Alone in the universe? The how and why of life on earth

Prof. Elio Sindoni, 17-07-2012, Rome (ZENIT.org).  Own translation.

Why are there stars? Why are there billions of stars and what does the earth have to do with the universe? Why is there life? Why humanity? Are humans the only intelligent beings who can understand how the universe functions? Is our civilization the only one? Are there other planets with life? If so, are there other civilizations beyond our own? And where are they? Are they like us? Or are they different? Are they aliens? Peaceful beings? Do they have any special power? Is it possible that we are the only ones in the universe? What is the reason for our existence?

Professor Elio Sindoni tries to answer these questions and many others in his book, “Are we the only ones in the universe?” (“Siamo soli nell’universo?“, ed. San Raffaele), in which he gives the reader a clear and accurate explanation of the appearance of life on earth. 144 pages in which the professor of general physics at the Bicocca University of Milan paints the history and reasons of those who have searched for aliens and are still searching.

In one of the chapters, Prof. Sindoni presents the conversations between science fiction writers and scientists. He then explains the principle according to which earth is the only planet that can receive life and confronts it with other principles.

The Milky Way is formed by nearly a hundred billion stars, of which the Sun is one, a medium-sized star, with a moderate temperature and medium weight. It is calculated that there are at least a hundred billion galaxies, which suggests that there is a possibility that somewhere in the universe there is a planet similar to earth.

In the middle chapters, the professor tries to find the reasons why there is life, how it originated and developed. He speaks of a true miracle; no probability calculation could explain how life on earth originated.  Volcanoes, magnetosphere, atmosphere, anhydrous carbon dioxide and oxygen, the drift of the continents and the solar system, liquid water and global warming, everything seems to enable and promote the emergence and growth of life.

Elio Sindoni explains that everything is made in an admirable way. Jupiter, for example, with its enormous gravity, can absorb the flood of asteroids and comets that would otherwise hit Earth. It is calculated that, without the presence of Jupiter, the Earth would be bombarded by asteroids 10 km in diameter at least once every 10,000 years, with catastrophes that would prevent life.

Due to the gravity of the moon, the duration of the day on Earth is constantly increasing. It is believed that at the time the earth was formed, the day without the moon would have lasted only six hours. A situation with a stronger magnetic field and strong winds, conditions in which life could not grow. Thanks to the emission of waterfree carbon dioxide from volcanoes, originating from the hot inner core of the planet, a greenhouse effect was created, allowing water to remain liquid and maintain an average temperature of about 15° on earth. Without the greenhouse effect, the temperature on earth would be -18°.

The Earth, by the way, has a magnetic field that the moon, Venus and Mars do not have. The magnetosphere, that stretches for tens of thousands of kilometers into the surrounding space, defends life by diverting and preventing the bombardment of cosmic rays from the sun .

But one mystery that is even harder to decipher is the origin and meaning of Homo sapiens. This being who has begun to paint, to bury and commemorate his dead, who has begun  to understand and  articulate  the laws of the universe, who has conceived and built civilizations, who has come to care for his soul and to seek God.

Elio Sindoni concludes that the conditions in which life on Earth has evolved are too unique and that no statistical calculation could repeat this. Whatever the case, all the investigations undertaken to date on the presence of extraterrestrial life gave a negative result. Among the 500 planets recorded outside the sun so far, none have been found that resemble Earth.

The writer leans on the thesis of Enrico Fermi who, to the question of the existence of extraterrestrials, replied: where are they? The scientist says that Fermi, during a meeting with Leo Szilard and other scientists at Los Alamos in 1940, suggested that if other forms of intelligent life had spread throughout the universe, Earth would already have been colonized by extraterrestrials. The universe has existed much longer than the earth. So if other forms of civilization were possible, many of them would have developed billions of years earlier and had time to come to us.  (*)

(*) Ed. This last argument does not seem convincing to us, in contrast to all of the foregoing. After all, the cosmic distances are so great that it is almost scientifically certain that they cannot be physically bridged. The only way would be to travel at the speed of light, but that could only theoretically be done by reducing its own mass to almost zero, which completely destroys any organism. We can possibly imagine beings who send “life information” from another planet at the speed of light into space, which can be picked up on Earth, for example. That new forms of life would spontaneously arise from this, let alone “civilizations”, is of course scientific nonsense. The only alternative would be for the imaginary space aliens to count on other “civilizations” being sufficiently developed and curious to work with that “information” and thus artificially introducing an exogenous life form to their planet. But don’t panic: despite worldwide intensive research, no trace has yet been found of any intelligent information from space. In addition, despite several attempts, no methods or formulas have ever been discovered to create living organisms from dead matter. The ultimate cause of life remains God’s secret, even if it turns out that it was situated on another planet and that life reached us, for example, via meteorites or cosmic dust.  The conditions in the free cosmos make this possibility extremely unlikely.

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