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April 24, 2007 2:53 PM   Subscribe

Spacefilter: ESA telescope detects planet 20 lightyears away with a temperature between 0 and 40 degrees Celsius, dubbed "most Earth-like planet yet."
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane (104 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite

 
*packs suitcase, Googles "hydrazine wholesale"*
posted by ZenMasterThis at 2:55 PM on April 24, 2007


A new life awaits you in the off-world colonies, the chance to begin again in a golden land of opportunity and adventure.
posted by lekvar at 3:03 PM on April 24, 2007 [10 favorites]


"Goldilocks" planets would include Mars. Likely a "fixer-uper".
posted by stbalbach at 3:05 PM on April 24, 2007 [1 favorite]


Whoo-hoo! Where do I sign up to be a settler?
posted by jtron at 3:06 PM on April 24, 2007


A new life awaits you in the off-world colonies, the chance to begin again in a golden land of opportunity and adventure.
posted by lekvar at 6:03 PM on April 24


The first colonist who suggests building beachfront condos or drilling for oil gets kicked in the groin.
posted by Pastabagel at 3:07 PM on April 24, 2007 [2 favorites]


Even though Gliese 581 offers such promise, it would be impossible for mankind to reach it -- or even send an unmanned scout probe -- using current technology. Chemical rockets generate only a fraction of the light speed needed to get there within a human timescale.

Impossible to reach within a human timescale ≠ impossible to reach.

Any astrophysicists out there have a rough estimate of how quickly a probe could reach this planet with current technology? Are we talking centuries, millennia, what?
posted by designbot at 3:11 PM on April 24, 2007


Why does the article say it's "5 times the size of the earth" if the radius is 1.5 times that of earth?
posted by Pastabagel at 3:12 PM on April 24, 2007


Between 0 and 40 degrees Celsius? I think you mean "most Minnesota-like planet yet."
posted by Astro Zombie at 3:13 PM on April 24, 2007


Celsius, dude. Celsius.

That's 32° - 104°F.
posted by designbot at 3:14 PM on April 24, 2007


Bad volume calculation? It's more like 3.5 times the size of earth, relatively speaking.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 3:15 PM on April 24, 2007


I call shenanigans - I've been living in on an Earth-like planet since at least my early teens.
posted by Abiezer at 3:15 PM on April 24, 2007 [1 favorite]


I made my post on this a little too late, so here's the links anyway:

New Planet could harbor water and life. The new planet, Gliese 581 c, orbits red dwarf Gliese 581, a mere 20.4 light years away, and is the smallest exoplanet yet found, as well as the first to be found in the 'Goldilocks Zone'.
posted by MetaMonkey at 3:16 PM on April 24, 2007 [5 favorites]


1.5 times the radius, 5 times the mass of Earth = 2.2 times the gravity.

I expect 2.2 times Earth gravity would pretty much suck for settlers. I guess it's possible. Sales of water beds would be high. And bras.

Voyager 1 is about 14 light-hours away from Earth, and was launched in 1977. It's the farthest thing from Earth we've ever sent out, and the fastest. If we had launched it directly at this new planet, it would arrive in about 400,000 years.

Homo Sapiens emerged on Earth around 200,000 years ago.
posted by jellicle at 3:16 PM on April 24, 2007 [3 favorites]


"5 times the mass of Earth = 2.2 times the gravity."

Welcome to Gliese 581, no fatties please.
posted by MiltonRandKalman at 3:19 PM on April 24, 2007


ESO != ESA. ESA is more about building stuff to put in space, ESO runs ground based observatories.

And while I'm nitpicking, the article refers to 'Silla, Chile' and they mean 'La Silla, Chile'. Although that's being a bit too pedantic perhaps.
posted by edd at 3:20 PM on April 24, 2007


1.8922 x 10^17 miles in 20ly /
305 546 675 miles per year (based on a 15 year estimate to reach Pluto)

= 619,283,453yrs travel time.

Bring a deck of cards.
posted by T.D. Strange at 3:20 PM on April 24, 2007


So, in theory, one could let's say purchase some orphans from any third world country, take them to this planet, and under the increased gravity train them to be loyal minons hellbent on taking over their motherplanet?

