“It’s in the ‘sweet spot’, the Goldilocks Zone…”

If no-one picks up the phone at Gliese 581d, perhaps someone will be at home on the newly discovered Gliese 581g…  aka the “Goldilocks” planet.  Or, indeed, one of the other exo-planets in the, apparently, increasingly populated Gliese 581 system.  But I tend to agree with the quotes in the level-headed Tom Chivers blog at the Daily Telegraph

Dr Lewis Dartnell, a UCL astrobiologist who specialises in the possibility of microbial life on Mars, says that it’s “undeniably very, very exciting”, but it’s far too early to say anything about life existing on it.

“We don’t know how Earth-like it really is”, he says. “It’s a small rocky planet, but we know nothing about what sort of atmosphere or surface conditions it has.

“It’s in the ‘sweet spot’, the Goldilocks Zone, that would allow for liquid water, but we don’t know if there’s actually water on it – water may never have been present. We really should be cautious.

Further, even if life exists, it is unlikely to be a thriving civilisation of advanced beings who can teach us the secrets of the universe. “The star it orbits is an M-class red dwarf,” says Dr Dartnell, “so it’s cooler and dimmer than our own sun. The habitable zone around it is far closer in, which means that it’s tidally locked – one side always faces its star. It’ll have a pretty weird, extreme climate.

“Basically, delicate creatures like animals and plants might not have had the stability required to evolve. Life, if it exists, is probably nothing more than bacterial pond scum.”

Although I think he overstates the importance of “stability”…  We certainly benefited on this planet from a degree of change.

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  • Big Maggie

    Life, if it exists, is probably nothing more than bacterial pond scum.

    Well, I don’t know. But neither does Dr Dartnell or anybody else. I wonder if he actually said those words or was misquoted, because “probably” is a very loaded word for an astrobiologist to use.

    Perhaps he meant “perhaps”. Because in truth any theory we might form here on earth about the possibility of life elsewhere must of necessity be geocentric. We’re so used to life on our own planet that we tend to extrapolate, and this is unwise. It’s okay to say things like: “Look, congress with nanny-goats is common in certain parts of Dahomey in certain circumstances so, given similar circumstances, and allowing for minor climate differences, we can expect to find such behaviour in similar regions of southeast Asia.”

    Fair enough. But I don’t believe the rest of the universe—or indeed the rest of the galaxy—works this way. We’re fooling ourselves, and being unusually arrogant into the bargain, if we think it does.

  • Munsterview

    ‘….. “Look, congress with nanny-goats is common in certain parts of Dahomey in certain circumstances ……..’

    Off topic but…..

    You did not learn that in a convent school !

    Just what really goes on in those particular unionist circles you married into ?

    Come on please share ?

  • Cynic

    Geez Maggie…..what did that actually mean?

    But the main significance of this isn’t whether these specific plants have life or not. It’s that we found them and now have more and more evidence that planets are commonplace . Given the number of stars that means life is almost certainly ubiquitous…… and it wasn’t all created on a Saturday afternoon in October 4004 BC

  • Dr Concitor

    There are an estimated 10 to the power 24 stars* in the universe, so the chances of our earth and solar system being unique are remote. There are probably countless millions of rocky planets in the universe with a surface temperature at which water is liquid. To have found one of these is an amazing achievement and a testament to humankind’s endless curiosity and inventiveness.
    Some among us would like to think that this kind of thing would make creationists reassess their beliefs, but I think this is a forlorn hope.
    On the goat thing, I have heard that masons are supposed to ask each other “have you ever been in a barrel with a goat?”, so there may be more to this than meets the eye. I think we should be told.
    *there are apparently as many galaxies in the universe as there are stars in our galaxy both these numbers are 1000000000000 roughly.

  • Munsterview

    Pete Baker

    Thanks for continuing to post and contextualize these articles on astronomy and space matters,
    they are very informative and welcome.

    For others interested in this area the…….. ‘DailyGrail’…….. is a good general news digest and a gateway site to other sources. It usually carry some space references a few times a week.

    See in particular 27 / 09 / 10 for a day of briefs devoted to exclusively to astronomy and space. Enjoy !


