Could Ego the Living Planet really exist?

By Rhys L Griffiths

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 recently made its way to our cinema screens and introduced brand new characters into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. One of those characters is Ego the Living Planet, a sentient planet who also happens to be Star Lord’s father. This got me thinking, could a living planet really exist?

©Marvel – Ego the Living Planet

Ego the living Planet made his first appearance in Thor issue #132 back in September 1966. He told Thor that he came to be as a result of a scientist merging with a planet when that planet’s sun went nova. Over the years Ego has gone through a lot. He’s gone insane, he’s attacked planet Earth, he found out he had a brother called Alter-Ego (I promise I’m not making this up) and now in the recent Guardians of the Galaxy movie he has fathered a child. You may be thinking ‘how can a planet father a child?’ or ‘Why does that planet have a beard?’ (I imagine it’s difficult to shave if you’re a planet.) Well for the latest movie they did change Ego’s backstory slightly, making him a celestial being who floated around space for millions of years as a brain before learning to manipulate molecules and build the planet around him whilst continuously growing. Eventually he became lonely and manipulated molecules to create a humanoid avatar to explore the cosmos. Visiting Earth and falling in love with Star Lord’s mum.  He is a rather bizarre but fascinating character and it did get me thinking about our universe and could a sentient planet exist?

There are 8 planets in our solar system and I’m pretty sure none of them has a beard. You could say Earth is technically a living planet as it has all manners of animals and creatures living on its surface but the planet itself is mainly rock. Rock without the ability of thought. So if we are going to find a living planet we need to look outside of our solar system. A planet that orbits a star outside our solar system is called an exoplanet. Most of the exoplanets that have been discovered so far have been found using the transit method. If a star has a exoplanet orbiting it then the light from that star is occasionally going to dim when the planet gets between us and that star. By monitoring the light emitted from the stars we can discover exoplanets that are light-years away.

The amount of light from a distant star, graphed, dips as a planet transits in between it and us. (Image via Wikimedia Commons/Сам посчитал)

As of the 1st of May 2017 there have been 3,608 exoplanets, in 2,702 planetary systems and 610 multiple planetary systems detected. The problem is because these planets are so far away we don’t know an awful lot about them. It’s believed that some of them may have the right conditions to support life, but that doesn’t mean it’s a living planet.

Peter Ward, a professor of palaeontology at the university of Washington was interviewed by live science, about the possibility of a living planet being real. He said “The way evolution works, I can’t see it happening”. The largest known organism to us is a giant mass of Armillaria ostoyae fungus that has spawned across three square miles in a forest in Oregon. Ward says that there is no need for a fungus that large to develop sentience. Therefore there is no real reason a life form the size of a planet would need to gain intelligent thought. In order for something to display intelligence it needs to have a big brain and a highly developed nervous system. Nerve cells need a large amount of energy. Our brain consumes 20% of our energy. Because of this “very few creatures evolve any more intelligence than they need” said Ward.

Kurt Russell as Ego the living planet in humanoid form. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2 ©Marvel Studios

Another problem would be the planet’s internal communication.  We are able to think and act as a result of our nerves exchanging information. This happens extremely fast across short distances. However for this information to travel around a planet sized life form, it would have to go at speeds faster than light. Otherwise it’s thinking would be incredibly slow.

So could a living planet planet really exist? It’s very unlikely. Science seems to think that an organism that large with independent thought is simply redundant and would have no reason to exist. But you never know, the galaxy is pretty big with lot of undiscovered planets. But unfortunately the transit method of detecting exoplanets can’t tell if the planet has facial hair or not.

For more Superhero science check out:

The Physics of Thor’s Hammer
Batman V Superman: Who would win?
Can Science make a Spider-man?
Can I run as fast as the Flash?

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