MAY 01, 2020 12:19 PM PDT

Giant elliptical galaxies are not likely to hold intelligent life

A previous paper published in 2015 theorized that giant elliptical galaxies would be 10,000 times more likely than spiral disk galaxies (like our lovely Milky Way) to be home to planets that could sustain intelligent life. Now research published today in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society contradicts that theory, arguing that it goes against the Copernican Principle. 

The Copernican Principle, also known as the principle of mediocrity in statistics, states that in the absence of evidence to the contrary, an object or some property of an object should be considered typical of its class rather than atypical (Eureka Alert). 

The 2015 study theorized that the increased likelihood of intelligent life in large elliptical galaxies would be due to the fact that giant elliptical galaxies have many more stars and low rates of potentially lethal supernovae. The author of the study published today is a University of Arkansas astrophysicist Daniel Whitmire, who is currently an instructor in the U of A mathematics department, had a problem with that logic. 

"The 2015 paper had a serious problem with the principle of mediocrity," said Whitmire. "In other words, why don't we find ourselves living in a large elliptical galaxy? To me, this raised a red flag. Any time you find yourself as an outlier, i.e. atypical, then that is a problem for the principle of mediocrity."

Following the Copernican Principle, Earth and its intelligent life would be considered typical, not atypical, as would its location in a spiral-shaped disk galaxy. In order to debunk the 2015 paper, Whitmire reasons that the lethal radiation that surrounded large elliptical galaxies when they were younger accounts for why they, in fact, may not hold intelligent life. 

Sources: Pixabay

"The evolution of elliptical galaxies is totally different from the Milky Way," said Whitmire. "These galaxies went through an early phase in which there is so much radiation that it would just completely have nuked any habitable planets in the galaxy and subsequently the star formation rate, and thus any new planets, went to essentially zero. There are no new stars forming and all the old stars have been irradiated and sterilized."

Whitmire thus concludes that according to the principle of mediocrity, galaxies such as the Milky Way may in fact be the primary sites of these technologically advanced civilizations. 

Sources: Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, Eureka Alert

About the Author
  • Kathryn is a curious world-traveller interested in the intersection between nature, culture, history, and people. She has worked for environmental education non-profits and is a Spanish/English interpreter.
You May Also Like
MAR 24, 2021
Space & Astronomy
Molecules Containing Carbon Found in Space
MAR 24, 2021
Molecules Containing Carbon Found in Space
It's thought that most carbon found in space is contained in big molecules called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons ( ...
MAR 30, 2021
Cell & Molecular Biology
Cells Can 'Walk' On a Nanofiber Tightrope
MAR 30, 2021
Cells Can 'Walk' On a Nanofiber Tightrope
When cells were given a tiny 'tightrope' they 'walked' it, and researchers have discovered a new kind of cellular moveme ...
APR 02, 2021
Chemistry & Physics
Does the perfect mask exist?
APR 02, 2021
Does the perfect mask exist?
A comprehensive study published in the journal Aerosol Science and Technology reports on the filtration efficiency of a ...
APR 18, 2021
Chemistry & Physics
Making white paint even whiter could cut summertime energy costs
APR 18, 2021
Making white paint even whiter could cut summertime energy costs
Researchers from Purdue University have developed an ultra-white paint that can reflect solar heat and therefore decreas ...
MAY 05, 2021
Chemistry & Physics
Chemical nose sniffs out DNA irregularities
MAY 05, 2021
Chemical nose sniffs out DNA irregularities
A new study published in the journal Nature Chemistry details the development of a chemical nose that can identify ...
MAY 28, 2021
Chemistry & Physics
Are transparent solar cells in our near future?
MAY 28, 2021
Are transparent solar cells in our near future?
Scientists are searching for alternative technologies to replace traditional silicon solar cells and the limits of their ...
Loading Comments...