  • Munsterview

    And I will hazzard a bet, not another one with the Orange Order!

  • pippakin

    Not sure what the reference to goats has to do with it, unless it something about the way those on the dark side try to keep warm, but since any life there might not be as we know it…

    I have been reading up on this for the last couple of days and this is the best answer I have found regarding how long it would take us to get there.

    AVERAGE speed of a lunar trip is only about 3,000 or 4,000 mph, so lets call it 3,500 mph

    5,880,000,000,000 miles * 20.5 years = 120,540,000,000,000 miles

    120,540,000,000,000 miles / 3,500 mph = 34,440,000,000 hours

    34,440,000,000 hours / 24 hours = 1,435,000,000 days

    1,435,000,000 days / 365 days = 3,931,506.85 years

    wow about 4 million years at the average speed of a moon mission

  • Greenflag

    Big maggie,

    ‘We’re so used to life on our own planet that we tend to extrapolate,’

    As the universe/galaxy/solar system is ‘united ‘ by a common physics i.e speed of light, gravity , solar nuclear fusion, etc would it not be reasonable to assume that ‘biological’ extrapolations of life as we know it even if its bacteria pond scum is plausible ?
    What will be interesting is that if ever life is discovered elsewhere will it be simlar at the DNA level to life on Earth? . All life on Earth shares the same DNA which formed some 300 million years after the earth was formed when ‘oxygen ‘ breathing life as we know it today could not have survived.

    I trust that if our solar explorers ever do find life elsewhere they will NOT return it to Earth to display in the local zoo 😉

    From experience on Earth we know that introducing alien fauna or flora into new environment can have disastrous consequences for the indigenes .

    At 20 light years distance I think we can save ourselves any present anxiety . Have they got the ‘technology’ to prove that any of these rocky planets actually have liquid water on their surfaces ?

  • pippakin

    But, if they are not ‘pond life’ bearing in mind there may not be many ponds..What if we are in fact the pond life? and they come here to check us out?

    In anticipation of just such an event the ever ready UN have recently promoted a lady who is no doubt waiting with baited breath for the er, imminent? arrival..

  • joeCanuck

    Don’t put down pond life. I saw a movie about it during the heyday of “B” movies. Slime from the black lagoon or something like that. Be careful, very very careful.

  • Greenflag

    ‘What if we are in fact the pond life?’

    We were the ‘pond life’ but we did’nt know it at the time 😉 About 2 billion years ago approx .

    ‘and they come here to check us out?’

    It’ll take about 20 years for those radio signals to reach the system and another 20 years to get a reply assuming anybody’s there . On the other hand if they have advance to the stage of ion rocket propulsion they could be here in about 200,000 years . Sheeesh I’m already terrified 😉

  • Greenflag

    Joe C ,

    ‘Don’t put down pond life.’

    Don’t pick it up either 😉

  • joeCanuck

    Witty 😉

  • Munsterview


    That Ambassador story was a leg pull. See current spotlight story.


    Incidently in view of my query to ‘Big Maggie’, did you not say some postings back that you intended to get some goats ?

    Please Pip feel free to share with us since apparently the first poster mentioning the subject could be a little constrained about talking openly about what go on in certain unionist circles as she may be too easily identified !

    Thats one practice coming back to the UK from their African Colonization that we never heard about, I wonder why ?

    At least we now know one possible reason why the Orange Order kept up it’s African connections and have lodges out there !

  • pippakin

    Greenflag & Joe

    I never touch pond life. it tends to be slimy. But it is where (more or less) we all began and whilst we all know we are no longer in the pond, how are we so sure we have advanced that much, in universal terms?

    We, well alright me, can be diverted so easily!

    I am inclined to think the ‘visitors’ will get here first. If only because they are almost certainly more advanced and, not so easily distracted.

  • pippakin

    Dear MV

    “That Ambassador story was a leg pull. See current spotlight story”

    No! You don’t say! Gosh!

