Other Worlds

Astrobiologists will probably have their hands full in a few trillion years. The odds of life evolving throughout the universe are 1,000 times greater in the far future than they are now, according to a new modeling study. The finding suggests that life on Earth may be "premature" in the cosmic scheme of things, researchers said. "If you ask, 'When is life most likely to emerge?' you might naively say, 'Now,'" study lead author Avi Loeb, of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, said in a statement. "But we find that the chance of life grows much higher in the distant future."

Loeb and his colleagues modeled how likely life is to arise at any point throughout the lifetime of the universe, starting at 30 million years after the Big Bang, when the first stars had created enough carbon, oxygen and other "heavy" elements thought to be necessary for life, and ending 10 trillion years from now, when the last stars will burn out. (The Big Bang occurred about 13.8 billion years ago.) The researchers determined that the main factor influencing the possible evolution of life on a planet is the lifetime of that planet's host star.

The sun will die perhaps 5 billion years from now, but the smallest stars can live for up to 10 trillion years, giving life plenty of time to take root.

Kemo D. 7

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