As the author of From Dying Stars to the Birth of Life, Jerry Cranford, explains, we are certainly not alone or unique in the Universe. We know that the Milky Way is vast, but the true scale of the Universe, where there may be 100 billion or more galaxies, is hard to comprehend. We once thought that the Solar System was special, but now that we can see deeper into space, other planets, orbiting around stars have been found. So far more than 400 of these exoplanets have been discovered, and no doubt many more are going to be found.


Jerry Cranford quite reasonably points out that it would not make much sense for life to be confined to one insignificant dot in the Universe, for the conditions that gave rise to life have been repeated many times in many places. As he explains, conditions on early Earth would strike us now as totally alien. The Earth was once an extremely hostile place, blanked in toxic gases, yet these were the conditions that acted as an incubator for the earliest forms of life that we know of to evolve. Although often referred to as primitive, the microorganisms that inhabited this chemical soup were not simple. The Cynobacteria were highly complex, they had cracked the universal energy transfer ATP code, and not alone are they still with us, but they remain the dominant form of life on Earth. All the processes that keep us alive can, ultimately, be traced back to these microorganisms. As the author states, if this happened here, why would it not happen elsewhere? We know the major changes on Earth shaped the course of evolution, and if multicellular animals, another important factor came into play, for as soon as life began to diversify it came close to being wiped out. There have been at least five major extinctions due to the Earth being slammed into by massive asteroids. Earth is not a very safe place, and the asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs would have been about 10 Billion times more powerful than the atomic bombs dropped on Japan. As Jerry Cranford observed, each time life make its return, it was meaner and stronger, so aggression is part of our inheritance. As he writes, ”the single largest expense item in most of the major economies continues to be the building and maintaining of weapons with which to destroy our fellow humans.”
Apart from being dismayed, you might wonder what this has to do with aliens. The connections are that aliens, if they had followed a similar course of evolution, could be hostile, and if they are as aggressive as we are, they may well be in the way or have already followed a road to self-destruction. Currently a lot of attention is being given to the possibility of life on Mars, but no one knows what lies further afield. Getting there is one of the big problems and even if we ever manage to travel at the speed of light, it would take years to reach the next nearest star. Voyager, launched in 1977, is still on its way at 39,000 miles an hour, but it would take 50,000 years at that speed to reach Alpha Centauri. As it passed Pluto, Voyager looked back towards Earth, and all it could detect was a tiny blue dot.
On board were some calling cards from Earth, a miscellaneous collection of images and sounds that aliens, if they happen to be intelligent, could try to make sense of. Among them, some old evergreen classics, such as Beethoven’s Brandenburg Concerto in F, and chuck Berry’s Johnny B Goode – they still pack a punch after all those years, but what about after 20,000, 30,000 or even 50,000? Human culture is not much older than that, they too might also just be just a brief flash in the pan, and a million years one way or the other would make quite a difference.
The book provides very clear background to the subject, from early days when seeing was believing, to the scientific feasibility of space travel, and all of this stems from a fascination that began when the author was still in school. He thought long and hard before deciding to embark on a psychology and neuroscience career. As he remarked, it was easier to think of being an amateur stargazer than becoming an amateur brain scientist.

-Tom Kennedy - Science Spin  

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From Dying Stars to the Birth of Life