RE: Burning Cosmic Commons (was: ... Fermi's Paradox?)

Billy Brown (
Fri, 5 Mar 1999 07:59:00 -0600

David Blenkinsop wrote:
> Compared to such grand space-trashing ideas, I still wonder if a
> relatively mundane idea might be worth thinking about, namely the chance
> that intelligence might survive preferentially on quite "large"
> planets as compared
> to the Earth. If a solid planet with the Earth's density were
> twice as large
> in overall dimensions, it would then have eight times the
> mass of the Earth..
> Presumably, the atmosphere would then almost have to be much
> thicker, giving
> any surface inhabitants much better protection against
> radiation events than
> we have. I understand that small, long-lived stars are prone
> to solar flares,
> and we've talked about gamma ray bursters, too, so maybe you
> really *need* the
> extra shielding if surface dwelling technology builders are
> to generally have a good chance of evolving.

There is some question about whether such planets exist (unless you are including gas giants in your analysis, which is a completely different issue). But even granting that, there is no serious barrier to space travel in the long term.

Certainly, a species on such a planet isn't going to get very far with the kinds of rockets we have now. However, there are two easy ways out of this trap:

  1. Even primitive nanotech will allow you to build rockets that can easily reach orbit. All you need is the ability to synthesize diamondoid materials with a very high level of quality. This improves the lift-to-weight ratio so much that even a 3G liftoff through dense atmosphere would be feasible.
  2. Nuclear power can also be used for rockets. We don't build them because too many people are afraid of the word "nuclear", but the technical barriers are modest. Again, 3Gs isn't enough to keep such vehicles from making orbit.

On a more fundamental level, let me point out that both of these are short-term solutions. Do we really think that any possible planetary environment could keep a technological civilization stranded for a million years? How about ten million? A hundred million?

To explain the Great Silence we need more than a temporary impediment to progress. We need something that makes it absolutely, completely, utterly impossible for a typical life-bearing world to produce a civilization like what we expect ours to be in another 100 years.

Billy Brown, MCSE+I