Alan Boss, whose new book The Crowded Universe will soon be on my shelves (and reviewed here), has driven the extrasolar planet story to the top of the news with a single statement. Speaking at the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s annual meeting in Chicago, Boss (Carnegie Institution, Washington) said that the number of Earth-like planets in the universe might be the same as the number of stars, a figure he pegged at one hundred billion trillion.
A universe teeming with life? Inevitably. The Telegraph quoted Boss on the matter in an early report on his presentation:
“If you have a habitable world and let it evolve for a few billion years then inevitably some sort of life will form on it,” said Dr Boss.
“It is sort of running an experiment in your refrigerator – turn it off and something will grow in there.
“It would be impossible to stop life growing on these habitable planets.”
Few Centauri Dreams readers would disagree with the notion that life may be common in the universe, but what about intelligent life leading to technology? That’s a far greater challenge, and Boss notes that our own civilization will be unlikely to exist in another 100,000 years. The odds on our running into another civilization at roughly the same stage of development are vanishingly small. Let’s see what Kepler finds. The planet-hunter lifts off in a scant three weeks on a mission Boss believes will find a habitable terrestrial planet within four years. How we would accomplish the unmanned mission to study this world that Boss refers to is something we continue to speculate about on Centauri Dreams.
Apropos of Boss’ comments, our man in the maritime antipodes, Paul Titze, sends along this memorable quotation from Christiaan Huygens, who wrote of these matters in 1695:
What a wonderful and amazing Scheme have we here of the magnificent Vastness of the Universe! So many Suns, so many Earths, and every one of them stock’d with so many Herbs, Trees and Animals, and adorn’d with so many Seas and Mountains! And how must our wonder and admiration be increased when we consider the prodigious distance and multitude of the Stars?