Wednesday, June 25, 2008
There ISN'T Life on Mars
It's probably not a big story if we don't find life on mars. After all it's a long shot for us to think that a spacecraft that we launched 442,000,000 miles from earth and will only have 92 days to look for left over evidence of life in ice sparse buried ice remnants before the spacecraft is frozen and destroyed is what I call an astronomical long shot.
So let's focus on a bigger question. What if there isn't any other life ANYWHERE in the solar system. What could that mean? Consider the short time we have been on earth.
The Cosmic Calendar is a scale in which the lifetime of the universe is mapped onto one calendar year; that is to say, the Big Bang took place on a cosmic January 1 at precisely midnight, and today's date and time is December 31 at midnight. On this calendar, the solar system did not appear until September 9, life on Earth arose on September 30, the first dinosaurs appeared on December 25th, the first flowers on December 28th and the first primates on December 30. The first humans did not arrive until around 10:30 p.m. on New Year's Eve, and all of human history has been recorded in the last 10 seconds.
So if life only exists here on earth, and we are but a flash in the pan, what does it all mean? Are we one of the greatest flukes in evolution, or are we direct evidence of a higher power at work? It boggles the mind. if we are unique in the Universe, and I mean not just currently, but in all time, you would think that we would have some greater purpose. But the facts are that the entire planets evolution was headed in many different directions only to have a meteor kill off all of the dinosaurs in one giant mass extinction (of which there have been many) and make it possible for us to be here today. In fact over 99% of species that ever lived are now extinct. We probably will be too, some day. Eventually the Earth will dry up just like Mars and best case scenario only "trace evidences" of life could be found frozen in buried ice.
I guess the big question is why are we here, and as this blog proposes, if we are the only place where life exists AND life will only exist for such a short period of time in the cosmic sense, what's the whole point? Are we supposed to do anything special? Or will the next form of life that takes over be as intelligent and do something special? It just seems like if life is so precious in the Universe - we probably should be accomplishing more than eating, sleeping, and vacationing.
Just keep in mind that after a nuclear world war, or mass extinction from our greenhouse gasses and global warming, the Earth will still be here, and as inhabitable as ever considering we have been through the Snow Ball Earth:
Snowball earth describes the coldest global climate imaginable - a planet covered by glacial ice from pole to pole. The global mean temperature would be about -50°C (-74°F) because most of the Sun's (Solar) radiation would be reflected back to space by the icy surface. The average equatorial temperature would be about -20°C (-10°F), roughly similar to present Antarctica. Because of its solid surface, the climate on a snowball earth would have much in common with present Mars.
The carbon dioxide levels necessary to unfreeze Snow Ball Earth have been estimated as being 350 times what they are today, about thirteen percent of the atmosphere. Over 4 to 30 million years, enough CO2 and methane, mainly emitted by volcanoes, would accumulate to finally cause enough greenhouse effect to make surface ice melt in the tropics until a band of permanently ice-free land and water developed.
I guess in summary there probably isn't much we could do to the Earth worse than what it has seen, though this is not a case to ignore being environmentally friendly as that is critical to our existence. I just think it is a low benchmark to say leave the Earth in tact and live like the animals when we could potentially do or create so much more. Rather this is a a call for "what the heck legacy are we going to leave, as potentially the only sentient beings ever to exist in the Universe." There seems to be an exponentially higher benchmark required for our contributions to the Universe, and in general we spend most of our time just trying to survive and very little time creating, inventing, and building.