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Location: St. Louis, Missouri, United States

Saturday, February 11, 2012

The Unique Solar System

Timothy Birdnow

According to new findings by NASA's IBEX spacecraft, the interstellar medium is fundamentally different than matter in the solar system.

According to the NASA press release:

"Among the four types of atoms detected—H, He, O and Ne—the last one, neon, serves as a particularly useful reference. “Neon is a noble gas, so it doesn’t react with anything. And it’s relatively abundant, so we can measure it with good statistics,” explains McComas.

Using data from IBEX, the researchers team compared the neon-to-oxygen ratio inside vs. outside the heliosphere. In a series of six science papers appearing in the Astrophysical Journal, they reported that for every 20 neon atoms in the galactic wind, there are 74 oxygen atoms. In our own solar system, however, for every 20 neon atoms there are 111 oxygen atoms.

That translates to more oxygen in any given slice of the solar system than in local interstellar space."

End excerpt.

(The solar wind is a stream of ionized particles streaming out of the sun. The Heliosphere is the limit of the solar wind, a magnetic bubble where the solar system is under the impact of the solar wind and magnetic field. There is a cusp region called the Heliopause where the heliosphere and interstellar space meet. The Voyager I spacecraft, for instance, is approaching the Heliopause and should reach it by 2015.)

This is interesting because life formed on Earth, and Earth is fairly oxygen rich. Does a higher concentraion of oxygen have anything to do with the genesis of life here? And is this characteristic unique to our own solar system or does it apply to other solar systems?

There is the famous Fermi Paradox; Enrico Fermi (the Manhattan Project nuclear physicist), when told of the odds of civiizations forming throughout the galaxy (the famous Drake Equations) require that there billion at least 20,000 in our galaxy alone, asked the simple question "where are they?" If life is so prevalent, and civilizations so ubiquitous, why haven't we seen at least some evidence of their existence? Our star is younger than many, and logic would dictate that older stars would have much older civilizations than ours. We should at least find an alien Slurpee cup, or the alien equivalent of a birth control device (which the aliens would surely have; if Barack Obama is as advanced as he thinks he is, surely the aliens would have adopted his free birth control policy!) or whatnot. We should see some evidence. There should be radio transmissions, or modulated gravity waves, or a neutrino emission source, SOMETHING! We see absolutely no evidence of aliens outside of trailer parks in New Mexico. (Wouldn't aliens want to examine some of our educated and more successful people rather than toothless lot lizzards?)

Perhaps our solar system is unique, maybe far more unique than we ever understood.

This flies in the face of modern scientific assumptions. Ever since Copernicus the assumption has been that we are nothing special, a cookie-cutter dwelling family out in the 'burbs living a cookie-cutter life. But this is demonstrably false in terms of our star; nine out of every ten stars are red dwarf suns (class M), for instance. Sol is a G2 yellow dwarf. Most stars are part of binary or larger cluster star groupings. Our star is fairly stable in the grand scheme of things,although it is very mildly variable (most dwarf stars are variable, about .4% while our sun is just .1%). We aren't packed in too close to the galactic center, and so aren't disturbed by wandering gravitational point sources. We aren't too far out, either, meaning we receive a certain amount of interstellar material and energy, which may be critical. And now we see that our solar system has a different composition than does the interstellar medium through which we are passing.

So perhaps our star system has a composition that is somehow fundamentally different than much of the rest of the galaxy. Perhaps there is an uniqueness that led to life on Earth but nowhere else.

Sir Fred Hoyle calculated the odds of life forming spontaneously as as 10 to the exponent 40,000, which makes it absolutely impossible. Now, those odds can and have been messaged by people over the years, people with varying axes to grind. Still, one of the weaknesses of the atheistic approach is that life seems extraordinary, to put it mildly. Even Richard Dawkins admitted it was nigh unto miraculous.

So it seems likely that we should find some unique things about our solar system; life not only formed but survived here. Please bear in mind, I hold a dim view on classic Darwinian theory, but even a Creationist (and I'm not one) must admit that God works through natural processes (He put the Universe together to work a certain way and rarely violates His own rules) and so even if one acknowledges the sovereignty of the Almighty in abiogenesis one would STILL expect to find something fundamentally unique about the Earth. Life didn't even begin anywhere else in our own solar system, after all.

Perhaps we are alone in the Universe. Perhaps we are the elder brothers. Perhaps the aliens are just too far away for us to notice them. No matter the answer, there are still good reasons to suspect that our solar system is unique. And by understanding that uniqueness we can learn how to live elsewhere. Maybe we are destined to colonize the universe?

If Man is to survive, he must understand the complex intertwining of our world, our solar system, and our universe in general. We don't even know how different it is just outside of the tiny bubble that is our solar system.

We have much to learn.

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