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April 17, 2014 4:55 PM   Subscribe

Won't you please, please won't you be my neighbor? NASA's Kepler Discovers First Earth-Size Planet In The 'Habitable Zone' of Another Star. Kepler-186f is a planet about ten percent bigger than Earth that orbits within the habitable zone of its star. The light there is dim and orange, and it only gets about a third of the sunshine we do, but that may be enough for life. If you go outside tonight, there might be someone 500 light years away looking back at you...
posted by Kevin Street (75 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite

 
The person would only be looking back at you if they were making those observations 500 years from now.
posted by humanfont at 5:03 PM on April 17 [14 favorites]


Can anyone suggest a good star map viewer? Like to browse Cygnus?

Or have I just been playing too much Mass Effect...
posted by butterstick at 5:04 PM on April 17 [2 favorites]


Google Sky?
posted by slater at 5:07 PM on April 17


The person would only be looking back at you if they were making those observations 500 years from now.

I suppose that depends on how much one wants to lean on the difference between "seeing" and "looking." They might be looking at us right now, but what they'll be seeing is whatever occupied this spot in their night sky 500 years ago (maybe Copernicus, looking back at them?).
posted by yoink at 5:11 PM on April 17 [17 favorites]


and maybe our best shot at locating life elsewhere in the universe.

The best part? It's our best shot at locating life elsewhere in the universe so far. And at the rate Kepler is going...
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 5:24 PM on April 17 [9 favorites]


*looks up*

*waves*

*waits*
posted by Hairy Lobster at 5:35 PM on April 17 [12 favorites]


The person would only be looking back at you if they were making those observations 500 years from now.

I'll be damned, he was in fact alive (if an older dude) in 1514, nice. *nerd moment*
posted by trackofalljades at 5:35 PM on April 17


and maybe our best shot at locating life elsewhere in the universe.

At least until there's an edition of Time Out.
posted by dhartung at 5:41 PM on April 17 [1 favorite]


I wish there was some way we could get there quickly enough to warn them regarding which of our TV shows are worth watching and which must be avoided.
posted by Joey Michaels at 5:44 PM on April 17 [9 favorites]


In my darker moments, I wonder if someday our species will go settle Earthlike planets and then, a few short years later, some will argue about whether the ruinous climate change was caused by humans or not.
posted by Stoatfarm at 5:45 PM on April 17 [1 favorite]


There's no such thing as being "habitable-zoned". The star was just never that gravitationally attracted to you. Get over it.
posted by GuyZero at 5:46 PM on April 17 [55 favorites]


So in related news there is a new telescope for just the task!

scopey!
posted by butterstick at 5:46 PM on April 17 [2 favorites]


Cool, but I do wonder if we're putting too much stock in finding an Earth2. There are moons in our system that are spewing water from vast underground oceans. We should go take a look.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:52 PM on April 17 [14 favorites]


Sooo...uh, shouldn't we be launching our first strike then? I mean we pretty much have to assume they're gearing up to invade, are we just going to wait around until they do?

I say no.

I say we hit first.

...what? You're not some kind of filthy European socialist, are you? Of course not, that's why you want to hit them before they hit us.
posted by aramaic at 5:52 PM on April 17 [3 favorites]


And at the rate Kepler is going...

You can expect that to slow down, though. Part of the mechanism that keeps it oriented broke a couple of years ago, and they're making do with less precise measurements now. But have no fear! The ESA has you covered, with Gaia en route to its observing position even now. It should be able to tell us exoplanet mass, so we'll know if they're rocky. And they've got a few other planned projects specifically for looking for exoplanets: PLATO, CHEOPS, and TESS.
posted by echo target at 5:57 PM on April 17 [7 favorites]


If you go outside tonight, there might be someone 500 light years away looking back at you...

There is, and he's an asshole. Just look at him: anyone with multifaceted eyes and hollow bones like that, you know he's an asshole.

This is actually super cool, but I think we're eventually going to have to consider that the habitable "Goldilocks" zone is really only applicable if we are looking to find life as we understand it, which is a perfectly reasonable goal; look for life where you are most likely to recognize it. But I think the reality is that we have to consider the possibility that almost any planetary conditions could be conducive to some sort of extremophile that our minds can't imagine yet. Hell we've got stuff on earth that by most accounts shouldn't be able to survive on earth. Space is big, and if we had enough time and resources to actually look in all the nooks and crannies out there, I bet we'd find shit that would blow our minds.
posted by quin at 6:18 PM on April 17 [2 favorites]


We can find planets light years away, and yet a plane in the Indian Ocean...
posted by davebush at 6:25 PM on April 17 [5 favorites]


Im imagining a weird always twilight jungle world, like a dark and scary version of the Avatar planet.

