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  • Writer's pictureJames Paulson

Life Inside a Globular Cluster

Globular clusters are the crown jewels of the universe. These immense objects that are made up of millions of stars condensed in a compact area of anywhere from 10 to 300 light years across and comprised of largely metal deprived population II type stars could very well be harboring planets containing life.

Speculating on life in the universe is one of my favorite subjects. Not only do I think life is abundant in the universe, but I also think it is a product of the processes in the universe. From a chemical perspective, other blog articles have touched upon this process. The biggest thing preventing us from finding life is actually two parts. One is that life is spread across the vastness of the universe itself which renders it very difficult for us to locate easily, and two is that we profoundly hope to encounter intelligent life like ourselves.

I also love to dream of strange places, and so it is with great imagination that I envision life inside of a globular star cluster, going around on a planet on a typical star. What might that look like and feel like being surrounded by so many stars? Stop and think about where globular clusters are found, orbiting in the halo of the galaxy some 30,000 or so light years out from the galaxy.

In our sky, there are about 29 stars brighter than 1st magnitude. But inside of a globular, there would be up to 10,000 stars brighter than 1st magnitude. In fact, there would be 130,000 stars brighter than 6th magnitude, our visual limit, compared to the 6000 that we can see on Earth. The brightness of the sky on a planet inside the cluster would be 20 times brighter than the full moon evenings on Earth just from the stars alone.

That would be an absolutely stunning appearance by any standard. In fact, in 1974, a message was beamed to the famous globular cluster M13 in Hercules from the Arecibo radio telescope. It should arrive in about 22,000 years.

An alien civilization living inside of a globular star cluster would enjoy a distinct advantage over our own, with interstellar travel being a neighborhood thing. First of all, the lifeboat method of survival becomes possible, with moving civilizations to new places much less of a distance and time issue, thereby allowing civilizations to evolve tremendously when faced by the perils of cosmic extinction, which is a very real threat to all species. The ease of travel combined with the age of globulars could lead us to think that perhaps life could exist in these places for far longer than in our own neighborhood down here in the galaxy.

But for now, going there is near impossible, so at best all we can do is speculate and imagine, and even that leads us to some pretty spectacular thinking. The image above is another globular star cluster in Hercules, this one is named M92 and it is one of about 150 in our galaxy.

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