What if we've completely misunderstood our place in the universe?

That's a very real possibility raised by a Harvard astronomer who believes we may have missed something basic about how the universe was formed.

Image via ESO

Over at Slate, I've got an article about astronomer Avi Loeb's latest theory, which is that life may have evolved when the universe was only about 15 million years old — at a time when there was very little solid matter, and there were giant stars but no galaxies. Loeb explains how life would have evolved back then, during what he calls the "habitable epoch" over 12 billion years before today. And then he points out how this could change everything we know about the cosmos:

The habitable epoch might have been a lonely, strange time to be alive. But if Loeb is right—and other physicists, such as Princeton's Freeman Dyson, believe he is—then life may be a lot less rare than we ever imagined. "It's almost like a Copernican Revolution in our thinking about life," Loeb said. "Once we believed Earth was the center of the universe. Then Copernicus and others said, hey, it's actually the Earth that's moving around the Sun." Suddenly, Earth wasn't so special; we weren't at the center of all things. Loeb is suggesting that maybe life on Earth isn't so special, either.

"For a long time, we've had this preconception that life is here on Earth, but the universe is dead," Loeb said. "But maybe we should be thinking of this as a living universe. We may be relative latecomers to the game." If life becomes an important ingredient in the development of the cosmos, it unseats humans as the all-important observers of our universe. It suggests that many other eyes watched the skies before our sun was even lit.

Read the whole article over at Slate