and 85% of Earth's greenhouse effect, with CO2 contributing between 9% and 26% of the effect.

It is then presumed a star needs to have rocky planets within its habitable zone. While the habitable zone of hot stars such as Sirius
Sirius
Sirius is the brightest star in the night sky. With a visual apparent magnitude of −1.46, it is almost twice as bright as Canopus, the next brightest star. The name "Sirius" is derived from the Ancient Greek: Seirios . The star has the Bayer designation Alpha Canis Majoris...

 or Vega
Vega
Vega is the brightest star in the constellation Lyra, the fifth brightest star in the night sky and the second brightest star in the northern celestial hemisphere, after Arcturus...

 is wide, there are two problems:
  1. Given that rocky planets were (at the time Rare Earth was written) thought to form closer to their central stars, the planet probably forms too close to the star to lie within the habitable zone. This does not rule out life on a moon
    Natural satellite
    A natural satellite or moon is a celestial body that orbits a planet or smaller body, which is called its primary. The two terms are used synonymously for non-artificial satellites of planets, of dwarf planets, and of minor planets....

     of a gas giant. Hot stars also emit much more ultraviolet radiation, which will ionize any planetary atmosphere.
  2. Hot stars, as mentioned above, have short lives, becoming red giant
    Red giant
    A red giant is a luminous giant star of low or intermediate mass in a late phase of stellar evolution. The outer atmosphere is inflated and tenuous, making the radius immense and the surface temperature low, somewhere from 5,000 K and lower...

    s in as little as 1 Ga. This may not allow enough time for advanced life to evolve
    Evolution
    Evolution is any change across successive generations in the heritable characteristics of biological populations. Evolutionary processes give rise to diversity at every level of biological organisation, including species, individual organisms and molecules such as DNA and proteins.Life on Earth...

    .

These considerations rule out the massive and powerful stars of type F6 to O (see stellar classification
Stellar classification
In astronomy, stellar classification is a classification of stars based on their spectral characteristics. The spectral class of a star is a designated class of a star describing the ionization of its chromosphere, what atomic excitations are most prominent in the light, giving an objective measure...

) as homes to evolved metazoan life.

Small red dwarf
Red dwarf
According to the Hertzsprung-Russell diagram, a red dwarf star is a small and relatively cool star, of the main sequence, either late K or M spectral type....

 stars, on the other hand, have habitable zone
Habitable zone
In astronomy and astrobiology, a habitable zone is an umbrella term for regions that are considered favourable to life. The concept is inferred from the empirical study of conditions favourable for Life on Earth...

s with a small radius. This proximity causes one face of the planet to constantly face the star, and the other to always remain dark, a situation known as tidal lock. Tidal locking of a planetary hemisphere to its primary will cause one side of a planet to be extremely hot, while the other will be extremely cold. Planets within a habitable zone with a small radius are also at increased risk of solar flares (see Aurelia), which would tend to ionize the atmosphere and are otherwise inimical to complex life. Rare Earth proponents argue that this rules out the possibility of life in such systems, though some exobiologists have suggested that habitability may exist under the right circumstances. This is a central point of contention for the theory, since these late-K and M category stars make up about 82% of all hydrogen-burning stars.

Rare Earth proponents argue that the stellar type of central stars that are "just right" ranges from F7 to K1. Such stars are not common: G type stars such as the Sun (between the hotter F and cooler K) comprise only 9% of the hydrogen-burning stars in the Milky Way.

Aged stars, such as red giant
Red giant
A red giant is a luminous giant star of low or intermediate mass in a late phase of stellar evolution. The outer atmosphere is inflated and tenuous, making the radius immense and the surface temperature low, somewhere from 5,000 K and lower...

s and white dwarf
White dwarf
A white dwarf, also called a degenerate dwarf, is a small star composed mostly of electron-degenerate matter. They are very dense; a white dwarf's mass is comparable to that of the Sun and its volume is comparable to that of the Earth. Its faint luminosity comes from the emission of stored...

s, are also unlikely to support life. Red giants are common in globular cluster
Globular cluster
A globular cluster is a spherical collection of stars that orbits a galactic core as a satellite. Globular clusters are very tightly bound by gravity, which gives them their spherical shapes and relatively high stellar densities toward their centers. The name of this category of star cluster is...

s and elliptical galaxies
Elliptical galaxy
An elliptical galaxy is a galaxy having an approximately ellipsoidal shape and a smooth, nearly featureless brightness profile. They range in shape from nearly spherical to highly flat and in size from hundreds of millions to over one trillion stars...

. White dwarfs are mostly dying stars that have already gone through their red giant phase. The diameter of a red giant has substantially increased from its youth. If a planet was in the habitable zone during a star's youth and middle age, it will be fried when its parent star becomes a red giant (though theoretically planets at a much greater distance may become habitable).

