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The Red Sky Paradox Questions Why Earth Has Life But Doesn’t Orbit a Red Dwarf

Anyone with interest in the search for intelligent life in the universe has undoubtedly heard of the Fermi paradox – the dilemma described by physicist Enrico Fermi after pondering the existence of billions of stars with billions of planets capable of sustaining intelligent life, some far superior to us that could travel across space. If that’s true, why haven’t we encountered any of them? Recently, another scientist pondered the Red Sky paradox. What? You’ve never heard of the Red Sky paradox?

“Red dwarf stars are the most numerous and long-lived stars in the cosmos, and recent exoplanet discoveries indicate an abundance of rocky, temperate planets around them. This presents an apparent paradox as to why we do not see a red dwarf in our sky.”

Would it look like this?

If red dwarfs are the most abundant stars in the universe, with the most rocky planets seemingly capable of supporting life orbiting them, why isn’t the only planet with life that we are aware of orbiting one too? That is the question pondered in a new study, published this week in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, by David Kipping, an astronomy professor at Columbia University. Is our life on a planet orbiting a yellow-leaning-towards-white dwarf a fluke or is the theory that more red dwarfs means more life around them wrong?

“It’s just a question that has always perplexed me. If they’re so numerous, so long-lived, potentially trillions of years, and so they really seem to have everything going for them … it’s kind of odd then that we don’t live around a red dwarf.”

In an interview with Inverse, Kipping sounds a little like Fermi as he explains why he set up a team to ponder the Red Sky paradox and attempt to resolve it. They came up with three scenarios – 1) human life orbiting a yellow star is an exception; 2) something in the development of red dwarfs stops life from developing; 3) red dwarfs develop too slowly for life to happen. The first possibility runs into the Copernican principle – named for Nicolaus Copernicus and his hypothesis that Earth is not the center of the universe and instead is nothing special – which would make Earth a special exception in the universe.

Is it just me or is it getting hot here?

Instead, the team thinks red dwarfs are causing their own problems that kill their chances for spawning life. The ones with exoplanets we’ve been able to study (like Proxima Centauri and its two known planets) have frequent planet-toasting flareups that would cook life before it could escape. If the flares miss, the planets are generally in tidally-locked orbits — one side always faces the red dwarf, a position also not conducive to life. Finally, that abundance of rocky planets is pelted by life-killing asteroids because there are no giant gas planets like Jupiter to pull them into its own orbit.

Not only does Kipping’s theory seem to solve the Red Sky paradox, it does a good job on the Fermi paradox as well. If red dwarfs, which are the majority of stars, can’t spawn or support life, then the probability of life on the universe goes down dramatically. In other words, they’re not here because they’re not there either.

This paper was released just in time for the Pentagon UFO report. It didn’t find any aliens either. Would Fermi agree? Copernicus?

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Paul Seaburn is the editor at Mysterious Universe and its most prolific writer. He’s written for TV shows such as "The Tonight Show", "Politically Incorrect" and an award-winning children’s program. He's been published in “The New York Times" and "Huffington Post” and has co-authored numerous collections of trivia, puzzles and humor. His “What in the World!” podcast is a fun look at the latest weird and paranormal news, strange sports stories and odd trivia. Paul likes to add a bit of humor to each MU post he crafts. After all, the mysterious doesn't always have to be serious.
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