    .I have no idea what goes on in unionist circles, I’m guessing it is nothing at all ‘witchy’…

    Nice try MV. but I am certain if the ‘colonials’ had bought back any interesting little anecdotes involving goats, a historian such as yourself would have found them by now…

  • Munsterview

    Having spend a good portion of my life in the Irish Superior Courts and carefully observing what was on the benches there, I can inform you that it is no longer a case of ‘ what if they come to check us out’, they are already here!

    Given that I have some similar experience of the UK courts also, they are there also and well integrated into the Judicial systems in these Islands.

    The frightening thing is not that they are amongst and in such key positions in Western Society, it is rather that as a whole they are not a particularly intelligent life form !

  • slappymcgroundout

    In addition to water, is there a moon comparable to ours? We don’t exist without our moon.

    Oh, and Maggie, funny that you should write what you wrote. Why Nick Hoffman rejects the warm and wet Mars hypothesis, i.e., some claim a warm and wet Mars in time past because they look at our world and see that this formation, that formation, and the other formation were caused by water. As Nick puts it, the, if it has a beak like a duck, walks like a duck, and looks like a duck, doesn’t ring true, as the duck-billed platypus has a beak like a duck, it swims, and it lays eggs, just like a duck, except it isn’t a duck. Hoffman puts Mars down to CO2. The reason is simple. Back in the day, the younger sun only generated 70% of the heat that it does today. So to have a warm and wet Mars, you’d also have to explain why the earth didn’t go all Venus on us. The other more substantial problem is that the warm and wet Mars models posit an atmosphere heavy in CO2 (how the model accounts for the young sun not generating enough heat to have liquid water), but if there was that much CO2, and liquid water, we would have the same limestone deposits that we have here on earth. But they don’t exist on Mars. In other words, if Mars ever had a thick CO2 atmosphere and liquid water for any substantial period of time, there should be rather large deposits of carbonate minerals on the surface (caronates form when CO2 in the atmosphere dissolves in liquid water)(and its chemistry and there is one set of rules of chemistry for all). Again, the carbonates are simply not there. Before we went to Mars, the estimate was that we’d find 20% carbonate in Martian dust. We found 2%. The rather tiny amount of water vapor in the Martian atmosphere today can account for that 2%.

    Next, back to the moon, since not only do we need the moon, we need the moon to strike that glancing blow late in the day. Without the moon striking that glancing blow late in the day, there are no tectonic plates, and earth is just like Venus in that respect. The amount of the earth’s crust that was ejected out into space would also fill all of our oceans. We’d have an earth that would be covered with water with the only above water formations being those parts of the volcanoes that managed to well and truly rise above it. There are some other important consequences of the moon striking that glancing blow late, but you can discover those on your own. Mr. Hoffman’s work on the import of the moon is titled, Why We Are Alone.

    Next, go back and read Pete’s one other post on Jupiter. We also need a massive planet like Jupiter to keep us safe from objects flying through space, lest a space object get a little too near. Suffice to say that there’s a whole bunch of stuff that must be just so…This, and my above remarks re the moon, are my response to the claim that life is “ubiquitous”. And by life, I mean something other than bacterial microbes.

    Next, the one book doesn’t rule out life on other planets. Now might I ask a question, let’s say that some do communicate with us from another world. What do YOU think if they bring a story of Deity and a vicarious atonement? I myself don’t believe that life is out there. But I’m fairly certain that there are an infinite number of other universes with beings like us. I mean, Deity must find something to do for all of eternity.

    Lastly, re the origin of life, the problem that some have is the math, probability. As Hoyle wrote:

    The trouble is that there are about two thousand enzymes, and the chance of obtaining them all in a random trial is…1 in (1020)2000=1040,000,an outrageously small probability that could not be faced even if the whole universe consisted of organic soup.

    If one is not prejudiced either by social beliefs or by a scientific training into the conviction that life originated on the Earth, this simple calculation wipes the idea entirely out of court… Even the need for only two enzymes to operate in association is sufficient to make the situation quite implausible… There is no way in which we can expect to avoid the need for information, no way in which we can simply get by with a bigger and better organic soup.

