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George Lucas was ahead of his time after all!
September 15, 2011 11:34 AM   Subscribe

A team of astronomers monitoring data from the Kepler, a craft designed to identify potenially habitable stars, have just announced today that they have located one orbiting a double star system (NYT Link). Early data suggests it's a gaseous planet, but it is also within the range considered "sustainable for life". Still, if there's no life there, Kepler's got over a thousand other exoplanets to check out. Officially, the newly-discovered planet is named "Kepler 16b," but astronomers have already nicknamed it "Tatooine".
posted by EmpressCallipygos (59 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite

 
That's cute. A name we can relate to.

Does the name "Tatooine" signify a significant presence of deserts on the planet? Or short-of-stature nomads pillaging and/or reusing debris? Also: jedis
posted by flippant at 11:37 AM on September 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


Can't wait for warp speed. :D
posted by NotSoSiniSter at 11:41 AM on September 15, 2011


Of course there's no life yet: there are no moisture farms or underground hydroponic labs.
posted by 2bucksplus at 11:42 AM on September 15, 2011


Where's the link that claims it is "within the range considered 'sustainable for life'"? Because:

a) the NYT link says "...orbits two stars but is not thought to be habitable."

b) I don't even know how you define "the range" of a planet from a pair of stars. Not from the center of mass, that's for darn, since it tells you nothing about how hot the planet is, which is what "the range" usually means (water could be there in liquid phase).
posted by DU at 11:42 AM on September 15, 2011


Sorry flippant, the correct Star Wars reference has to do with "going to the Tosche Station to pick up some power convertors." Better luck next time.
posted by nathancaswell at 11:42 AM on September 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


Just finished reading Phil Plait's write-up, where he notes that the planet is probably like Saturn, 8x the diameter of earth, 100x the mass. And cold. Like Hoth, minus the rocky surface.
posted by IvoShandor at 11:42 AM on September 15, 2011


Also, it's a reference to the fact that the planet has two suns.
posted by nathancaswell at 11:44 AM on September 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


If there's a bright center to the universe, this is the planet that it's farthest from.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 11:45 AM on September 15, 2011 [7 favorites]


I thought Star Wars was an autobiography?
posted by clvrmnky at 11:45 AM on September 15, 2011


I got really thrown by "habitable star" -- like, "WHAT IT IS TOO HOT WHAT" and sincerely confused until I figured out the deal. Still haven't woken up fully I suppose...
posted by Nattie at 11:45 AM on September 15, 2011


Where's the link that claims it is "within the range considered 'sustainable for life'"?

*checks source*

*blushes*

Uh, apparently that link is within my own mistaken imagination (I misread another link's "just OUTSIDE the range" as "just INSIDE" the range). (Mods, can we amend that somehow?....)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:45 AM on September 15, 2011


Fellow nerds, I am disappoint. Didn't we all agree to stop giving George Lucas this kind of validation? If Star Wars is truly dead to us, we can't just go on naming important shit after it. Move on already.

That said, here is a list of acceptable names from which it's still okay to pick. Go crazy.
posted by The Winsome Parker Lewis at 11:46 AM on September 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


If it's got annoying slave kids that build droids and modify pod racers in their spare time, we should just start sending our nuclear waste there NOW.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 11:46 AM on September 15, 2011


I'd have gone with Pern myself, but hey.
posted by odinsdream at 11:47 AM on September 15, 2011


Too hot to handle, too cold to hold.
posted by blue_beetle at 11:48 AM on September 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'd have gone with Pern myself, but hey.

Oh snap watch out for threadfall.
posted by nathancaswell at 11:54 AM on September 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


I've heard it's home to the most wretched hive of scum and villainy in the galaxy.

