Saturday, May 30, 2009

Are we alone?

Are we alone in the Universe? Does life exit on other planets? If so, could there be intelligent life "out there?" Carl Sagan has said yes, because there are virtually countless worlds amenable to life. So, just by the shear number of possibilities, there must be extraterrestrial life, perhaps even intelligent life. But, until recently, no natural law could lend predictive power to what has been essentially guesswork.

A new window of understanding opened with a paper published in 2006 [R. E. Morel and George Fleck, “A Fourth Law of Thermodynamics,” Khimiya, vol. 15, no. 4, pp. 305–310 (2006)]. That paper describes a consistent universal theme, a dynamic between energy and matter that applies universally to non-living and living systems. It says that matter and energy self-organize in ways that create the best avenues for dispersal. In cosmic dust clouds, that means forming stars. On biofriendly planets that means the genesis of life. And that theme connects us to the cosmos. The next post will explore how a candle flame is an expression of this cosmic theme. In the meantime, can you identify what's shown in the photo? Please submit your answer—sorry no prizes.