The energy output of a star over its lifespan should only change very gradually; variable stars such as Cepheid variable
Cepheid variable
A Cepheid is a member of a class of very luminous variable stars. The strong direct relationship between a Cepheid variable's luminosity and pulsation period, secures for Cepheids their status as important standard candles for establishing the Galactic and extragalactic distance scales.Cepheid...

s, for instance, are highly unlikely to support life. If the central star's energy output suddenly decreases, even for a relatively short while, the planet's water may freeze. Conversely, if the central star's energy output significantly increases, the oceans may evaporate, resulting in a greenhouse effect
Greenhouse effect
The greenhouse effect is a process by which thermal radiation from a planetary surface is absorbed by atmospheric greenhouse gases, and is re-radiated in all directions. Since part of this re-radiation is back towards the surface, energy is transferred to the surface and the lower atmosphere...

; this may preclude the oceans from reforming.

There is no known way to achieve life without complex chemistry, and such chemistry requires metals
Metallicity
In astronomy and physical cosmology, the metallicity of an object is the proportion of its matter made up of chemical elements other than hydrogen and helium...

, namely elements other than hydrogen or helium. This suggests a condition for life is a solar system rich in metals
Metallicity
In astronomy and physical cosmology, the metallicity of an object is the proportion of its matter made up of chemical elements other than hydrogen and helium...

. The only known mechanism for creating and dispersing metals is a supernova
Supernova
A supernova is a stellar explosion that is more energetic than a nova. It is pronounced with the plural supernovae or supernovas. Supernovae are extremely luminous and cause a burst of radiation that often briefly outshines an entire galaxy, before fading from view over several weeks or months...

 explosion. The presence of metals in stars is revealed by their absorption spectrum, and studies of stellar spectra reveal that many, perhaps most, stars are poor in metals. Low metallicity characterizes the early universe, globular cluster
Globular cluster
A globular cluster is a spherical collection of stars that orbits a galactic core as a satellite. Globular clusters are very tightly bound by gravity, which gives them their spherical shapes and relatively high stellar densities toward their centers. The name of this category of star cluster is...

s and other stars formed when the universe was young, stars in most galaxies other than large spirals
Spiral galaxy
A spiral galaxy is a certain kind of galaxy originally described by Edwin Hubble in his 1936 work The Realm of the Nebulae and, as such, forms part of the Hubble sequence. Spiral galaxies consist of a flat, rotating disk containing stars, gas and dust, and a central concentration of stars known as...

, and stars in the outer regions of all galaxies. Thus metal-rich central stars capable of supporting complex life are believed most common in the quiet suburbs of the larger spiral galaxies, regions hospitable to complex life for another reason, namely the absence of high radiation.

Planetary system


A gas cloud capable of giving birth to a star can also give rise to gas-giant low-metallicity (Jovian) planets like Jupiter
Jupiter
Jupiter is the fifth planet from the Sun and the largest planet within the Solar System. It is a gas giant with mass one-thousandth that of the Sun but is two and a half times the mass of all the other planets in our Solar System combined. Jupiter is classified as a gas giant along with Saturn,...

 and Saturn
Saturn
Saturn is the sixth planet from the Sun and the second largest planet in the Solar System, after Jupiter. Saturn is named after the Roman god Saturn, equated to the Greek Cronus , the Babylonian Ninurta and the Hindu Shani. Saturn's astronomical symbol represents the Roman god's sickle.Saturn,...

. But Jovian planets have no hard surface of the kind believed necessary for complex life (their satellites may have hard surfaces, though). The Ward and Brownlee argument holds that a planetary system capable of sustaining complex life must be structured more or less like our solar system, with small and rocky inner planets, and Jovian outer ones. Recent research calls this line of argument into question, however.

Uncertainty over Jupiter


At the time of Ward and Brownlee's book, gas giants were thought to help support life by keeping asteroids away from the life-bearing planet. Hence a gas giant was thought to protect the inner rocky planets from asteroid
Asteroid
Asteroids are a class of small Solar System bodies in orbit around the Sun. They have also been called planetoids, especially the larger ones...

 bombardment. However, recent computer simulations on the matter suggest that the situation is more complex than this: A planet of Jupiter's mass still seems to provide increased protection against asteroids, but the total effect on all orbital bodies within the solar system is unclear.

Disruption of orbit


A gas giant must not be too close to a body upon which life is developing, unless that body is one of its moons. Close placement of gas giant(s) could disrupt the orbit
Orbit
In physics, an orbit is the gravitationally curved path of an object around a point in space, for example the orbit of a planet around the center of a star system, such as the Solar System...

 of a potential life-bearing planet, either directly or by drifting into the habitable zone.

