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Five- or six-step scenario for evolution?

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  08 February 2008

Brandon Carter
LUTh, Observatoire de Paris, 92195 Meudon, France e-mail:


The prediction that (due to the limited amount of hydrogen available as fuel in the Sun) the future duration of our favourable terrestrial environment will be short (compared with the present age of the Earth) has been interpreted as evidence for a hard-step scenario. This means that some of the essential steps (such as the development of eukaryotes) in the evolution process leading to the ultimate emergence of intelligent life would have been hard, in the sense of being against the odds in the available time, so that they are unlikely to have been achieved in most of the earth-like planets that may one day be discovered in nearby extrasolar systems. It was originally estimated that only one or two of the essential evolutionary steps had to have been hard in this sense, but it has become apparent that this figure may need upward revision, because recent studies of climatic instability suggest that the possible future duration of our biologically favourable environment may be shorter than had been supposed, being only about 1 Gyr rather than 5 Gyr. On the basis of the statistical requirement of roughly equal spacing between hard steps, it is argued that the best fit with the fossil record is now obtainable by postulating the number of hard steps to be five, if our evolution was exclusively terrestrial, or six, if, as now seems very plausible, the first step occurred on Mars.

Research Article
Copyright © 2008 Cambridge University Press

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