It’s widely accepted that Earth’s plate tectonics are a key factor in life’s emergence. Plate tectonics allows heat to move from the mantle to the crust and plays a critical role in cycling nutrients. They’re also a key part of the carbon cycle that moderates Earth’s temperature.
But new research suggests that there was no plate tectonic activity when life appeared sometime around 3.9 billion years ago. Does this have implications for our search for habitable worlds?
The habitable zone is the region around a star where planets can maintain liquid water on their surface. It’s axiomatic that planets with liquid water are the best places to look for life, and astronomers focus their search on that zone. As far as we can tell, no water equals no life.
But new research suggests another delineation in solar systems that could influence habitability: The Soot Line.
Life doesn’t appear from nothing. Its origins are wrapped up in the same long, arduous process that creates the elements, then stars, then planets. Then, if everything lines up just right, after billions of years, a simple, single-celled organism can appear, maybe in a puddle of water on a hospitable planet somewhere.
It takes time for the building blocks of stars and planets to assemble in space, and the building blocks of life are along for the ride. But there are significant gaps in our understanding of how all that works. A new study is filling in one of those gaps.
From a distance, supernovae explosions are fascinating. A star more massive than our Sun runs out of hydrogen and becomes unstable. Eventually, it explodes and releases so much energy it can outshine its host galaxy for months.
But space is vast and largely empty, and supernovae are relatively rare. And most planets don’t support life, so most supernovae probably explode without affecting living things.
But a new study shows how one type of supernova has a more extended reach than thought. And it could have consequences for planets like ours.
What is humanity? Do our minds set us apart from the rest of nature and from the rest of Earth? Or does Earth have a collective mind of its own, and we’re simply part of that mind? On the literal face of it, that last question might sound ridiculous.
But a new thought experiment explores it more deeply, and while there’s no firm conclusion about humanity and a planetary mind, just thinking about it invites minds to reconsider their relationship with nature.
Overcoming our challenges requires a better understanding of ourselves and nature, and the same is true for any other civilizations that make it past the Great Filter.
The Moon has orbited Earth since the Solar System’s early days. Anyone who’s ever spent time at the ocean can’t fail to notice the Moon’s effect. The Moon drives the tides even in the world’s most remote inlets and bays. And tides may be vital to life’s emergence.
But if Earth were more massive, the Moon may never have become what it is now. Instead, it would be much smaller. Tides would be much weaker, and life may not have emerged the way it did.