Damn being born 79 years before the first warp flight.
posted by T.D. Strange at 6:31 PM on April 17 [6 favorites]


Let's go there and ruin it too!
posted by lesbiassparrow at 6:36 PM on April 17 [5 favorites]


life as we understand it

Speaking of which: shadow biosphere
posted by XMLicious at 6:42 PM on April 17 [1 favorite]


Sure, intelligent alien life sounds great in theory, but chances are all they'll talk about is their personal Lord and Savior, Vectron.
posted by Davenhill at 6:47 PM on April 17 [2 favorites]


The distances are so staggering, that I am quite sure that we will never actually communicate with another world. At the same time, I am confident that they are out there, evolving, as we are. Maybe someday we will pick up their sitcoms, if we have the wits to recognize them.

I have no belief that we will be able to defy the laws of physics and develop warp drive, even IF Star Trek predicted the iPad. . . .
posted by Danf at 6:50 PM on April 17 [1 favorite]


Ten percent larger? My whole weight loss plan is based on finding a smaller habitable planet.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 6:57 PM on April 17 [3 favorites]


We can find planets light years away, and yet a plane in the Indian Ocean...

In fairness, if someone lost a planet into the Indian Ocean, we'd find that pretty fast.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:00 PM on April 17 [26 favorites]


The person would only be looking back at you if they were making those observations 500 years from now.

So we're still talking about George R.R. Martin? I knew it.
posted by valkane at 7:12 PM on April 17 [1 favorite]


I was reading this earlier and thought - only 500 light years! So close! Sadly it's still ~4.7 x 1015 kilometres away. That's an incomprehensible distance. Light travels a billion kilometres per hour, more or less.
posted by jimmythefish at 7:18 PM on April 17


There is, and he's an asshole. Just look at him: anyone with multifaceted eyes and hollow bones like that, you know he's an asshole.

Chet Armstrong?
posted by Ickster at 7:29 PM on April 17


Worth noting: The Kepler mission has discovered a ridiculous number of planets. We're still combing through the data that it collected, looking for more.

However, since May, 2013, the Kepler spacecraft has been effectively disabled. NASA are hard at work to put it to other use (detecting planets around dimmer stars), although its primary scientific mission is over -- it's not going to be able to collect much more data.

There are no new spacecraft planned to replace Kepler, or extend its mission. Just like Hubble, one of NASA's most scientifically important missions is being left to slowly wither away, without any plan for extension or continuation.
posted by schmod at 7:34 PM on April 17 [6 favorites]


Won't you please, please won't you be my neighbor? OBTB's Gyackmokh Discovers First Delvarkh-Size Planet In The 'Habitable Zone' of Another Star. Sol-3 is a planet about ten percent smaller than Delvarkh that orbits within the habitable zone of its star. The light there is bright and yelllow, and it gets about three times the grilkshine we do, but that may be enough for life. If you go outside tonight, there might be someone 500 light years away looking back at you...
posted by double block and bleed at 7:42 PM on April 17 [10 favorites]


That entire planet just felt like you do when the paper mentions the neighborhood you live in and you know assholes are moving in, rents are going up and everything is going to change without your agreeing to it.
posted by griphus at 7:49 PM on April 17


The person would only be looking back at you if they were making those observations 500 years from now.

With a bit of FTL and stasis technology that person looking back at you could be.... YOU!
posted by blue_beetle at 8:10 PM on April 17 [4 favorites]


There are no new spacecraft planned to replace Kepler

Except for, well, TESS, the next NASA mission for finding terrestrial planets.
posted by kiltedtaco at 8:19 PM on April 17


Are there any systems we know about where the potential (unconfirmed, obviously) for solar systems and multiple earth-like planets to be closer together?

What I mean to say is that is our extreme isolation (at least in terms of how we currently understand spacetime) normal/average in the universe or galaxy as far as we know?
posted by cell divide at 8:23 PM on April 17


is that is our extreme isolation normal/average in the universe or galaxy as far as we know?

