The study of the formation and logic of the universe (cosmology) and the study of exoplanets and their conduciveness to life do not seem to intersect much. Scientists in one field focus on the deep physics of the cosmos while the others search for the billions upon billions of planets out there and seek to unlock their secrets.
But astrophysicist and cosmologist Avi Loeb — a prolific writer about the early universe from his position at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics– sees the two fields of study as inherently connected, and has set out to be a bridge between them. The result was a recent theoretical paper that sought to place the rise of life on Earth (and perhaps elsewhere) in cosmological terms.
His conclusion: The Earth may well be a very early example of a living biosphere, having blossomed well before life might be expected on most planets. And in theoretical and cosmological terms, there are good reasons to predict that life will be increasingly common in the universe as the eons pass.
By eons here, Loeb is thinking in terms that don’t generally get discussed in geological or even astronomical terms. The universe may be an ancient 13.7 billion years old, but Loeb sees a potentially brighter future for life not billions but trillions of years from now. Peak life in the universe, he says, may arrive several trillion years hence.
“We used the most conservative approaches to understanding the appearance of life in the universe, and our conclusion is that we are very early in the process and that it is likely to ramp up substantially in the future,” said Loeb, whose paper was published in the Journal of Cosmology and Astroparticle Physics.
“Given the factors we took into account, you could say that life on Earth is on the premature side.”