Friday, July 1, 2016

Alien Life Redux

In light of the attention that will be focused skyward over the next couple of weeks with our historic pass of Jupiter via the Juno spacecraft, and also with the sequel to "Independence Day" in theaters, I thought I'd blow the dust off of this old essay I wrote concerning the odds of life on other planets:

(Alien) Life: What Exactly Are the Odds? 

It's a romantic notion- alien life- but maybe it's just that- a notion. And here is why I'm starting to think that maybe there really is no life anywhere else in the universe: Pure probability.

A monkey at a typewriter has a one in 15 billion chance in typing the word "banana" in its lifetime. Why so little a chance? Well, let's say a typewriter has 50 keys, and each key has an equal chance of being pressed by our monkey friend. The chance that the first letter typed would be a "B" is 1/50. The chance that the second letter typed would be an "A" is also 1/50, and on and on. 

Statistics tell us that the chance of the first six letters spelling "banana" is: 
(1/50) × (1/50) × (1/50) × (1/50) × (1/50) × (1/50) = 
1/15,625,000,000, or roughly a one in 15 billion chance. 

And that's for only six things that have to happen just to spell the word "banana." 

Now, let's conservatively say that 10 things have to line up out of a 1,000 for life to occur (way, way conservative). That would be: 
(1/1,000) x (1/1,000) x (1/1,000) x (1/1,000) x (1/1,000) x (1/1,000) x (1/1,000) x (1/1,000) x (1/1,000) x (1/1,000)= 1/1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 or roughly a 1 in one thousand billion billion billionth of a chance. 

When I hear someone say that the odds of there NOT being life elsewhere are very minute, I think of the above formula, and I think that it might in fact be the opposite (before you launch into how big the universe is, look at that number above, and think that probably those numbers that need to come together for life to happen are probably more like a hundred thousand things out of a million, as opposed to ten out of a thousand...).

Yes, these are the things that I think of for inspiration. Strangely, they work...

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