There’s never been a surprise that a good astrobiologist hasn’t been able to spin into an evolutionary tale.

For a recent example, see the post “How old are the first planets?” on NASA’s Astrobiology Magazine or the reprint on PhysOrg.  In this article, every surprise or anomaly became fodder for Keith Cooper’s imagination.  Here are a few of the unexpected observations in the article that Cooper worked into the grand scenario of cosmic evolution and the origin of life:

1.  Rocky planets:  The Kepler spacecraft has found rocky worlds around metal-poor stars that were previously thought to lack ingredients for planets.  Solution: “one way of looking at terrestrial planets is to see them as failed gas giant cores.”  Even more exciting, it means (contrary to earlier beliefs) that rocky planets – and maybe life – may abound around metal-poor stars!  “If Earth-sized planets do not require stars with high abundances of heavy elements, then that has huge implications, expanding the possible abodes for life throughout both space and time.”  Cooper even jumped from his imaginary solution to the conclusion that it implies the “Galactic Habitable Zone” might be wider than thought.

2. Fermi Paradox:  Point #1 raises the ghost of the Fermi Paradox: if there are so many rocky worlds with life, how come none have visited the earth by now?  (Their inhabitants, presumably, have had billions of years to evolve advanced technology.)  Solution: Dodge the question with a distracting discussion of how and when gas giants can evolve around low-metal stars.

3.  Heavy metal galaxies:  The evolutionary scenario predicted heavy elements would gradually increase over time; early galaxies, therefore, should be depleted in heavy elements.  “Twelve billion years ago the chemistry of galaxies should have been fairly primitive,” Cooper confessed, yet a distant galaxy matched the sun in heavy elements.  Solution: “The best explanation so far is that a starburst – a ferociously rapid bout of star formation – within the inner regions of the galaxy has blown the heavy elements into the galactic outlands.”  In philosophy of science, this is known as a post hoc rationalization….

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