Re: Heavy element/nova conection
That connection is one good reason to believe that, if we are not in fact among the First Ones, then we are at most only a few billion years behind them. Coupled with the present age of the universe, the minimum time necessary for the manufacture of heavier elements places an upper limit on the number of years by which any other race might have beaten us to the evolution of intelligence, space travel, etc.
Like Old Handle just above (to whom Trigonoceps occipitalis was responding), I have long thought that we Earthers/humans could just as easily turn out to be the invading aliens who develop the fancy tech first as the ones who get invaded by others who already have the tech. Put another way, maybe someday in the far-distant future we (or rather our descendants) may help the Vorlons to evolve and fulfill their destiny rather than the other way around!
And this article strongly supports this possibility. In fact, it suggests that from the perspective of the universe and its overall, eventual total history, we have arrived on the scene very near said scene's inception, and unfathomably many ages before its end. Which means we are not "just as likely" to be First Ones as we are to be later ones who look up to the First Ones (or to the Overlords, if you prefer the A.C. Clarke novel from which Joe Straczynski obviously drew two of the biggest ideas in his glorious creation, Babylon 5). We are far more likely to be First Ones than we are to be (very much) later ones! And even if we are not the very first ones, we are relatively close, and not very far behind them at all.
(On the other hand, if the pace of evolution accelerates after a certain point is reached, and especially after the ability to manipulate the genome itself is acquired, then perhaps even a few thousand years head start would be enough to put the truly first ones "as far above us on the evolutionary scale as we are above the amoeba", as Mr. Spock said of the Organians in "Errand of Mercy".)
And of course it was indeed the late Sir Fred Hoyle who first proposed, and principally worked out, stellar nucleosynthesis as the source of all the heavier elements (elements heavier than helium). Others contributed substantially as well, and somehow Willie Fowler but not Fred Hoyle even got a Nobel for the work,* but Hoyle was in fact the one who contributed the most to our understanding of these crucial processes. (Without which beings capable of figuring out and understanding these processes never could have come to exist!)
Which is an interesting and fitting coincidence, given the topic of the article we are all replying to, because Hoyle also was:
the man who coined the term "Big Bang", intended as a pejorative;
an opponent almost (?) until his death** of the Big Bang theory that is now universally (pun not intended) accepted, and that is implicitly the subject of the article;***
the principal formulator not only of the stellar nucleosynthesis theory concerning the manufacture of heavier elements, but (along with Thomas Gold and Hermann Bondi) of the steady-state theory of the universe's formation!
At this point I was going to conjecture that at some point in the distant future, when people no longer are able to see the evidence of the Big Bang, they might instead accept rather than reject Hoyle's steady-state theory or something like it. And I was planning to make this comment about Hoyle even before I saw that someone else had mentioned his name.
But on further reflection, and remembering that the steady-state theory requires the slow but continuous creation of new matter, giving rise to new, additional galaxies, so that the universe will always look essentially the same in any and every direction when viewed from any point and at any time, I realize that that aspect of the steady-state theory is utterly at odds with the article's prediction of a future in which "the runaway expansion of space" itself (presumably due to the recently posited "dark energy", though such was not mentioned by name) has rendered it impossible to see even neighboring galaxies. (As DougS clarified above.)
P.S. I debated which icon to use, and considered several possibilities before deciding to go with the pint. Because a picture of a Ritalin tablet wasn't available.
* I for one am deeply puzzled and offended that Hoyle was slighted by the Royal Swedish Academy and the Nobel Committee for Physics.
But not as offended as I am by the fact that the 1978 Prize went in part to Penzias and Wilson — who stumbled onto the microwave background entirely by accident, and at first thought they were simply hearing pigeon shit! — instead of to the man who first predicted the microwave background, George Gamow. (Had a Nobel Prize been awarded for General Relativity (none ever was), should it have gone to Eddington instead of Einstein?) Granted, Gamow was dead by the time that Prize was awarded, and the Prize rules prohibit the awarding of any of the Prizes posthumously (unless someone passes after his Prize is announced but before it is formally conferred a few months later), but that just begs the question: Why wasn't the prize for that remarkable insight awarded to Gamow while he was still alive? At the very least he should have shared the Prize with Penzias and Wilson, who really barely deserved it at all.
(A case can be made that Bob Dicke of Princeton ought to have been in on it too, but Gamow predicted the cosmic microwave background (CMB) slightly before Dickie independently re-predicted it (both in 1946), and Penzias and Wilson finished building their Dicke radiometer before Dicke himself (and his colleagues Wilkinson and Roll) could finish building the one that he was planning to use to measure the CMB.
I'd also be more than happy with Ralph Alpher (Gamow's graduate student) and Robert Herman sharing in Gamow's prize. They extended and refined his prediction, and made a more accurate estimate of the background's temperature. But — contrary to what Wikipedia's entry on the CMB says — they did not predict it first. Gamow did, two years earlier (as the timeline in Wikipedia's article on the discovery of the CMB acknowledges).)
** I vaguely recall reading or hearing that he finally threw in the towel and conceded that the Big Bang is a better fit to the data shortly before his death, based on the slight variations in the CMB discovered by the COBE satellite in the 1990s. However, Hoyle's Wikipedia entry reports that he "died in 2001 never accepting the Big Bang theory". If that is right and what I thought I read or heard is wrong, then change "opponent almost . . . until his death" to "life-long opponent".
*** It also is interesting and worthy of comment that he opposed the Big Bang theory for religious reasons, and that he made no bones about this fact. In his view, the Big Bang theory smacked far too much and too obviously of a Creator, and he would have none of this!
Which makes it all the more ironic and amusing that so many Christians fail to see the Big Bang's obvious religious potential, and identify it — rather than Hoyle's steady-state alternative — with the atheism that Hoyle himself firmly subscribed to. You'd think they would point to Bible passages that talk about God stretching out or spreading forth the heavens (e.g., Zechariah 12:1; Job 9:8; Isaiah 40:22 and 42:5) and say "See, we told you!", but instead they largely disavow the Big Bang and crap all over it, simply because they don't like its time scale, which they find far too large. Never mind its implication that not only all the matter and energy (including light) that exist but space and time themselves may have come into being at a definite point in the finite past, all at the same single instant.
(Mind you, I am not saying that the Big Bang theory is inherently religious or Creator-bound. At best it is merely suggestive; the suggestion may easily be disregarded, and the theory certainly tells us nothing about who or what might have instigated the Big Bang. And I am well aware that there are many theories nowadays according to which there might have been a "before" the Big Bang after all. I take no position myself in regard to any of these controversies. I wish only to point out Hoyle's great candor, and the irony of some people essentially refusing to take Yes for an answer.)