Newtonian dynamics can produce chaotic planetary orbits, especially in a system having large planets at high orbital eccentricity
Orbital eccentricity
The orbital eccentricity of an astronomical body is the amount by which its orbit deviates from a perfect circle, where 0 is perfectly circular, and 1.0 is a parabola, and no longer a closed orbit...

.

The need for stable orbits rules out stars with systems of planets
Extrasolar planet
An extrasolar planet, or exoplanet, is a planet outside the Solar System. A total of such planets have been identified as of . It is now known that a substantial fraction of stars have planets, including perhaps half of all Sun-like stars...

 that contain large planets with orbits close to the host star (called "hot Jupiters"). It is believed that hot Jupiters formed much further from their parent stars than they are now, and have migrated inwards to their current orbits. In the process, they would have catastrophically disrupted the orbits of any planets in the habitable zone.

Size of planet


A planet that is too small cannot hold much of an atmosphere. Hence the surface temperature becomes more variable and the average temperature drops. Substantial and long-lasting oceans become impossible. A small planet will also tend to have a rough surface, with large mountains and deep canyons. The core will cool faster, and plate tectonics
Plate tectonics
Plate tectonics is a scientific theory that describes the large scale motions of Earth's lithosphere...

 will either not last as long as they would on a larger planet or may not occur at all.

Small rocky planets like Earth may be common according to astronomer Michael Meyer of the University of Arizona: Meyer’s team found cosmic dust
Cosmic dust
Cosmic dust is a type of dust composed of particles in space which are a few molecules to 0.1 µm in size. Cosmic dust can be further distinguished by its astronomical location; for example: intergalactic dust, interstellar dust, interplanetary dust and circumplanetary dust .In our own Solar...

 near recently-formed sun-like stars and sees this as a byproduct of the formation of rocky planets.

Large moon


The Moon is unusual because the other rocky planets in the Solar System either have no satellites (Mercury
Mercury (planet)
Mercury is the innermost and smallest planet in the Solar System, orbiting the Sun once every 87.969 Earth days. The orbit of Mercury has the highest eccentricity of all the Solar System planets, and it has the smallest axial tilt. It completes three rotations about its axis for every two orbits...

 and Venus
Venus
Venus is the second planet from the Sun, orbiting it every 224.7 Earth days. The planet is named after Venus, the Roman goddess of love and beauty. After the Moon, it is the brightest natural object in the night sky, reaching an apparent magnitude of −4.6, bright enough to cast shadows...

), or have tiny satellites that are probably captured asteroids (Mars
Mars
Mars is the fourth planet from the Sun in the Solar System. The planet is named after the Roman god of war, Mars. It is often described as the "Red Planet", as the iron oxide prevalent on its surface gives it a reddish appearance...

).

The giant impact theory hypothesizes that the Moon resulted from the impact of a Mars
Mars
Mars is the fourth planet from the Sun in the Solar System. The planet is named after the Roman god of war, Mars. It is often described as the "Red Planet", as the iron oxide prevalent on its surface gives it a reddish appearance...

-sized body, Theia, with the very young Earth. This giant impact also gave the Earth its axis tilt and velocity of rotation. Rapid rotation reduces the daily variation in temperature and makes photosynthesis viable. The Rare Earth hypothesis further argues that the axis tilt cannot be too large or too small (relative to the orbital plane
Orbital plane (astronomy)
All of the planets, comets, and asteroids in the solar system are in orbit around the Sun. All of those orbits line up with each other making a semi-flat disk called the orbital plane. The orbital plane of an object orbiting another is the geometrical plane in which the orbit is embedded...

). A planet with a large tilt will experience extreme seasonal variations in climate, unfriendly to complex life. A planet with little or no tilt will lack the stimulus to evolution that climate variation provides. In this view, the Earth's tilt is "just right". The gravity of a large satellite also stabilizes the planet's tilt; without this effect the variation in tilt
Precession
Precession is a change in the orientation of the rotation axis of a rotating body. It can be defined as a change in direction of the rotation axis in which the second Euler angle is constant...

 would be chaotic
Chaos theory
Chaos theory is a field of study in mathematics, with applications in several disciplines including physics, economics, biology, and philosophy. Chaos theory studies the behavior of dynamical systems that are highly sensitive to initial conditions, an effect which is popularly referred to as the...

, probably making complex life forms on land impossible.

If the Earth had no Moon, the ocean tide
Tide
Tides are the rise and fall of sea levels caused by the combined effects of the gravitational forces exerted by the moon and the sun and the rotation of the Earth....

s resulting solely from the Sun's gravity would be only half that of the lunar tides. A large satellite gives rise to tidal pools, which may be essential for the formation of complex life
Macromolecule
A macromolecule is a very large molecule commonly created by some form of polymerization. In biochemistry, the term is applied to the four conventional biopolymers , as well as non-polymeric molecules with large molecular mass such as macrocycles...