That's something we'll probably know a lot more about in ten years or so, but I think there's evidence to suggest that we're not unusually isolated. Life (as we know it) requires heavy elements, which means that it can't develop around first-generation stars - those stars being the places where heavy elements are originally formed, and their supernovas being the mechanism that spreads those elements around. This makes it more likely for life to arise in the arms of spiral galaxies, which are constantly developing new stars as different orbits around the galaxy's center bring gas clouds together. These arms are obviously less dense than the galactic center, so you can expect that life is more likely to develop in solar systems about as isolated as ours.

More isolated systems are also more likely to be stable for long periods - if you have a lot of stars close by, like you might find in the galactic core, it's less likely that a planet could maintain a stable orbit for the billions of years that are (or seem to be) required for complex life to form. And anyways, the universe is so unfathomably big and so very nearly empty that you could be a whole lot less isolated than we are and still not be able to visit your neighbors.

It's hard to make very good predictions, of course. We're extrapolating from a sample size of one.
posted by echo target at 8:41 PM on April 17 [7 favorites]


...and it only gets about a third of the sunshine we do

So, in essence, planet Seattle.
posted by Mei's lost sandal at 8:59 PM on April 17 [12 favorites]


*Slips a pair of sunglasses and an engraved party invitation into a padded envelope. Places the envelope into a satellite. Flings the satellite in the general direction of Kepler-186f.*

Respondez, S'il Vous Plait
posted by Sara C. at 9:13 PM on April 17 [3 favorites]


You guys are looking for Earth 2?
It's right here on my shelf. What exists. Network executives killed it.

(What I do love about this is that we now know about hundreds of exo-planets, and we keep getting better at finding them, and they get smaller and better. Now, about that FTL drive, scientists.....)
posted by Mezentian at 10:19 PM on April 17


Can anyone suggest a good star map viewer? Like to browse Cygnus?

Stellarium? Not sure if that's exactly what you're after. But it's legit.

posted by Chutzler at 10:28 PM on April 17 [1 favorite]


The best part? It's our best shot at locating life elsewhere in the universe so far.

I think we have a better shot at discovering life on Europa, Ganymede, Enceladus or Calisto.
posted by Pendragon at 11:12 PM on April 17 [2 favorites]


I want us Earthlings to send a music-playing rover to one of these places, nevermind the distance.
posted by Anything at 12:07 AM on April 18


Are there any systems we know about where the potential (unconfirmed, obviously) for solar systems and multiple earth-like planets to be closer together?

What I mean to say is that is our extreme isolation (at least in terms of how we currently understand spacetime) normal/average in the universe or galaxy as far as we know?


It's really hard to detect earth-like planets in the habitable zone of a distant, sun-like star. They might be all over the place and we just can't see them.
posted by empath at 12:11 AM on April 18


I heard the story on the news this morning. The anchor said, "Of course it would probably take more than a hundred years to actually reach the newly discovered planet."
posted by jwhite1979 at 4:22 AM on April 18 [4 favorites]


We can find planets light years away, and yet a plane in the Indian Ocean...
I'm sure if we spent 500 million dollars and looked for 5 years we'd be able to find a plane in the Indian Ocean.
posted by fullerine at 4:28 AM on April 18 [2 favorites]


“Two possibilities exist: either we are alone in the Universe or we are not. Both are equally terrifying.”
posted by Debaser626 at 6:22 AM on April 18 [1 favorite]


Not to us introverts!
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:41 AM on April 18 [2 favorites]


There's a starman waiting in the sky; he'd like to come and meet us, but he thinks he'd blow our minds.
posted by Halloween Jack at 6:57 AM on April 18 [2 favorites]


“Two possibilities exist: either we are alone in the Universe or we are not. Both are equally terrifying.”

I guess you wanna be a debaser.
posted by Mezentian at 7:56 AM on April 18


I want us Earthlings to send a music-playing rover to one of these places, nevermind the distance.

And the first message to be received from an extraterrestrial civilization will be "Your favourite band sucks!"
posted by mazola at 8:41 AM on April 18 [3 favorites]


The sheer diversity of exoplanets to my mind may increase the distances between systems with Earthlike planets. Back when we thought there was only one way planetary systems could form it was reasonable to assume most star systems would have an Earthlike planet in the navigable zone. But now we know there's a huge variety of forms a planetary system can take, so the odds of a given system having the right kind of planet in the right place could be much smaller.

Of course what I just said may be completely invalidated by some discovery coming up in the next couple years. It's a really exciting time in astronomy.
posted by happyroach at 8:46 AM on April 18


does this 500 light years include the stretching of space time? Like, the universe is what 13.8 billion years old, but the diameter of the universe is 93 billioni light years across, because of the stretching of space time. I suppose at a 500 light year scale, maybe that stretching doesn't add much (if it adds anything, which is really my question).