    And that’s why Hoyle posits a directed panspermia. Chandra Wickramasinghe agrees re the probability calculation:

    It doesn’t follow logically that one can start from an organic soup and end up with a living system. There’s no logic that drives you to that conclusion at all… There’s not enough time, there’s not enough resources and there’s no way in which that could have happened…

    And then there’s Stephen Meyer, who speaks to the probability of the formation of a small protein molecule:

    Stephen C. Meyer has more recently broken down the probability along slightly different lines, for a small protein molecule, but to the same conclusion:

    1. “The probability of building a chain of 100 amino acids in which all linkages involve peptide bonds is roughly 1 chance in 1030.”

    2. “The probability of attaining at random only L-amino acids in a hypothetical peptide chain 100 amino acids long is (1/2)100 or again roughly 1 chance in 1030.” [only left-handed amino acid arrangements can be tolerated by functioning proteins]

    3. “…we find that the probability of achieving a functional sequence of amino acids in several functioning proteins at random is still “vanishingly small,” roughly 1 chance in 1065- an astronomically large number – for a protein only one hundred amino acids in length.”

    4. “If one also factors in the probability of attaining proper bonding and optical isomers, the probability of constructing a rather short, functional protein at random becomes so small as to be effectively zero (no more than 1 chance in 10125…”

    So, no, if ET visited us tomorrow, I’d still have my faith. It isn’t simply blind faith that gives me and some others our faith. It’s notion of probability, and when the math says that there hasn’t been enough time for random to do it’s magic, then time to start looking for some direction and purpose. Hoyle and the other fellow find it in panspermia, i.e., intelligent life elsewhere. I find it in notion of Deity. So it was here, and not from out there, but it wasn’t a random affair as some claim it to be. Origin is owing to the fine work of Deity Production, Inc.

  • Munsterview

    No kidding?

  • slappymcgroundout

    Well, so much for my feeble at HTML coding the superscript. So that all of those numbers, and make it 10 to the number following power, ie., the 1065 is 10 to the 65th power. Or better yet, re Hoyle, that woul be 10 to the 20th to the 200th power, or 10 to the 40,000th power.

  • joeCanuck

    The probability calculations you mention are no such thing. They are a bunch of wild guesses.

  • pippakin


    No, well, almost no.

  • Cynic

    There are so many assumptions in this, where to start.

    First there is the assumption that all the biochemical reactions / combination’s are achieved totally randomly. They wont be. Once some favourable forms emerge they may begin to dominate and nature may not be random, she may selection for reproducibility

    Second, even this assumes that alien biology must follow that on earth. The reality is that there may be a number of different biologies that all lead to some form of life, intelligent or not. Time will tell. We simply don’t know.

    Third, one of Hoyle own propositions was that life on earth was alien ie that the planet was seeded by life drifting here through space of hitch-hiking on comets, just as coconuts drift from shore to shore – but a bit colder and longer journey

    Fourth, even though some of the probability numbers look big so do some of the numbers for possibilities – for example the number of stars in the observable universe are around 10 to the power 21. And those are just the ones we know about and that seem to be visible to us now.

    So if you believe in your concept of Diety good luck to you. I wont try and dissuade you if it makes you happy. But I disagree

  • Munsterview


    Recall the lamented and still unreplaced ‘Omni Magazine’ from decades ago?

    My ideas on this subject were formed arising out of reading Carl Sagan and that guy that other English guy that lived in Ceylon, Arthur C Clark The latter said…….” Our problem with our perception of the universe is not that it is queerer than we have imagined but that it is queerer than we can imagine ”

    Artur’s wounderfull imagination and Carls hard science and the two schools of writing that arose from both in terms of imagination and hard science have continued to inform me since teen years.

    The one thing that Carl said that held me to the ‘existence of life out there theory’ is when he said that there were more suns out there than there were grains of sand in all the beaches of our world combined. To say that any number of these suns and planets could not produce conditions for life to emerge is too astounding to contemplate.

  • Munsterview

    Ah ! So there is something to this ‘goat thing’ after all ?

  • Dr Concitor

    Big numbers. There are more potential connections between the nerve cells in the human brain than there are atoms in the universe. Some peoples heads just contain the wrong ones.