, though this is far from certain.

A large satellite also increases the likelihood of plate tectonics
Plate tectonics
Plate tectonics is a scientific theory that describes the large scale motions of Earth's lithosphere...

 through the effect of tidal force
Tidal force
The tidal force is a secondary effect of the force of gravity and is responsible for the tides. It arises because the gravitational force per unit mass exerted on one body by a second body is not constant across its diameter, the side nearest to the second being more attracted by it than the side...

s on the planet's crust. The impact that formed the Moon may also have initiated plate tectonics, without which the continental crust
Continental crust
The continental crust is the layer of igneous, sedimentary, and metamorphic rocks which form the continents and the areas of shallow seabed close to their shores, known as continental shelves. This layer is sometimes called sial due to more felsic, or granitic, bulk composition, which lies in...

 would cover the entire planet, leaving no room for oceanic crust
Oceanic crust
Oceanic crust is the part of Earth's lithosphere that surfaces in the ocean basins. Oceanic crust is primarily composed of mafic rocks, or sima, which is rich in iron and magnesium...

. It is possible that the large scale mantle convection
Mantle convection
Mantle convection is the slow creeping motion of Earth's rocky mantle caused by convection currents carrying heat from the interior of the Earth to the surface. The Earth's surface lithosphere, which rides atop the asthenosphere , is divided into a number of plates that are continuously being...

 needed to drive plate tectonics could not have emerged in the absence of crustal inhomogeneity. However, there is strong evidence that plate tectonics existed on Mars
Mars
Mars is the fourth planet from the Sun in the Solar System. The planet is named after the Roman god of war, Mars. It is often described as the "Red Planet", as the iron oxide prevalent on its surface gives it a reddish appearance...

 in the past, without such a mechanism to initiate it.

If a giant impact is the only way for a rocky inner planet to acquire a large satellite, any planet in the circumstellar habitable zone
Habitable zone
In astronomy and astrobiology, a habitable zone is an umbrella term for regions that are considered favourable to life. The concept is inferred from the empirical study of conditions favourable for Life on Earth...

 will need to form as a double planet
Double planet
In astronomy, double planet and binary planet are informal terms used to describe a binary system of two astronomical objects that each satisfy the definition of planet and that are near enough to each other to have a significant gravitational effect on each other compared with the effect of the...

 in order that there be an impacting object sufficiently massive to give rise in due course to a large satellite. An impacting object of this nature is not necessarily improbable. Recent work by Edward Belbruno
Edward Belbruno
Edward Belbruno is a mathematician whose interests are in celestial mechanics, dynamical systems, dynamical astronomy, and aerospace engineering....

 and J. Richard Gott
J. Richard Gott
John Richard Gott III is a professor of astrophysical sciences at Princeton University. He is known for developing and advocating two cosmological theories with the flavor of science fiction: Time travel and the Doomsday argument.- Exotic matter time travel theories :Paul Davies's bestseller How...

 of Princeton University suggests that a suitable impacting body could form in a planet's trojan points ( or Lagrangian point
Lagrangian point
The Lagrangian points are the five positions in an orbital configuration where a small object affected only by gravity can theoretically be stationary relative to two larger objects...

).

Plate tectonics


A planet will not experience plate tectonics
Plate tectonics
Plate tectonics is a scientific theory that describes the large scale motions of Earth's lithosphere...

 unless its chemical composition allows it. The only known long-lasting source of the required heat is radioactive decay
Radioactive decay
Radioactive decay is the process by which an atomic nucleus of an unstable atom loses energy by emitting ionizing particles . The emission is spontaneous, in that the atom decays without any physical interaction with another particle from outside the atom...

 occurring deep in the planet's interior. Continents must also be made up of less dense granitic
Granite
Granite is a common and widely occurring type of intrusive, felsic, igneous rock. Granite usually has a medium- to coarse-grained texture. Occasionally some individual crystals are larger than the groundmass, in which case the texture is known as porphyritic. A granitic rock with a porphyritic...

 rocks that "float" on underlying denser basalt
Basalt
Basalt is a common extrusive volcanic rock. It is usually grey to black and fine-grained due to rapid cooling of lava at the surface of a planet. It may be porphyritic containing larger crystals in a fine matrix, or vesicular, or frothy scoria. Unweathered basalt is black or grey...

ic rock. Taylor emphasizes that subduction
Subduction
In geology, subduction is the process that takes place at convergent boundaries by which one tectonic plate moves under another tectonic plate, sinking into the Earth's mantle, as the plates converge. These 3D regions of mantle downwellings are known as "Subduction Zones"...

 zones (an essential part of plate tectonics) require the lubricating action of ample water; on Earth, such zones exist only at the bottom of oceans.