Aight, I'll sign up.
posted by The Power Nap at 3:21 PM on April 24, 2007


From a professional standpoint (I'm working on a planet-finding project) I find this intriguing. Was there a paper associated with this, or just a press release? One of the articles mentioned that it was in Astronomy and Astrophysics, but I couldn't find it.

(Come to think of it, I haven't found a direct press release either, just articles. The instrument page has nothing. Has anyone come across either of those?)

On preview, I like your links, MetaMonkey.
posted by Upton O'Good at 3:22 PM on April 24, 2007


"most Earth-like planet yet."
I assume that these scientists mean, "... besides Earth".
posted by Flunkie at 3:23 PM on April 24, 2007


Another estimate:

At the "space speed record" of the Helios 2 probe:
(20 light years) / (247 510 kilometers per hour) = 87208.8278 years

However, that thing was probably diving towards the sun and speeds leaving the solar system would be lower. I'd use the Voyager numbers - I also got about 400,000, with Voyager 2. In addition I think all our estimates have supposed that Gliese 581 is slow moving relative to the sun and the travel timescales, which is probably decently true.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 3:26 PM on April 24, 2007


Celsius, dude. Celsius.

That's 32° - 104°F.


Well, Minnesota is pretty temperate this time of year.
posted by Astro Zombie at 3:30 PM on April 24, 2007


Well then fuck you Earth, you ain't all that.
posted by ob at 3:32 PM on April 24, 2007 [4 favorites]


Oh and the picture at the top is almost certainly the wrong telescope. They'll have used HARPS on the 3.6m there. The image is of one of the smaller telescopes there, although I'm not 100% sure which.
posted by edd at 3:33 PM on April 24, 2007


Hmm, how would something like an ion drive with weak but constant acceleration affect those numbers?
posted by Artw at 3:34 PM on April 24, 2007


Wouldn't it be funny if we found out this planet could sustain life and then we developed a way to get there... only to discover that it's exactly like Earth, with people on it and global warming and everything, and they'd just sent one of their own teams out to study the possibility of life on Earth?
posted by katillathehun at 3:37 PM on April 24, 2007 [15 favorites]


Any astrophysicists out there have a rough estimate of how quickly a probe could reach this planet with current technology? Are we talking centuries, millennia, what?

Best speed record to date is Galileo, with a top speed of about 100,000 kph. At that velocity, you're looking at a travel time of about 2.16 million years.

Now, if we could somehow get a spacecraft up to, say, 1/4 the speed of light (75,000 kps), you'd be looking at a trip of about 320 years. Of course, relativistic time dilation would shave about 10 years off of that.
posted by EarBucket at 3:39 PM on April 24, 2007 [1 favorite]


Damn, forgot about Helios--but yeah, it was diving toward the Sun, which isn't really a fair comparison. Voyager 2 only reached about 60,000kph, so I think Galileo's our best example to date.
posted by EarBucket at 3:42 PM on April 24, 2007


I am going; who's with me?
posted by Mister_A at 3:42 PM on April 24, 2007


Wouldn't it be funny if we found out this planet could sustain life and then we developed a way to get there... only to discover that it's exactly like Earth, with people on it and global warming and everything, and they'd just sent one of their own teams out to study the possibility of life on Earth?

Yes it would
posted by ob at 3:45 PM on April 24, 2007 [2 favorites]


oooooh, I know the perfect song for the occasion:

Humans from Earth
[Until the End of the World soundtrack]

We come from a blue planet light-years away
Where everything multiplies at an amazing rate
We're out here in the universe buying real estate
Hope we haven't gotten here too late

[chorus:]
We're humans from earth
We're humans from earth
You have nothing at all to fear
I think we're gonna like it here

We're looking for a planet with atmosphere
Where the air is fresh and the water clear
With lots of sun like you have here
Three or four hundred days a year

[chorus]

Bought Manhatten for a string of beads
Brought along some gadgets for you to see
Heres a crazy little thing we call TV
Do you have electricity?

