On the origin and evolution of life in the Galaxy

Michael McCabe, H. Lucas

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Abstract

A simple stochastic model for evolution, based upon the need to pass a sequence of n critical steps is applied to both terrestrial and extraterrestrial origins of life. In the former case, the time at which humans have emerged during the habitable period of Earth suggests a value of n=4. Progressively adding earlier evolutionary transitions gives an optimum fit when n=5, implying either that their initial transitions are not critical or that habitability began around 6 Ga ago. The origin of life on Mars or elsewhere within the Solar System is excluded by the latter case and the simple anthropic argument is that extraterrestrial life is scarce in the Universe because it does not have time to evolve. Alternatively, the timescale can be extended if the migration of basic progenotic material to Earth is possible. If extra transitions are included in the model to allow for Earth migration, then the start of habitability needs to be even earlier than 6 Ga ago. Our present understanding of Galactic habitability and dynamics does not exclude this possibility. We conclude that Galactic punctuated equilibrium, proposed as a way round the anthropic problem, is not the only way of making life more common in the Galaxy.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)217-226
Number of pages10
JournalInternational Journal of Astrobiology
Volume9
Issue number4
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2010

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