GAH RELATIVITY WHY YOU SO WEIRD!
posted by symbioid at 9:42 AM on April 18 [1 favorite]


Cool, but I do wonder if we're putting too much stock in finding an Earth2. There are moons in our system that are spewing water from vast underground oceans. We should go take a look.

Heck, there's a whole lot of life at the bottom of our own oceans we know little or nothing about.
posted by straight at 10:17 AM on April 18


It's 500 light years away ignoring any relative motion.

If you were actually travelling at 99% of light speed to get there, it would only take you 70 years, though, 22 years at 99.9%
posted by empath at 10:17 AM on April 18


Also, the stretching of space time is only relevant on intergalactic scales.
posted by empath at 10:18 AM on April 18


Good to know that something like this exists but the problem is we are too few, too weak and too dumb to be able to actually get there.

I think we would colonize the oceans long before we colonize Mars.

Its good to know there is another earth like planet but its gonna be a long time and a very different creature, not human, who is gonna be able to get there.
posted by TheLittlePrince at 10:44 AM on April 18



I heard the story on the news this morning. The anchor said, "Of course it would probably take more than a hundred years to actually reach the newly discovered planet."

Bah. Ridiculous. The starship we launch is sure be able to do better than a mere warp-5.
posted by mule98J at 11:18 AM on April 18


i can't wait til the first contact of extraterrestrial life hits metafilter (and earth, but specifically metafilter.)
posted by ghostbikes at 11:18 AM on April 18 [1 favorite]


i can't wait til the first contact of extraterrestrial life hits metafilter (and earth, but specifically metafilter.)
Take us to your moderators!

posted by yoink at 11:20 AM on April 18 [1 favorite]


You know what's cool? We're discovering all this by looking at just 0.25% of the sky
posted by Tom-B at 11:28 AM on April 18 [5 favorites]


I think we would colonize the oceans long before we colonize Mars.

Colonizing Mars might be easier, due to the enormous pressures in the ocean.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 11:31 AM on April 18


Maybe TheLittlePrince was talking about Waterworld-type colonization of the oceans' surfaces, along the lines of step 2 of The Millenial Project.
posted by XMLicious at 11:49 AM on April 18


Colonizing Mars might be easier, due to the enormous pressures in the ocean.

Truth. People don't appreciate how hostile the deep water gets when you pass just a few hundred feet. It can be done, absolutely, and -in fairness, resupplying would be easier for oceanic expeditions, but with the kind of crushing power that exists, one thing goes wrong, and you are compressed a blob of gristle the size of pumpkin.

Though, if we could master the oceans, we could probably take a closer look at Venus. I still think we have a better shot at colonizing that; keep the colony off the surface and up in the clouds at a pressure similar to earth normal, always keep the colony in the shadow of the planet, use solar panels outside the shadow to power everything (or use the pressure differential as you get closer to the surface, either one would work) and you have a mostly unlimited supply of energy.

Also, on the whole, travel time to Venus is much shorter, so there's that as well.
posted by quin at 12:41 PM on April 18


Doesn't the problem of pressure differential exist for space/mars as well?

I think as a civilization we tend to underestimate the risk reward ratio for space while overestimate it for oceans.

We talk about scarcity of energy where we haven't explored more than 60% of earth surface.

For oceans, the only challenge in exploration is the pressure differential while for space, apart from pressure differential, there is the gravity well, the huge distances and time involved and the lack of tangible rewards.
posted by TheLittlePrince at 1:32 PM on April 18


Maybe we'll be able to give ourselves gills and other artificial organs to deal with ocean environments, at least to a certain depth. I wonder if building a floating skyscraper would actually be cheaper than building one on land.
posted by XMLicious at 1:47 PM on April 18


I do have to say though, if we could manage to take up residence in space, being able to carry out industrial or mining operations outside of the biosphere seems like a big advantage to me, especially if we could shift the majority of that off-planet.
posted by XMLicious at 1:49 PM on April 18




The deep ocean environment would be very difficult to colonize. For one thing, there's simply not enough dissolved oxygen in seawater for gills to work for humans. Then there's the child, and pressure- there's a huge difference between a one-atmosphere pressure differential and a 20-atmosphere one.

