When Did Intelligent Life Emerge in the Universe?

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The Helix Nebula; the gaseous outer layers expelled by a dying star. The ejected material enriches the interstellar medium (from which new stars and planets form) with carbon.
(image by NASA, ESA, C. R. O'Dell [Vanderbilt University], M. Meixner and P. McCullough [STScI])
Given that ordinary (baryonic) matter is composed of the same atoms throughout the cosmos, carbon seems to be the go-to atom when complexity is desired. However, carbon did not always exist in the universe. Carbon nuclei were created in the hot interiors of stars, by fusing together three helium nuclei. Most of the carbon in the universe was generated in the nuclear furnaces of intermediate-mass stars, which subsequently ejected their outer layers in the late stages of their evolution. If "intelligent" life develops at all, this process should take a few billion years. This means that we might expect "intelligent" (more cautiously, "complex") life forms to have emerged in abundance in the universe some 5 to 6 billion years ago. If true, then there could be quite a few civilizations out there that are more advanced than ours by a few billions of years. How is that for a humbling thought?

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New technology and an alternative physics that rej... by Mark Goldes on Sunday, Feb 24, 2013 at 11:21:21 AM
How do we know that? I haven't seen any evidence o... by Dave Lindorff on Sunday, Feb 24, 2013 at 3:09:25 PM
It's arguable, but assuming intelligent life does ... by Kyle McDermott on Sunday, Feb 24, 2013 at 10:48:06 PM
Nice summary of timelines. I'm also glad t... by Daniel Vasey on Sunday, Feb 24, 2013 at 9:16:55 PM
Science seems preoccupied with 'life'.   I ... by Ned Lud on Monday, Feb 25, 2013 at 9:40:47 AM