Wednesday, December 4, 2013

lit: The Habitable Epoch of the Early Universe

by A. Loeb.
That's a fantastically crazy paper (by A. Loeb, who's one of the best known names in areas as diverse as gravitational microlensing/black hole evolution/reionisation and 21 cm signal/high-z GRBs/Event Horizon telescope, and many others). He's written several papers about wild ideas before: exploring the (sad and very distant) future of observational cosmology, bio-markers in white dwarf planets' atmospheres, planets of hypervelocity stars, search of artificially-illuminated objects in and beyond the Solar System and cosmology measurements from hypervelocity stars which shows that not all is lost for the future cosmologists.
In this paper he looks at the dawn of the Universe, when it was only ~15 million year old. A. Loeb points out that the temperature of the cosmic microwave background was roughly around 0-30 C then, and therefore liquid water could have existed on any solid surface, meaning that there might have been conditions suitable to life as we know it. In order to form any rocky planet one needs to explode some massive stars before (to get some heavier elements like oxygen, iron, silicium, etc, which are what rocky planets are made of). At that time we're left with the formation of the very first stars in the very first, tiny, dark matter haloes at the far end of the density distribution. Calculations show that the number of such protogalaxies was incredibly small at these redshifts.
However, if we assume that the initial density distribution was not perfectly Gaussian (there are many theories explaining why it might have been the case, although Planck and other observations haven't found any proof of non-gaussianity yet), there might have been some haloes that had formed massive stars by that time.
It's a marvelous article, although AFAIK, it takes much longer than a few Myr for rocky planets to assemble from accretion disks of stars (and cool down due to the decay of radioactive elements..). But think of it: at some time in the history of the Universe the outer space was warm (and at least a million times denser than now).

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