Attempt no landing there.
posted by never used baby shoes at 12:01 PM on September 15, 2011


Uninhabitable due to whomp rat infestation...
posted by djrock3k at 12:08 PM on September 15, 2011


Please stop using Star Wars in real science.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 12:09 PM on September 15, 2011 [3 favorites]


In the next release of this report the planet is going to have blue water oceans, really neat mountains and beautiful CGI clouds.
posted by bondcliff at 12:12 PM on September 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


"Indeed, a representative from Mr. Lucas’s production company, Lucasfilm, expected to participate in a news conference at NASA’s Ames Research Laboratory in California, Kepler’s home office."
This will end in tears. He'll only want NASA to change everything in a decade.
posted by octobersurprise at 12:21 PM on September 15, 2011


I just love it when something of benefit in science and education to the entirety of humanity is nicknamed after a corporate trademark.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 12:22 PM on September 15, 2011


We sent up a craft designed only to look for solar systems that just happen to be precisely edge-aligned enough that their planets eclipse their own suns? And once we find them we do nothing significant because they're too far away to even think of going there? I know I'm in the wrong crowd to say this, but how much did this cost?
posted by rocket88 at 12:30 PM on September 15, 2011


here is a list of acceptable names from which it's still okay to pick

We've got 1000+ exoplanets out there to name and more by the day. We're going to run out of Sci Fi planet names, Greco-Roman gods and warrior princesses long before we run out of planets to name. Eventually we're just going to have to give up and call the exoplanets whatever their natives call them.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 12:32 PM on September 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


I know I'm in the wrong crowd to say this, but how much did this cost?

Less than the last decade of war, certainly.
posted by octobersurprise at 12:33 PM on September 15, 2011 [7 favorites]


Wrong crowd, Rocket, wrong crowd.

Edge-aligned? No. The comparative size of the planet and the sun, from this distance, is rather limiting on the depth of the eclipse-derived darkening, but as long as the planet does cross the hemisphere of the star pointing our way, we'll see it. Most will. It's only orbits that are precisely face-on to us that we can't see.

And 'too far to even think of going there' doesn't really count. We can think of going there, it's just anywhere past the Moon hasn't got past that stage.
posted by Devonian at 12:36 PM on September 15, 2011


The Winsome Parker Lewis: "Fellow nerds, I am disappoint. Didn't we all agree to stop giving George Lucas this kind of validation? If Star Wars is truly dead to us, we can't just go on naming important shit after it. Move on already."

I am still disappoint that we renamed Xena.
posted by brundlefly at 12:37 PM on September 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


Please stop using Star Wars in real science.

Oh come on, it's fun. We have a dinosaur named after the guy from Dire Straits FFS.
posted by Hoopo at 12:38 PM on September 15, 2011


octobersurprise: "Less than the last decade of war, certainly."

You could say that. "The mission's life-cycle cost is estimated at US$600 million, including funding for 3.5 years of operation." Which is equivalent to two days of the Afghan war.
posted by brundlefly at 12:41 PM on September 15, 2011 [6 favorites]


And once we find them we do nothing significant because they're too far away to even think of going there? I know I'm in the wrong crowd to say this, but how much did this cost?

This makes no damn sense. You're upset because we sent up a probe to look for planets and now that we have some, don't have the resources to start sending more probes.

What the hell do you propose we do to get around that annoying speed of light limit? Would you be happier if we decided to spend trillions right now to send a giant space Ark? Is there something wrong with making a discovery now that people can build on for later?

According to Wikipeida, "The mission's life-cycle cost is estimated at US$600 million, including funding for 3.5 years of operation." If you want to bean count the breakdown, you're going to have to Google it yourself.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 12:42 PM on September 15, 2011


Oh come on, it's fun. We have a dinosaur named after the guy from Dire Straits FFS.

Recognizable by it's distinctive headband.
posted by bondcliff at 12:44 PM on September 15, 2011 [3 favorites]


Just finished reading Pale Blue Dot, and all I have to contribute to this discussion is my sadness that Carl Sagan didn't live to see the results of the Kepler survey.

Because 1: He would've been able to articulate what these discoveries actually mean in a way that's exciting and engaging without appealing to doofy pop culture references, and 2: He would've been so excited to see tangible evidence of the worlds around other stars.
posted by pts at 12:48 PM on September 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


Oh come on, it's fun.

I'll back that up. I was at a NASA 50th anniversary celebration a couple years ago, and they had an orchestra playing (at various points) themes from the Star Trek shows and movies. At first I thought it was a little silly, but then I realized: I absolutely owe my career at NASA to a love of The Next Generation as a kid.

It doesn't matter what inspires the kid to pursue a career in science or engineering, as long as he or she does. And when they get there, what's so wrong with a shout out?
posted by zap rowsdower at 12:50 PM on September 15, 2011 [4 favorites]


At first I thought it was a little silly, but then I realized: I absolutely owe my career at NASA to a love of The Next Generation as a kid.