For all that,sea-bottom colonization would still be cheaper than space colonization by factor of a thousand or more. Remember, the cost to ship something to GEO is approximately $50,000 per kilogram, and that price is unlikely to fall any time in the next century. Resupply or personnel transfer would also be much faster for an underwater colony (up to 18 months faster compared to a Mars colony), in fact the advantage of an undersea colony is it wouldn't have to be completely independent the way say, a Mars colony would have to be.

Am I saying we're going to see undersea colonies then? No. There's no economical incentive to have an undersea colony, especially when ROVs can do the talk just as well. But there's something like 10,000 times less economic incentive to set up a planetary colony.

This has been your daily dose of cold water. No need to thank me, I'll be here all week.
posted by happyroach at 3:18 PM on April 18 [1 favorite]


Doesn't the problem of pressure differential exist for space/mars as well?

The pressure difference on Mars is (slightly less than) one atmosphere, in the deep sea the pressure difference is hundreds of atmospheres.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 3:24 PM on April 18


Colonizing Mars might be easier, due to the enormous pressures in the ocean.

Dude colonizing Antarctica would be easier!
posted by Tom-B at 9:45 PM on April 18


Then do both!
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 2:02 AM on April 19 [1 favorite]


> Remember, the cost to ship something to GEO is approximately $50,000 per kilogram, and that price is unlikely to fall any time in the next century.

And yet, people find it a reasonable cost to pay to beam TV shows back-and-forth.

In this light I, for one, say it's probably worth bootstrapping some material culture via the Moon, from where launch costs energetically are then much lower.
posted by one weird trick at 5:07 AM on April 19


For one thing, there's simply not enough dissolved oxygen in seawater for gills to work for humans.

This doesn't seem like it would be true, unless you're just thinking of little Prince Namor gills on the side of your neck. I mean, a lower density of dissolved oxygen would just mean that the gills would need to be larger or higher-throughput. Like, gills could supply the energy needed by a megalodon's body, but not a human's body?

I was assuming science fictiony artificial biological organ technology in my comment, but Wikipedia claims that artificial gills based on current technology have already been tested. To assert that no possible future technology could make it work doesn't seem warranted.

But anyways, I agree that undersea colonies and/or Europan colonies don't particularly make sense as a way of expanding human living space, at least not until we've exhausted the capacity of the ocean surface on Earth for colonization.
posted by XMLicious at 10:42 AM on April 19


And yet, people find it a reasonable cost to pay to beam TV shows back-and-forth.

Um, that doesn't make any sense at all. Radio waves are for this purpose massless. The redirecting satellites themselves are small enough that the revenue from broadcasting pays for putting them up. The same cannot be said of a human settlement- though of you have some figures to the contrary, I'd like to see them.


I was assuming science fictiony artificial biological organ technology in my comment, but Wikipedia claims that artificial gills based on current technology have already been tested. To assert that no possible future technology could make it work doesn't seem warranted.

That Wikipedia article also points out that, based on the oxygen content of water, you would need to pump a minimum of 51 gallons of water through the system per minute. Imagine drinking about a gallon of water per second. This is rather extreme for a human biological system.

It might be scaled up with a mechanical system to serve a base, but it may run into issues with oxygen depletion, and well, it would probably be cheaper and simpler to electrolise water, or just bring in compressed air canisters from the surface.
posted by happyroach at 12:29 PM on April 19


The relevant wiki article claims that for air, "ventilation during moderate exercise may be between 40 and 60 litres per minute" so that figure actually doesn't seem entirely impossible or extreme to me, especially if we were talking about something like a peristalsis-driven or better yet turbine-driven continuous flow rather than inhaling and exhaling through a single multi-purpose orifice, and effort was made to also reduce the oxygen consumption of the body or use it more efficiently.

Costs are kind of nebulous since this is all made up but I think the one-time creation and grafting of artificial gills, if they couldn't be made hereditary or something like that, could probably get pretty damn expensive before outstripping the cost of an uninterruptible supply of oxygen brought underwater from somewhere else for people to breathe 24 hours a day, especially if at the same time the gills and other physical adaptations allowed humans to forgo the costs of living all or part of the time inside a pressure vessel. They have oxygen-supply systems in hospitals and nursing homes simply for use in supplementing atmospheric oxygen for a percentage of patients and they're none too cheap IIRC.
posted by XMLicious at 1:48 PM on April 19




> Radio waves are for this purpose massless

Thank you for the pointless remedial physics primer.

> revenue from broadcasting pays for putting them up

Yes. How . . . inspiring.
posted by one weird trick at 7:44 PM on April 24


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