[chorus]

I know we may seem pretty strange to you
But we got know-how and a golden rule
We're here to see manifest destiny through
Ain't nothing we can't get used to

We're humans from earth
We're humans from earth

--T-Bone Burnett
posted by Bron at 3:47 PM on April 24, 2007 [2 favorites]


I think there are some (halfway) plausible proposals for a fusion drive system that would top out at about 1/2 light speed, that would get it down to ~150yrs.
posted by T.D. Strange at 3:48 PM on April 24, 2007


Ack, change 2.16 above 21.6. I misplaced a decimal point. That's a NASA-worthy mistake.
posted by EarBucket at 3:56 PM on April 24, 2007


So, you're traveling at .5c and you hit, say, a grain of space-sand. You're basically incinerated, right?
posted by synaesthetichaze at 3:57 PM on April 24, 2007


Yeah, that’s that planet I’ve been saying was there. But nooo, you wouldn’t listen. I’m all posting “there’s an earth-like planet around Gliese 581” but there’s no ‘big science’ or sensitive instruments or supporting links or evidence so it gets deleted.


“Wouldn't it be funny if we found out this planet could sustain life and then we developed a way to get there... only to discover that it's exactly like Earth...”

You MANIACS! You blew it all up!
posted by Smedleyman at 4:02 PM on April 24, 2007


Who do we need to talk to about getting it officially named Super-Earth? Because that would be awesome.

5 times the mass of Earth = 2.2 times the gravity.


Or perhaps Pyrrus would be more appropriate.
posted by quin at 4:04 PM on April 24, 2007


Bad volume calculation? It's more like 3.5 times the size of earth, relatively speaking.

Yep. 3.375 times Earth's volume is a bit more exact. The surface area is two and a quarter larger than Earth's. But maybe the scientists are able to estimate mass via the interaction between it and its star and that's where the 5x estimate came from. I assume that jellicle's calculation of surface gravity used the higher density estimate, given the wording of the comment.

Hmm, how would something like an ion drive with weak but constant acceleration affect those numbers?

A lot. There's a few theoretical but within our present means technologies that could achieve much higher interstellar speeds. There's others that are conceivable that do even better. Off the top of my head, without research (and so I may be an order of magnitude high), I think that one percent of light-speed is probably reasonable. That'd reduce it to about 2,000 years, more or less. Using anything in existence for an estimate is silly because we've never designed for this.

So, you're traveling at .5c and you hit, say, a grain of space-sand. You're basically incinerated, right?

A grain of sand would be huge. And, yeah, that's a tremendous amount of energy in that collision. Even much smaller particles, which would be far more likely, would be calamitous. I'd be very curious about state-of-the-art calculations of the likelihood of this. But even if it's low enough to be reasonably safe, that doesn't mean that there aren't little islands of relative density in interstellar space that we'd never know existed until we found out that hard way.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 4:07 PM on April 24, 2007


All of these interstellar travel proposals have their merits, I suppose, but I humbly submit my own solution.

Let's stop acting like semi-evolved monkeys slinging our feces all over the place, and let's clean up this place.

Step 1: No burning bits of the planet for energy. Seriously, it's 2007, not 1066.

Step 2: No killing other people so you can burn their bit of the planet. See step 1.

Step 3: If you dig it out of the ground, have some reasonable plan for putting it back or reusing it. Otherwise we're going to be mining landfills for copper.

Step 4: Eat less, fatso.

Step 5: Mind your own business. Same goes for the government. We elected a government not a new set of parents. Stop looking under my metaphorical mattress for porn.
posted by Pastabagel at 4:07 PM on April 24, 2007 [6 favorites]


God, stuff like this makes me tingly. I'm wondering what advances in propulsion we'll need to make before we make the trip. I'm wondering what manner of creatures would evolve under a red dwarf; wondering what role that burly gravity may play in crafting organisms. I'm wondering if any of them clawed up the evolutionary ladder high enough to develop language and culture. And if so, I'm wondering how powerful their telescopes are.
posted by EatTheWeak at 4:15 PM on April 24, 2007


I wouldn't get too excited about this; the exoplanet is so close to its star that it's almost certain to be tidally locked with a day equal to its year. That means even though it's in the habitable zone for a spinning world, in fact one side bakes while the other freezes.