Exactly. Star Wars: Original Recipe is old enough now that the very astronomers who nicknamed this planet "Tatooine" were probably part of its original house audience as kids.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:53 PM on September 15, 2011


Gaseous planet and we're not calling it Bespin? Or even Calrissian? For shame.
posted by yeloson at 1:02 PM on September 15, 2011


Edge-aligned? No. The comparative size of the planet and the sun, from this distance, is rather limiting on the depth of the eclipse-derived darkening, but as long as the planet does cross the hemisphere of the star pointing our way, we'll see it. Most will. It's only orbits that are precisely face-on to us that we can't see.

To see the earth pass in front of the sun you would have to be within +/- 0.25 degrees of our orbital plane.
posted by rocket88 at 1:05 PM on September 15, 2011


So, Kepler has... looked at a planet?
posted by cmoj at 1:07 PM on September 15, 2011


"And once we find them we do nothing significant because they're too far away to even think of going there?"

It is good to know things, even when we can't take immediate action. Knowledge is good in and of itself.
posted by jiawen at 1:11 PM on September 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


Also: at this point, I'm assuming the planetary formation models I learned decades ago (gas giants always accumulate in the outer solar system; planets don't form around anything other than yellow main sequence stars; etc.) are wrong. It's wonderful to see the huge diversity in planetary types we're discovering.
posted by jiawen at 1:14 PM on September 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


Can't wait for warp speed. :D

What are your prospects for getting a faster-than-light drive?
posted by homunculus at 1:15 PM on September 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


jiawen: "It is good to know things, even when we can't take immediate action. Knowledge is good in and of itself."

Absolutely. I find the idea of "finding nice places to visit" to be a weird justification for the hunt for exoplanets. Just knowing is enough for me, but as we learn more about other planets we also learn more about our own neighborhood and why it is the way it is. That kind of knowledge could save our butts some day.

If you're looking for a concrete benefit to this kind of research, there you go.
posted by brundlefly at 1:21 PM on September 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


Also: at this point, I'm assuming the planetary formation models I learned decades ago (gas giants always accumulate in the outer solar system; planets don't form around anything other than yellow main sequence stars; etc.) are wrong. It's wonderful to see the huge diversity in planetary types we're discovering.

It's hard to say that any of the planets we're discovering are typical, though. We can only usually see big planets orbiting close to stars. There might be plenty of solar systems out there that look exactly like ours, and but we have no way of finding them.
posted by empath at 1:29 PM on September 15, 2011


I know I'm in the wrong crowd to say this, but how much did this cost?

About a day and a third's worth of Iraq War (assuming the FY2011 Iraq operations budget of $160B and the Kepler spacecraft cost of $600M that I just googled are correct).
posted by aught at 1:30 PM on September 15, 2011


Sorry to grind an axe, people, but if you want to find out much more about exoplanets like these, within your likely lifetime, comsider calling up your congressperson and supporting JWST.

PS there is a NASA webinar tomorrow 2pm EDT on the current status;

http//www.stsci.edu/jwst/meetings/webinar2011
posted by newdaddy at 1:31 PM on September 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


Ah, Rocket88, you are so right - complete brainfart here. I blame stupidity. Apologies.

So, would you accept 'statistically significant sample size' instead? I'll swap it for nothing, and extend the guarantee.
posted by Devonian at 2:01 PM on September 15, 2011


To see the earth pass in front of the sun you would have to be within +/- 0.25 degrees of our orbital plane.

So what? 1/720 of all the easily-visible stars in the sky is still a fuckload of stars, more than enough to provide a worthwhile statistical sample. We've learned a great deal from Kepler already. If our model of planetary formations are all wrong, as seems to be the case, then maybe the better hypotheses will also suggest some handy new technology.
posted by anigbrowl at 2:06 PM on September 15, 2011


oops, 1/129600. 630^2 not *2. Still a fuckload of stars.
posted by anigbrowl at 2:07 PM on September 15, 2011


360^2. Sheesh.
posted by anigbrowl at 2:08 PM on September 15, 2011


Tatooine.

Also: so it's got a double star like Tatooine, is gaseous like Bespin, and cold like Hoth. How about 'Bespothooine'?
posted by mazola at 2:40 PM on September 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


....or underground hydroponic labs.