Oort Cloud


Almost all the comets we see derive from the Oort Cloud
Oort cloud
The Oort cloud , or the Öpik–Oort cloud , is a hypothesized spherical cloud of comets which may lie roughly 50,000 AU, or nearly a light-year, from the Sun. This places the cloud at nearly a quarter of the distance to Proxima Centauri, the nearest star to the Sun...

 and few, if any, have hyperbolic orbits which suggest origins from interstellar space, and thus from other solar systems. This is puzzling as the number of comets in our Solar System runs into billions, and many escape into interstellar space, so we would expect to see comets from other solar systems. In the view of J. C. Brandt and R. D. Chapman, although other explanations are possible "Perhaps solar systems like ours are the exception rather than the rule."

Rare Earth equation


The following discussion is adapted from Cramer. The Rare Earth equation is Ward and Brownlee's riposte to the Drake equation
Drake equation
The Drake equation is an equation used to estimate the number of detectable extraterrestrial civilizations in the Milky Way galaxy. It is used in the fields of exobiology and the Search for ExtraTerrestrial Intelligence...

. It calculates , the number of Earth-like planets in the Milky Way having complex life forms, as:


where:
  • N* is the number of stars in the Milky Way
    Milky Way
    The Milky Way is the galaxy that contains the Solar System. This name derives from its appearance as a dim un-resolved "milky" glowing band arching across the night sky...

    . This number is not well-estimated, because the Milky Way's mass is not well estimated. Moreover, there is little information about the number of very small stars. N* is at least 100 billion, and may be as high as 500 billion, if there are many low visibility stars.
  • is the average number of planets in a star's habitable zone. This zone is fairly narrow, because constrained by the requirement that the average planetary temperature be consistent with water remaining liquid throughout the time required for complex life to evolve. Thus = 1 is a likely upper bound.

We assume . The Rare Earth hypothesis can then be viewed as asserting that the product of the other nine Rare Earth equation factors listed below, which are all fractions, is no greater than 10−10 and could plausibly be as small as 10−12. In the latter case, could be as small as 0 or 1. Ward and Brownlee do not actually calculate the value of , because the numerical values of quite a few of the factors below can only be conjectured. They cannot be estimated simply because we have but one data point: the Earth, a rocky planet orbiting a G2 star in a quiet suburb of a large barred spiral galaxy
Barred spiral galaxy
A barred spiral galaxy is a spiral galaxy with a central bar-shaped structure composed of stars. Bars are found in approximately two-thirds of all spiral galaxies...

, and the home of the only intelligent species we know, namely ourselves.
  • is the fraction of stars in the galactic habitable zone (Ward, Brownlee, and Gonzalez estimate this factor as 0.1 ).
  • is the fraction of stars in the Milky Way
    Milky Way
    The Milky Way is the galaxy that contains the Solar System. This name derives from its appearance as a dim un-resolved "milky" glowing band arching across the night sky...

     with planets.
  • is the fraction of planets that are rocky ("metallic") rather than gaseous.
  • is the fraction of habitable planets where microbial life arises. Ward and Brownlee believe this fraction is unlikely to be small.
  • is the fraction of planets where complex life evolves. For 80% of the time since microbial life first appeared on the Earth, there was only bacterial life. Hence Ward and Brownlee argue that this fraction may be very small.
  • is the fraction of the total lifespan of a planet during which complex life is present. Complex life cannot endure indefinitely, because the energy put out by the sort of star that allows complex life to emerge gradually rises, and the central star eventually becomes a red giant
    Red giant
    A red giant is a luminous giant star of low or intermediate mass in a late phase of stellar evolution. The outer atmosphere is inflated and tenuous, making the radius immense and the surface temperature low, somewhere from 5,000 K and lower...

    , engulfing all planets in the planetary habitable zone. Also, given enough time, a catastrophic extinction of all complex life becomes ever more likely.
  • is the fraction of habitable planets with a large moon. If the giant impact theory of the Moon's origin is correct, this fraction is small.
  • is the fraction of planetary systems with large Jovian planets. This fraction could be large.
  • is the fraction of planets with a sufficiently low number of extinction events. Ward and Brownlee argue that the low number of such events the Earth has experienced since the Cambrian explosion
    Cambrian explosion
    The Cambrian explosion or Cambrian radiation was the relatively rapid appearance, around , of most major phyla, as demonstrated in the fossil record, accompanied by major diversification of other organisms, including animals, phytoplankton, and calcimicrobes...

     may be unusual, in which case this fraction would be small.


