Study: Star clusters might host intelligent civilizations

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NTP: Star clusters might host intelligent civilizations
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Study: Star clusters might host intelligent civilizations
UNITED STATES - NOVEMBER 25: This stellar swarm is M80 (NGC 6093), one of the densest of the 147 known globular star clusters in the Milky Way galaxy. Located about 28,000 light-years from Earth, M80 contains hundreds of thousands of stars, all held together by their mutual gravitational attraction. Globular clusters are particularly useful for studying stellar evolution, since all of the stars in the cluster have the same age (about 15 billion years), but cover a range of stellar masses. Every star visible in this image is either more highly evolved than, or in a few rare cases more massive than, our own Sun. Especially obvious are the bright red giants, which are stars similar to the Sun in mass that are nearing the ends of their lives. (Photo by SSPL/Getty Images)
392007 01: This image recorded by the Hubble telescope on July 10, 2001 shows two clusters of stars, called NGC 1850, located in a neighboring galaxy called the Large Magellanic Cloud. The photo''s centerpiece is a young, 'globular-like' star cluster - a type of object unknown in our own Milky Way Galaxy. (Photo by NASA/Getty Images)
This WISE mosaic is of the Soul Nebula (a.k.a. the Embryo Nebula, IC 1848, or W5). It is an open cluster of stars surrounded by a cloud of dust and gas over 150 light-years across and located about 6,500 light-years from Earth in the constellation Cassiopeia, near the Heart Nebula. (Photo by: Universal History Archive/UIG via Getty Images)
This Hubble Space Telescope view of the core of one of the nearest globular star clusters, called NGC 6397, resembles a treasure chest of glittering jewels. The cluster is located 8,200 light-years away in the constellation Ara. Here, the stars are jam-packed together. The stellar density is about a million times greater than in our Sun's stellar neighborhood. The stars are only a few light-weeks apart, while the nearest star to our Sun is over four light-years away. The stars in NGC 6397 are in constant motion, like a swarm of angry bees. The ancient stars are so crowded together that a few of them inevitably collide with each other once in a while. Near misses are even more common. Even so, collisions only occur every few million years or so. That's thousands of collisions in the 14-billion-year lifetime of the cluster. (Photo by NASA/WireImage)
The star cluster NGC 281 is located about 6,500 light years from Earth and, remarkably, almost 1,000 light years above the plane of the galaxy. Spitzer and Chandra. (Photo by: Universal History Archive/UIG via Getty Images)
A cluster brimming with millions of stars glistens like an iridescent opal in this image from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope. Called Omega Centauri, the sparkling orb of stars is like a miniature galaxy (Photo by: Universal History Archive/UIG via Getty Images)
392439 05: An image from NASA''s Hubble Space Telescope of a vast, sculpted landscape of gas and dust where thousands of stars are being born, July 26, 2001. The star-forming region, called the 30 Doradus Nebula, has the largest cluster of massive stars within the closest 25 galaxies. (Photo Courtesy of NASA/Getty Images)
395823 03: (FILE PHOTO) Astronomers have used NASA's Hubble Space Telescope to peer into the center of a dense swarm of stars called Omega Centauri. Omega Centauri is a massive globular star cluster, containing several million stars swirling in locked orbits around a common center of gravity. The stars are packed so densely in the cluster's core that it is difficult for ground-based telescopes to make out individual stars. This image was captured by the Hubble Telescope. (Photo by NASA/Getty Images)
Thousands of sparkling young stars nestled within the giant nebula NGC 3603. This stellar 'jewel box' is one of the most massive young star clusters in the Milky Way Galaxy. NGC 3603 is a prominent star-forming region in the Carina spiral arm of the Milky Way, about 20,000 light-years away. This image shows a young star cluster surrounded by a vast region of dust and gas. The image reveals stages in the life cycle of stars. The nebula was first discovered by Sir John Herschel in 1834. The image spans roughly 17 light-years. (NASA/MCT via Getty Images)
SPACE - UNDATED: Berkley59 imaged by NASA's WISE camera in Space. NASA's new space telescope Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE), is a $320 million space observatory. The space agency has just released this image of Berkeley 59, a cluster of young stars, each of which is just a few million years old. Resembling a cosmic rose, the red glow is from the warmth given off by the stars while the green hue is produced by hydrocarbons also found on earth. (Photo by NASA / JPL / Barcroft Media / Getty Images)
IN SPACE - JULY 15: In this composite image provided by NASA, ESA, globular star cluster Omega Centauri (NGC 5139) in the Centaurus constellation and the Hubble SM4 ERO Team, is pictured July 15, 2009 in Space. Today, September 9, 2009, NASA released the first images taken with the Hubble Space Telescope since its repair in the spring. (Photo by NASA, ESA, and the Hubble SM4 ERO Team via Getty Images)
The Pleiades Star Cluster is probably the most famous cluster. It is aslo known as the Seven Sisters and the Subaru. (Photo by: Universal Education/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)
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KISSIMMEE, Fla. (AP) — Densely packed clusters of stars on the fringes of our Milky Way galaxy may be home to intelligent life. That's the word from an astrophysicist who's new to probing extraterrestrial territory.

The approximately 150 globular clusters in our galaxy are old and stable, a plus for any civilization, said Rosanne Di Stefano of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Massachusetts. In addition, so many stars are clumped together it would be easy to hop from one place to another, keeping an advanced society going.

The first step, she said, is to locate more planets in these clusters. So far, only one has been found. The sweet spot would be a habitable zone around a star where life could flourish, yet dense enough to enhance travel among inhabitants.

Di Stefano presented her theory Wednesday at the American Astronomical Society's annual meeting in Kissimmee, Florida. Her paper stood out among the hundreds of research papers; an AAS official called the results "provocative."

A global cluster can hold a million stars in a compact ball an average 100 light-years across. This overcrowding can result in stars elbowing out other stars' planetary systems. Di Stefano said smaller solar systems would be more apt to last longer; the planets would orbit closer to their home star and therefore be less of a target for encroaching neighbors.

Stars in these clusters are so close, communication and travel would be relatively easy for these any space-farers out there.

"We call it the 'globular cluster opportunity,'" Di Stefano explained in a statement. "Sending a broadcast between the stars wouldn't take any longer than a letter from the U.S. to Europe in the 18th century."

Di Stefano stressed at a news conference that her premise is scientific conjecture. "I want to make this clear — we don't know," she told reporters. Nevertheless, the possibility of a long-lived civilization is fascinating, she noted, so what better place to look than these 10 billion-to-12 billion-year-old global clusters.

"Global clusters are good targets to spend your time on in search of extraterrestrial intelligence," she urged.

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Online:

American Astronomical Society: http://aas.org/meetings/aas227

Globular Clusters: A Possible Site For Intelligent Life Forms?
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