Dim stars were dismissed as being likely places for habitable planets by the authors of Rare Earth for just this reason. I'm surprised that in all the discussion I've seen of the find in the last few days nobody has even mentioned the possibility / likelihood. It's not like the idea hasn't been out there since 1995 or so.
posted by localroger at 4:15 PM on April 24, 2007


Magnetic fields to deflect the bits of space sand might help. Or if you're being really fun scoop them up and burn them.
posted by Artw at 4:16 PM on April 24, 2007


In Starbucks headquarters, some executive is drawing up plans for a new location.
posted by jonmc at 4:19 PM on April 24, 2007 [2 favorites]


Wait - when traveling interstellar distances, wouldn't you want to accelerate? As a bonus, the further you go the less mass you have to keep accelerating. 0.1C could be conceivably reached if you started with enough reaction mass.

I once saw link, which I can no longer find, which broke down how long it would take to go how far if there was 1 gravity acceleration to halfway and 1 gravity acceleration in the opposite direction for the rest of the trip. The further you want to end up, the less time/lightyear it takes.

Oh, this is similar.

Travel times assuming 1g acceleration one quarter of the way "there", coasting 50% of the time, and 1g deceleration to arrive:

* 1,000 miles: 15 minutes
* 10,000 miles: nearly an hour
* 100,000 miles: 2.7 hours
* 1,000,000 miles: 8.6 hours
* 10,000,000 miles: 27 hours - just over 1 day
* 100,000,000 miles (just over 1au): 3.6 days
* 1,000,000,000 miles (the diameter of Jupiter's orbit): 11.33 days
* 10,000,000,000 miles (the total width of the Kuiper Belt): 36 days
* 100,000,000,000 miles (near Oort Cloud): 113 days
* 1,000,000,000,000 miles (0.2 parsecs and the middle of the Oort Cloud): 1 year
* 10,000,000,000,000 miles (2 parsecs or 1.7 light-years, and the distance to the far end of the Oort Cloud): 3 years
* 100,000,000,000,000 miles (17LY, or the average distance to the 20 nearest stars): 19 years actual, 10 years subjective (interesting trivia - 1 gravity acceleration is pretty close to 1 LY/yr/yr so relativistic affects come into play after just a few months, and strongly after a year of acceleration. Also, interstellar distances take a lot of fuel.)

The bottom line is that travel times are hugely significant for an Oort cloud scale empire, even reminiscent of horse and buggy days. Not many tourists will visit the Earth from the mid Oort cloud if the travel times are a year each way.

posted by porpoise at 4:24 PM on April 24, 2007 [4 favorites]


It zips around the star at express speed, making just 13 days to complete an orbit.

Hmm...I'm not an expert in solar system formation, but wouldn't a planet that close to its star be likely to have its rotation tidally locked to its orbit relatively quickly - one side always facing the sun, and incredibly hot, and one always away from it, unbearably cold?

Does the "0-40°C" estimate assume that its rotation is not tidally locked, without any evidence to support that assumption?

Well, maybe we can still live along the terminator.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 4:29 PM on April 24, 2007


Upon failing to preview, localroger beat me to it.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 4:31 PM on April 24, 2007


Time to rig up the Space Sail! Avast ye scurvy dogs! We be sailing towards new lands! Fix yer gaze upon the stars! Thar be plenty of gold and oxygen and air unspoilt. Come on ye cowardly Earth-lubbers, who's with me!?
posted by vacapinta at 4:33 PM on April 24, 2007


What if it's just a giant mirror floating in space, ten lightyears away?
posted by davejay at 4:41 PM on April 24, 2007 [6 favorites]


1.5 times the radius, 5 times the mass of Earth = 2.2 times the gravity.

I would guess that they probably mean closer to 5^(1/3) = 1.7 times the radius, and just said 1.5, because, well, 1.5 reads better. In any case, for planets with a similar composition as Earth, gravity scales as the radius. So, either it's not rocky just like Earth but about 5/(1.5^3) = 1.5 times as dense (meaning it is perhaps pure Iron), or they just said 1.5.