The Rare Earth equation, unlike the Drake equation
Drake equation
The Drake equation is an equation used to estimate the number of detectable extraterrestrial civilizations in the Milky Way galaxy. It is used in the fields of exobiology and the Search for ExtraTerrestrial Intelligence...

, does not factor the probability that complex life evolves into intelligent life
Intelligent Life
Intelligent life may refer to:*Intelligence including:**Animal cognition**Extraterrestrial intelligence - theoretically intelligent Extraterrestrial life...

 that discovers technology (Ward and Brownlee are not evolutionary biologists). Barrow and Tipler review the consensus among such biologists that the evolutionary path from primitive Cambrian chordate
Chordate
Chordates are animals which are either vertebrates or one of several closely related invertebrates. They are united by having, for at least some period of their life cycle, a notochord, a hollow dorsal nerve cord, pharyngeal slits, an endostyle, and a post-anal tail...

s, e.g. Pikaia
Pikaia
Pikaia gracilens is an extinct animal known from the Middle Cambrian Burgess Shale of British Columbia. -Discovery:It was discovered by Charles Walcott and was first described by him in 1911. It was named after Pika Peak, a mountain in Alberta, Canada. Based on the obvious and regular segmentation...

to Homo sapiens, was a highly improbable event. For example, the large brain
Brain
The brain is the center of the nervous system in all vertebrate and most invertebrate animals—only a few primitive invertebrates such as sponges, jellyfish, sea squirts and starfishes do not have one. It is located in the head, usually close to primary sensory apparatus such as vision, hearing,...

s of humans have marked adaptive disadvantages, requiring as they do an expensive metabolism
Metabolism
Metabolism is the set of chemical reactions that happen in the cells of living organisms to sustain life. These processes allow organisms to grow and reproduce, maintain their structures, and respond to their environments. Metabolism is usually divided into two categories...

, a long gestation period
Gestation period
For mammals the gestation period is the time in which a fetus develops, beginning with fertilization and ending at birth. The duration of this period varies between species.-Duration:...

, and a childhood lasting more than 25% of the average total life span. Other improbable features of humans include:
  • Being the only extant bipedal land (non-avian) vertebrate
    Vertebrate
    Vertebrates are animals that are members of the subphylum Vertebrata . Vertebrates are the largest group of chordates, with currently about 58,000 species described. Vertebrates include the jawless fishes, bony fishes, sharks and rays, amphibians, reptiles, mammals, and birds...

    . Combined with an unusual eye–hand coordination, this permits dextrous manipulations of the physical environment with the hands;
  • A vocal apparatus far more expressive than that of any other mammal, enabling speech. Speech makes it possible for humans to interact cooperatively, to share knowledge, and to acquire a culture;
  • The capability of formulating abstraction
    Abstraction
    Abstraction is a process by which higher concepts are derived from the usage and classification of literal concepts, first principles, or other methods....

    s to a degree permitting the invention of mathematics, and the discovery of science and technology. Only recently did humans acquire anything like their current scientific and technological sophistication.

Advocates


Books that advocate the Rare Earth hypothesis:
  • Stuart Ross Taylor, a specialist on the solar system, firmly believes in the hypothesis, but its truth is not central to his purpose, which is to write a short introductory book on the solar system and its formation. Taylor concludes that the solar system is probably very unusual, because it resulted from so many chance factors and events.
  • Stephen Webb, a physicist, mainly presents and rejects candidate solutions for the Fermi paradox
    Fermi paradox
    The Fermi paradox is the apparent contradiction between high estimates of the probability of the existence of extraterrestrial civilizations and the lack of evidence for, or contact with, such civilizations....

    . The Rare Earth hypothesis emerges as one of the few solutions left standing by the end of the book.
  • Simon Conway Morris
    Simon Conway Morris
    Simon Conway Morris FRS is an English paleontologist made known by his detailed and careful study of the Burgess Shale fossils, an exploit celebrated in Wonderful Life by Stephen Jay Gould...

    , a paleontologist, mainly argues that evolution is convergent
    Convergent evolution
    Convergent evolution describes the acquisition of the same biological trait in unrelated lineages.The wing is a classic example of convergent evolution in action. Although their last common ancestor did not have wings, both birds and bats do, and are capable of powered flight. The wings are...

    . Morris devotes chapter 5 to the Rare Earth hypothesis, citing Rare Earth with approval. Yet while Morris agrees that the Earth could well be the only planet in the Milky Way
    Milky Way
    The Milky Way is the galaxy that contains the Solar System. This name derives from its appearance as a dim un-resolved "milky" glowing band arching across the night sky...

     harboring complex life, he sees the evolution of complex life into intelligent life
    Intelligent Life
    Intelligent life may refer to:*Intelligence including:**Animal cognition**Extraterrestrial intelligence - theoretically intelligent Extraterrestrial life...

     as fairly probable, contra Ernst Mayr
    Ernst Mayr
    Ernst Walter Mayr was one of the 20th century's leading evolutionary biologists. He was also a renowned taxonomist, tropical explorer, ornithologist, historian of science, and naturalist...

