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Astrobiology. 2002 Fall;2(3):293-304.

Does the rapid appearance of life on Earth suggest that life is common in the universe?

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School of Physics, University of New South Wales, Australian Centre for Astrobiology, Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia.


It is sometimes assumed that the rapidity of biogenesis on Earth suggests that life is common in the Universe. Here we critically examine the assumptions inherent in this if-life-evolved-rapidly-life-must-be-common argument. We use the observational constraints on the rapidity of biogenesis on Earth to infer the probability of biogenesis on terrestrial planets with the same unknown probability of biogenesis as the Earth. We find that on such planets, older than approximately 1 Gyr, the probability of biogenesis is > 13% at the 95% confidence level. This quantifies an important term in the Drake Equation but does not necessarily mean that life is common in the Universe.

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