Gamma-ray bursts might have regulated the advent of intelligent life

Neocatastrophism is the hypothesis that life-exterminating events such as gamma-ray bursts have acted as a galactic regulation mechanism in the Milky Way upon the emergence of complex life in its habitable zone.[1][2][3] It is proposed as an explanation of Fermi's paradox since it provides a mechanism which would have delayed the otherwise expected advent of intelligent beings in the local galaxy nearby to Earth. This is an avenue to explain why none so far have been detected by humans.

The problem

It is estimated that Earth-like planets in the Milky Way started forming 9 billion years ago, and that their median age is 6.4 ± 0.7 Ga.[4] Moreover, 75% of stars in the galactic habitable zone are older than the Sun.[5] This makes the existence of potential planets with evolved intelligent life more likely than not to be older than that of the Earth (4.54 Ga). This creates an observational dilemma since interstellar travel, (even of the "slow" kind that is nearly within the reach of present Earth technology) could in theory, if this had arisen elsewhere, take from only 5 million to 50 million years to colonize the galaxy.[6] This leads to a conundrum first posed in 1950 by the physicist Enrico Fermi in his namesake paradox: "Why are no aliens or their artifacts physically here?"[7]

The neocatastrophism resolution

The hypothesis posits that astrobiological evolution is subject to regulation mechanisms that arrest or postpone the advent of complex creatures capable of interstellar communication and traveling technology. These regulation mechanisms act to temporarily sterilize planets of biology in the galactic habitable zone. The main proposed regulation mechanism is gamma-ray bursts.[1][2][3]

Part of the neocatastrophism hypothesis is that stellar evolution produces a decreasing frequency of such catastrophic events increasing the length of the "window" in which intelligent life might arise as galaxies age. According to modeling,[1][2][3] this creates the possibility of a phase transition at which point a galaxy turns from a place that is essentially dead (with a few pockets of simple life) to one that is crowded with complex life forms.

See also


  1. ^ a b c Cirković MM, Vukotić B. (2008). Astrobiological phase transition: towards resolution of Fermi's paradox. Orig Life Evol Biosph. 38(6):535-47. doi:10.1007/s11084-008-9149-y PMID 18855114
  2. ^ a b c Ćirković M.M. (2009). Fermi's paradox: The last challenge for copernicanism? Serbian Astronomical Journal 178:1-20 doi:10.2298/SAJ0978001C
  3. ^ a b c Cirkovic, M. M. Vukotic, B. (2009). Astrobiological Landscape and Neocatastrophism.[permanent dead link] Publications of the Astronomical Observatory of Belgrade,86:193-19
  4. ^ Lineweaver C.H. (2001). An Estimate of the Age Distribution of Terrestrial Planets in the Universe: Quantifying Metallicity as a Selection Effect. Icarus, 151:307-313 doi:10.1006/icar.2001.6607.
  5. ^ Lineweaver CH, Fenner Y, Gibson BK. (2004). The galactic habitable zone and the age distribution of complex life in the Milky Way. Science. 303(5654):59-62. doi:10.1126/science.1092322 PMID 14704421
  6. ^ Crawford, I.A., "Where are They? Maybe we are alone in the galaxy after all" Archived 2009-03-26 at the Wayback Machine, Scientific American, July 2000, 38-43, (2000)
  7. ^ Webb S. (2002). If the universe is teeming with aliens, where is everybody? Fifty solutions to the Fermi paradox and the problem of extraterrestrial life. Copernicus Books (Springer Verlag)