    's views as reported in section 3.2 of the following reference.
  • John D. Barrow
    John D. Barrow
    -External links:****** The Forum-Publications available on the Internet:************...

     and Frank J. Tipler
    Frank J. Tipler
    Frank Jennings Tipler is a mathematical physicist and cosmologist, holding a joint appointment in the Departments of Mathematics and Physics at Tulane University. Tipler has authored books and papers on the Omega Point, which he claims is a mechanism for the resurrection of the dead. It has been...

     (1986. 3.2, 8.7, 9), cosmologists, vigorously defend the hypothesis that humans are likely to be the only intelligent life in the Milky Way
    Milky Way
    The Milky Way is the galaxy that contains the Solar System. This name derives from its appearance as a dim un-resolved "milky" glowing band arching across the night sky...

    , and perhaps the entire universe. But this hypothesis is not central to their book, a very thorough study of the anthropic principle
    Anthropic principle
    In astrophysics and cosmology, the anthropic principle is the philosophical argument that observations of the physical Universe must be compatible with the conscious life that observes it. Some proponents of the argument reason that it explains why the Universe has the age and the fundamental...

    , and of how the laws of physics are peculiarly suited to enable the emergence of complexity in nature.
  • Ray Kurzweil, a computer pioneer and self-proclaimed Singularitarian, argues in The Singularity Is Near
    The Singularity Is Near
    The Singularity Is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology is a 2005 update of Raymond Kurzweil's 1999 book, The Age of Spiritual Machines and his 1990 book The Age of Intelligent Machines. In it, as in the two previous versions, Kurzweil attempts to give a glimpse of what awaits us in the near future...

    that the coming Singularity
    Technological singularity
    Technological singularity refers to the hypothetical future emergence of greater-than-human intelligence through technological means. Since the capabilities of such an intelligence would be difficult for an unaided human mind to comprehend, the occurrence of a technological singularity is seen as...

     requires that Earth be the first planet on which sentient, technology-using life evolved. Although other Earth-like planets could exist, Earth must be the most evolutionarily advanced, because otherwise we would have seen evidence that another culture had experienced the Singularity
    Technological singularity
    Technological singularity refers to the hypothetical future emergence of greater-than-human intelligence through technological means. Since the capabilities of such an intelligence would be difficult for an unaided human mind to comprehend, the occurrence of a technological singularity is seen as...

     and expanded to harness the full computational capacity of the physical universe.

Exoplanets are common


Nearly 700 exoplanets are known as of late 2011 and more are continually discovered. Alan Boss
Alan Boss
Alan P. Boss is a United States astrophysicist and NASA scientist.-Life and career:Educated at the University of South Florida and the University of California, Santa Barbara, Boss is a prominent scientist in stellar and planetary system formation and the study of extrasolar planets who has made...

 of the Carnegie Institution of Science estimates there may be 100 billion terrestrial planets in our Milky Way
Milky Way
The Milky Way is the galaxy that contains the Solar System. This name derives from its appearance as a dim un-resolved "milky" glowing band arching across the night sky...

 Galaxy
Galaxy
A galaxy is a massive, gravitationally bound system that consists of stars and stellar remnants, an interstellar medium of gas and dust, and an important but poorly understood component tentatively dubbed dark matter. The word galaxy is derived from the Greek galaxias , literally "milky", a...

 alone. Boss believes many could have simple lifeforms and there could be thousands of civilizations in our galaxy. He uses an estimate that each sun-like star has on average one Earth-like planet.

The claimed discovery of Gliese 581 g
Gliese 581 g
Gliese 581 g , also Gl 581 g or GJ 581 g, is a hypothesized extrasolar planet proven nonexistent by the Geneva Team, orbiting the red dwarf star Gliese 581, 20.5 light-years from Earth in the constellation of Libra. It is the sixth planet discovered in the Gliese 581 planetary system and the fourth...

, a Goldilocks planet only 20 light-years from Earth, further called the Rare Earth hypothesis into question. With such proximity to Earth, exoplanetologists estimated that the likelihood of finding an Earth-like planet in any given system in our galaxy is 10-20%. However, subsequent research has put the existence of Gliese 581 g into question.

Evolutionary biology


Central to the Rare Earth hypothesis is the following claim about evolutionary biology
Evolution
Evolution is any change across successive generations in the heritable characteristics of biological populations. Evolutionary processes give rise to diversity at every level of biological organisation, including species, individual organisms and molecules such as DNA and proteins.Life on Earth...

