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No. 130: JUL-AUG 2000

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The Drifters

Sure, there may now be or once have been primitive life forms on Mars, but there does seem to be a serious shortage of carbon-based life forms elsewhere in the universe. In fact, there seems to be a great dearth of small, cool, solid, water-and-carbon-rich planets circling beneficent suns. Can it be that we are looking for extraterrestrial life in the wrong places? Life may have originated and prospered on the multitude of sun-less aggregations of matter drifting through the void, some doubtless quite close to us.

Myriad nomadic planets may be roaming our Galaxy free from the clutches of parent stars. Two teams of astronomers think they have detected 25 of these free-floating planets, and say there could be hundreds of millions of them wandering the Milky Way.

These free-floaters or "drifters" were created when small clouds of gas and dust coalesced under gravity's urging. If such collapsing clouds were less than 80 times Jupiter's mass, they would not be able to sustain nuclear reactions and become long-lived stars. Many would be-come "brown dwarfs." Still smaller aggregations -- less than 14 Jupiters -- would never shine at all. These would remain warm for a while as they dissipated the gravitational energy that created them. Such small objects would be temporarily detectable by infrared telescopes. Hundreds of such infrared "point sources" turn up in sky surveys. These are the only "drifters" we can detect. "Drifters" that have already cooled off are certainly out there by the hundreds of millions.

(Muir, Hazel; "The Drifters," New Scientist, p. 14, April 1, 2000.)

Comments. Science-fiction writers have not neglected the "drifters" as potential sources of intelligent life. F. Hoyle's The Black Cloud is a good example of the genre. Who can say what "plasma entities" might have emerged over the eons on these multitudinous drifters? To illustrate, if you were given only the known properties of the chemical elements and a primitive earth, would you predict that matter would spontaneously mold itself into human beings? Even on earth, on very small scales, we see "plasma entities" like ball lightning and "spooklights" behaving mighty strangely! Who knows what is transpiring on the drifters.

From Science Frontiers #130, JUL-AUG 2000. � 2000 William R. Corliss

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