When Did Intelligent Life Emerge in the Universe?Quicklink submitted by Kyle McDermott Permalink
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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]) DMCA
|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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