DRRUGGGGGS IIINNNNNNN SPAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAACE!

with funding priorities what they are, maybe the Webb Space Telescope could have gotten itself attached to the DEA budget as "advanced infrared scanning" technology.
posted by ennui.bz at 2:42 PM on September 15, 2011


Eventually we're just going to have to give up and call the exoplanets whatever their natives call them.

Why don't we just refer to them by their stargate coordinates?
posted by localroger at 3:52 PM on September 15, 2011


at this point, I'm assuming the planetary formation models I learned decades ago (gas giants always accumulate in the outer solar system; planets don't form around anything other than yellow main sequence stars; etc.) are wrong.

It's pretty definite. It's even known that the Solar System went through a period of expansion in its early history, that none of Sol's planets is in the same orbit where it was formed. The discovered exoplanet subset we have does seem to indicate just about any kind of star can have planets, but also that a lot of planetary systems are uninhabitable due to a failure of the planets to achieve the stable resonance our Solar System has. We have discovered at least one or two stable systems like our own, so detecting them isn't impossible; it's just that they probably are comparatively rare.

There is a good (if dated by today's standards) discussion of this in the book Rare Earth, and it suggests the computer models are rather pessimistic about the chances of any particular system forming a stable resonance.

An interesting side effect of this is that the galaxy is also littered with worlds that have been ejected from their solar systems by hyperbolic encounters. There was recently a survey based on gravitational microlensing of the stars of the galactic core which came to the conclusion that there are more such orphan planets in the galaxy than there are stars. If those worlds are Jupiter or Saturn like worlds with moon systems that are heated by tidal friction, they could be surprisingly good candidates to support at least primitive life.
posted by localroger at 3:58 PM on September 15, 2011


empath: "It's hard to say that any of the planets we're discovering are typical, though."

Sure, that's certainly true. But the models always got used to indicate that our solar system is typical, or even the rule (albeit with big caveats that our solar system might not be typical, but those caveats didn't get much attention). I think it's cool that we now have definite proof that It Ain't Always So.
posted by jiawen at 4:24 PM on September 15, 2011


Just finished reading Pale Blue Dot, and all I have to contribute to this discussion is my sadness that Carl Sagan didn't live to see the results of the Kepler survey.
Uh, we have been finding exoplanets for years. Kepler is probably a big advance in our ability to find certain types of planets, but it's not like we suddenly went from knowing about 9 planets to knowing about thousands when this thing launched. You can see on Wikipedia that planetary discovery started in the 1990s and really picked up at the end of the 90s and then in this decade.

Carl Sagan died in 1996, and there were 12 known exoplanets at the time. The first was discovered in 1989, but not confirmed until 1996.

Kepler is cool but it isn't the first evidence of exoplanets by a longshot.
posted by delmoi at 5:04 PM on September 15, 2011


Also, faster then light travel is kind of beside the point. The only reason it's a problem is because human life is so short, so, if you extend human life long enough then 'humans' will be able to travel the stars.

If we can upload our minds into computers, then send copies of those minds into space in 'sleep mode' then we will be able to explore the universe
posted by delmoi at 5:11 PM on September 15, 2011


Here's a gorgeous picture from NASA.

Yes, I know it has nothing to do with the FPP, but it's beautful. (via The Agitator)
posted by Joe in Australia at 7:31 PM on September 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


My father would have been ecstatic about the discovery of extrasolar planets, and he would have focused the world's wonder on them in their particulars in ways that have not been done. -- Dorion Sagan

Part of an essay contest for Sagan Day (his birthday). Because the scientists on this mission weren't just in the audience for Star Wars -- they also watched Cosmos.

delmoi, not a slam, just an acknowledgement that I think that was an appropriate sentiment. No one would have been more able to put his enthusiasm into words.
posted by dhartung at 9:16 PM on September 15, 2011


Yes, I know it has nothing to do with the FPP, but it's beautful. (via The Agitator)

I'm just glad you linked "Wow" rather than "Ow."
posted by homunculus at 10:41 PM on September 15, 2011


Thank you Joe. But now I want it on a tshirt. And a wall-size mural.
posted by Goofyy at 9:15 AM on September 16, 2011


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