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Reality Check: Jason Aaron’s ‘Avengers’ questions life on Earth

Celestial intervention? Or just statistics?

We knew the unfathomable space gods, the Celestials, have long had their hand in the progress of Marvel Universe human evolution, creating the Eternals and the Deviants and laying the groundwork for the emergence of mutants. Now, thanks to writer Jason Aaron and the current Avengers series, we’re learning that their meddling (intentional or otherwise) goes all the way back to Earth’s beginning.

Thanks to radiometric dating and other methods, we currently think the Earth is about 4.6 billion years old, and it didn’t take life too long to get going after then, showing up just 800 million years later, before the continents even finished forming and when there was still a lot of sulfur in the atmosphere.

Avengers #5

Not so molten anymore (and mud is a sedimentary feature, whereas “molten” describes liquid igneous rock), but that 4 billion years ago is a damn good time to place a life-bringing Celestial. Because why and how life started so quickly, pretty much as soon as it could, is a problem.

Of course “problem” in a scientific sense just means, “really interesting issue that we don’t have all the answers for yet.” And that lack of answers prompts a lot of questions. Is life much easier to jumpstart then we’ve thought? Could it have come, already formed, from somewhere else — a panspermia scenario? If life is so easy/ubiquitous, why haven’t we found it anywhere else yet?

Maybe we will soon. A lot scientists think we’ll find alien life within the next 20 years. The first indications from beyond our solar system will likely come from the 2021-launching James Webb Space Telescope, which will see further into space than ever before in an effort to to figure out how galaxies first formed, but can also study the compositions of exoplanet atmospheres. Lots of oxygen or methane would be a pretty good indicator something interesting is going on someplace.

Or maybe we’ll be in for a rude awakening. While the technology to definitively identify inhabited planets is only being realized now, so it’s no surprise we haven’t found anything yet, plenty are surprised that nothing’s found us.  If intelligent life is as common as we want/think it to be, shouldn’t other civilizations have started before us? Where is all the evidence of their activity and colonization?

Oxford researchers say it’s pretty likely we are indeed alone in the universe.

The Fermi Pardox (as described by astrobiologist Caleb Scharf at this year’s World Science Festival) has plagued thinkers since famous physicist Enrico Fermi first postulated the question in 1950. Now a team of Oxford researchers say there is no paradox — in fact, it’s pretty likely that we are indeed alone in the universe.

Their paper, submitted for publication in the Proceedings of the Royal Society of London, argues we’ve been looking at the parameters all wrong, and that the numbers in the so-called Drake Equation — a back-of-the-envelope calculation that multiplies together the probabilities that a star will have planets, that a planet will produce life, etc. — are better represented as ranges, ones that we’ve overestimated in the past. Today’s better data actually casts more doubts.

A natural question to ask might then be, why us? Why here? The best answer might be, “Why not?” If the conditions are right, and the odds dictate life could only happen once in our galaxy, there’s no reason it couldn’t be here, and now. To think we’re somehow special is something like a survivor bias (birthed bias?). If we weren’t here, there’d be no one to ask the question.

But maybe the outlook isn’t so gloomy. If there’s no one else, that might just mean we’re the first. It takes a while to build up the heavier elements needed for our kind of life (not to mention our kinds of technology). The metals on and in Earth wouldn’t exist without supernovae, meaning that other stars had to live, die and eject their newly fused nuclei in our direction before we could develop. A popular hypothesis holds that our Sun might be third generation itself, exploding twice before its current life.

Of course that does nothing for those looking for interesting interstellar conversation today, but give it a few million years. And maybe another sickly Celestial.

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