: while microbes of some sort could well be common in the universe, complex life is unlikely to be. Yet to date, the only evolutionary biologist to speak to the hypothesis at any length is Simon Conway Morris
Simon Conway Morris
Simon Conway Morris FRS is an English paleontologist made known by his detailed and careful study of the Burgess Shale fossils, an exploit celebrated in Wonderful Life by Stephen Jay Gould...

 (2003). The hypothesis concludes, more or less, that complex life is rare because it can evolve only on the surface of an Earth-like planet or on a suitable satellite of a planet. Some biologists, such as Jack Cohen
Jack Cohen (scientist)
Jack Cohen, FIBiol is a British reproductive biologist also known for his popular science books and involvement with science fiction.-Life:...

, believe this assumption too restrictive and unimaginative; they see it as a form of circular reasoning
Begging the question
Begging the question is a type of logical fallacy in which the proposition to be proven is assumed implicitly or explicitly in the premise....

 (see Alternative biochemistry
Alternative biochemistry
Hypothetical types of biochemistry are forms of biochemistry speculated to be scientifically viable but not proven to exist at this time. While the kinds of living beings we know on earth commonly use carbon for basic structural and metabolic functions, water as a solvent and DNA or RNA to define...

, a speculative biochemistry of alien life forms). Earth-like planets may indeed be very rare, but non carbon-based complex life could possibly emerge in other environments. According to David Darling
David Darling (astronomer)
David Darling is an English astronomer and full-time freelance science writer. Darling has published numerous popular science works, including Life Everywhere: The Maverick Science of Astrobiology in 2001...

, the Rare Earth hypothesis is neither hypothesis
Hypothesis
A hypothesis is a proposed explanation for a phenomenon. The term derives from the Greek, ὑποτιθέναι – hypotithenai meaning "to put under" or "to suppose". For a hypothesis to be put forward as a scientific hypothesis, the scientific method requires that one can test it...

 nor prediction
Prediction
A prediction or forecast is a statement about the way things will happen in the future, often but not always based on experience or knowledge...

, but merely a description of how life arose on Earth. In his view Ward and Brownlee have done nothing more than select the factors that best suit their case.

What matters is not whether there's anything unusual about the Earth; there's going to be something idiosyncratic about every planet in space. What matters is whether any of Earth's circumstances are not only unusual but also essential for complex life. So far we've seen nothing to suggest there is.

Impacts


There are also studies showing that Jupiter has caused more impacts on Earth than it has prevented, invalidating the Rare Earth argument of Jupiter-like planets as necessary protectors. The role of Jupiter, however, has since been revised by the Nice model
Nice model
The Nice model is a scenario for the dynamical evolution of the Solar System. It is named for the location of the Observatoire de la Côte d'Azur, where it was initially developed, in Nice, France. It proposes the migration of the giant planets from an initial compact configuration into their...

.

Oxygen


In the hypersaline anoxic L'Atalante basin
L'Atalante basin
L'Atalante basin is a hypersaline brine lake at the bottom of the Mediterranean Sea about west of the island of Crete. It is named for one of the oceanographic research vessels involved in its discovery in 1993...

 at the bottom of the Mediterranean Sea
Mediterranean Sea
The Mediterranean Sea is a sea connected to the Atlantic Ocean surrounded by the Mediterranean region and almost completely enclosed by land: on the north by Anatolia and Europe, on the south by North Africa, and on the east by the Levant...

, multicellular animals have been discovered that use hydrogen instead of oxygen. They have no mitochondria as we know it, but use hydrogenosomes instead. They live their entire lives and reproduce without oxygen, invalidating the Rare Earth claim that all multicellular animal life requires oxygen.

External links

  • Home page of Rare Earth (archival)
  • Reviews of Rare Earth:
  • "Galactic Habitable Zone," Astrobiology Magazine, May 18, 2001.
  • Gregg Easterbrook
    Gregg Easterbrook
    Gregg Edmund Easterbrook is an American writer, lecturer, and a senior editor of The New Republic. His articles have appeared in Slate, The Atlantic Monthly, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, Reuters, Wired, and Beliefnet. In addition, he was a fellow at the...

    , "Are We Alone?" The Atlantic Monthly
    The Atlantic Monthly
    The Atlantic is an American magazine founded in Boston, Massachusetts, in 1857. It was created as a literary and cultural commentary magazine. It quickly achieved a national reputation, which it held for more than a century. It was important for recognizing and publishing new writers and poets,...

    , August 1988. Article that anticipates REH in some respects.
  • Solstation.com: "Stars and Habitable Planets."
  • Recer, Paul, "Radio astronomers measure sun's orbit around Milky Way," Associated Press, June 1, 1999.
  • Breitbart.com, "Parallel universes exist," Sept. 23 2007.