  • pippakin


    As you may know one of my ambitions is to buy two goats (only think of the saving on lawn mowing fees). If/when I do they will both be ‘nanny’. I am not prepared to to ‘debate’ who is alpha in my house. I get enough of that from the cats…

    I have to say I have no further idea about goats. For all I know they may be the sapient species on Gliese 158 or whichever, which would be, interesting.

  • Munsterview

    Dr C

    This implied criticism of the the Orange Order leadership and members will only produce more negativity from that source. A little sensitivity here please !

  • Munsterview

    Possibilities almost too good to pass up on but I will !

  • Big Maggie


    The probability calculations you mention are no such thing. They are a bunch of wild guesses.

    Too right, my man. I’m not trying to get anybody’s, ahem, goat but so much of those “probability” calculations are pure fantasy.

    Stephen Meyer? One could just as well base one’s cosmology on Stephenie Meyer—and she’s twice as entertaining.

    I repeat: nobody knows. Life as we know it is a fluke. There’s no known situation in the world today, apart from living organisms that do it all the time, where complex organic compounds are being synthesized from inorganic substances.

    So much for our world. Can we conclude that somewhere among those billions of other worlds a similar process is taking place or has taken place: organic from inorganic? No, we cannot conclude anything. To do so would be very bad—and highly speculative—science.

  • joeCanuck

    Yes, Maggie,
    And not only can we not draw conclusions but we can’t rule anything out either. As you rightly say, we don’t know, and we might never know.

  • Pete Baker

    “Life as we know it is a fluke.”

    As we know it now, yes.

    But life, as we know it now, changed conditions on the Earth as it evolved – life and the Earth that is.

    And we’ve already found organic compounds elsewhere.

    Including some places nearby…

    That’s the starting point.

    So, “can we conclude that somewhere among those billions of other worlds a similar process is taking place or has taken place: organic from inorganic?”

    Actually, yes we can.

    Because there is a shared chemistry and physics.

    What happens after that is, perhaps, conditionally led.

  • joeCanuck

    Actually, yes we can.

    I disagree, Pete. It’s a belief, a well founded belief which I share. But we don’t KNOW yet. I still haven’t given up up of finding some form of life or previous life on Mars.

  • lamhdearg

    “Conclude” Never conclude you’ll make an ass out of you and Ohh sorry wrong word/saying.

  • Pete Baker

    “organic from inorganic?”

    Actually, that’s more than a belief, Joe.

    We have observed it elsewhere.

  • joeCanuck

    Sorry, Pete. I misunderstood and I agree.

  • Cynic

    Is it any coincidence that ‘Mars Attacks’ was on TV tonight?

  • joeCanuck

    Hehehehe. Loved that movie. Watched it twice which is a rarity for me.

  • slappymcgroundout

    “The probability, however, of the convergent evolution of two proteins with approximately the same structure and function is too low to be plausible, even when all possible circumstances are present which seem to heighten the likelihood of such convergence. If this is so, then the plausibility of a random evolution of two or more different but functionally related proteins seems hardly greater.”

    [Paul Erbrich, “On the Probability of the Emergence of a Protein with a Particular Function,” Acta Biotheoretica, Vol. 34 (1985), pp. 53-80][and by the way, he’s an evolutionist]

    “One must conclude that, contrary to the established and current wisdom, a scenario describing the genesis of life on earth by chance and natural causes which can be accepted on the basis of fact and not faith has not yet been written.”
    [Hubert P. Yockey, “A Calculation of the Probability of Spontaneous Biogenesis by Information Theory,” Journal of Theoretical Biology, Vol. 67 (1977), p. 398]

    Next, there’s Fermi’s paradox. See:


    As between items (1) and (2) in the conclusion, reject item (2), since just as one ET could break the prime directive (James Kirk & Co did so very nearly every episode), so too at least one civilization would likely have not destroyed itself prior to sending its self-replicating probes our way.

    Here’s the answer set with the conclusion first:


    Lastly, if life is rare, then what were you all saying about how the probability is all wrong? The probability must be close, or else we’d have our self-replicating probe lobbying Congress and Parliament right now.

    Almost forgot, “loved” the potential connections of neurons in the brain thing. The point of the probability estimates is not in the number alone, but in consideration of notion of time over which those odds might come to fruition. That’s where Fermi’s Paradox comes in, since it appears that the wholly improbable was obtained on the first roll of the dice. And that’s why some think that life is ubiquitous. Which caused Fermi to ask, if so, then where in Deity’s Name are they?

    Oh, and one more for Pete, courtesy of the Univ of California at San Diego:

    “A pile of bricks does not make a cathedral, and a collection of organic molecules does not make a living cell. There is presently no such thing as a “primitive” cell. There is no experiment that produces anything resembling living things. Imagine a junk yard with bits and pieces of metal of various shapes. Then think of a modern automobile with GPS and onboard computer, and a voice telling you to fasten your seat belt. That is roughly the distance between the organic matter seen in experiments simulating early-Earth conditions and the life forms now extant.”

    Now note what they didn’t say, to wit, you need an engineer to get from scraps to, Hello, Pete, please fasten your seat belt. They didn’t imply that, but I most certainly am.

    And the same piece recites, re the death of Miller-Urey:

    “Several lines of research, however, indicate that early atmosphere was not reducing, but high in CO2. In such an oxidizing atmosphere, the Miller-Urey experiment does not generate a supply of prebiotic building blocks.”

    By the way, was a veritable battle royale when I had a “conversation” with the one area school teacher re teaching the kids the “lesson” of Miller-Urey. As I put the matter, the “lesson” is that there wasn’t a reducing atmosphere but either a neutral or more likely an oxidizing one, which means that organic chemistry cannot occur in any imagined prebiotic pond, which by the way, has never been shown to have existed, meaning that the initial conditions posited by Miller-Urey were wrong and so their experiment is worthless when it comes to explaining life on earth, and if you teach these children anymore fairy tales…

  • joeCanuck

    Great cut and paste research.
    Did you know that if you have any, yes any, pre-conceived notion, you can find “evidence” on the WWW to support it. Amazing, eh?

  • abucs

    If the 581 system contains life, how will we know?

  • HeinzGuderian

    Absolutely correct !!

    There is life out there…..and one day we will find it,and the Gawd squad will change their position,once again.

    Life here is a total fluke,and it will not last forever n ever…………..

    Best just to enjoy it while you can,instead of arguing the toss about shitty uprising in 1916,and hankering after a Notion once again…..:-)

  • Dr Concitor

    If there is water on this planet, it would be logical to assume that there would be a water company. Given the universal laws, already mentioned, that bind the universe together, this water company would require enormous amounts of BS for its operation. This BS should be observable from earth. So I suggest that long range BS detectors be developed and pointed at 581

  • joeCanuck

    This must be close to the most comments ever on an astronomy thread.

  • Wilde Rover

    In an infinite universe there must exist a finite number of planets that have liquid water, a moon, and a Jupiter to soak up the galactic slack.

    It’s something that should both inspire and terrify in equal measure.

  • joeCanuck

    Actually, Wilde Rover, in an infinite universe there may be an infinity of habitable planets. Paradoxically, there are many infinities, not all the same size. There might even be an infinity of infinities! Weird.

  • Wilde Rover


    “Paradoxically, there are many infinities, not all the same size”

    Finally, I get to see the word paradox used as it was intended. That sentence makes my head hurt, but in a good way.

    “There might even be an infinity of infinities! Weird.”

    But wouldn’t that just be the one infinity?

    (Why yes, I am hiding in semantics, why do you ask?)

  • Devil Eire

    For example:


    TPF is currently without funding, but something like this will eventually be launched.

  • Munsterview

    This was posted in Daily Grail, may be of interest to some !


  • abucs

    But could these detectors be callibrated to avoid the effects of the increasing levels of BS produced on our home planet. :o)

  • Munsterview

    Some more good stuff on Dailygrail. Scrool down to news briefs for friday on left. When there take a glance also at the right, some interesting old space items there also.