One other option is that the ESA has taken after NASA and believes that volume goes as the fourth power of the radius.
posted by dsword at 4:52 PM on April 24, 2007


* 100,000,000,000,000 miles (17LY, or the average distance to the 20 nearest stars): 19 years actual, 10 years subjective (interesting trivia - 1 gravity acceleration is pretty close to 1 LY/yr/yr so relativistic affects come into play after just a few months, and strongly after a year of acceleration. Also, interstellar distances take a lot of fuel.)

(9.8 ((meters per second) per second)) * (50 000 000 000 000 miles) * (725 kg) = 5.71719456 × 10^20 joules

That's 1 g * 50% of the distance under thrust * the weight of Voyager 2. If you trust Wikipedia numbers, that's between:

4.26 × 10^20 J energy consumed by the world in one year (2001)

6.2 × 10^20 J total energy from the Sun that hits the Earth in one hour

By my calculation, it's also about 3000 kgs of antimatter reacting with 3000 kgs of matter, that is, more fuel than the spaceship is supposed to weight.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 4:53 PM on April 24, 2007


Heh, davejay, we'd be able to tell that from its spectrum.
posted by zoogleplex at 4:55 PM on April 24, 2007


"One other option is that the ESA has taken after NASA and believes that volume goes as the fourth power of the radius."

The most likely option is that the reporter got the numbers wrong.
posted by zoogleplex at 4:56 PM on April 24, 2007


"That's 1 g * 50% of the distance under thrust * the weight of Voyager 2."

And then remember that if you actually want to stop and land when you get there, you'd better turn around and DE-celerate for the other 50% of the distance, or you'll just zip right on thru the system at a rather large fraction of lightspeed, and then continue on out into the cosmos.

So you really need at least twice the reaction mass to get yourself there for a sustained visit.

Four times if you actually want to come home again.
posted by zoogleplex at 5:00 PM on April 24, 2007


Correct me if I'm wrong here but I seem to recall that a very short time ago that we had no formal scientific proof that there were planets outside our own solar system. Wasn't it laser interferometry results that formally became an accepted mode of proof for planets around other stars? On what date did science formally accept the proven existence of planets outside our own solar system?
posted by well_balanced at 5:15 PM on April 24, 2007


localroger said: the exoplanet is so close to its star that it's almost certain to be tidally locked with a day equal to its year.

So it's only 20 days away? Sweet!
Seriously, I see a clear connection between this and a few billionaires sudden interest in space travel. Do you really believe they're spending 20 Million to experience zero gravity? I'm betting they know something we don't.
posted by Crash at 5:15 PM on April 24, 2007


The scenario given was 25% accel, 25% decel, and 50% coast, but whatver way you do it it's a shit ton of energy.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 5:15 PM on April 24, 2007


well_balanced: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Exoplanets#History_of_detection
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 5:17 PM on April 24, 2007


So, if I'm reading that exoplanet article correctly it seems like people start to take it serious around 1988-1992 and then it doesn't become formally accepted till 2003. So technically we have only been 100% certain of the existence of exoplanets for around 4 years? Sigh.
posted by well_balanced at 5:25 PM on April 24, 2007


The rare earth hypothesis is the contrary of the principle of mediocrity (also called the Copernican principle), whose best known recent advocates include Carl Sagan and Frank Drake. The principle of mediocrity maintains that the universe is probably teeming with advanced life: the Earth is a typical rocky planet in a typical planetary system, located in an unexceptional region of a large but conventional barred-spiral galaxy. Ward and Brownlee argue to the contrary: planets, planetary systems, and galactic regions that are as friendly to complex life as are the Earth, the solar system, and our region of the Milky Way are probably extremely rare. If so, the Earth could be the only place in the Milky Way, and perhaps even in the entire universe, featuring complex life.

More here.
posted by wfrgms at 5:26 PM on April 24, 2007


I wonder if they've got metafilter there.
posted by dazed_one at 5:29 PM on April 24, 2007


Metafilter: a shit ton of energy
posted by Mapes at 5:31 PM on April 24, 2007


Posted by Pastabagel:
Step 5: Mind your own business


...which would make steps 1-4 redundant.

I like step 5
posted by BozoBurgerBonanza at 5:44 PM on April 24, 2007


Models predict planet should be either rocky or covered with oceans

What about astronomers? Did anybody ask them?
posted by dhartung at 5:59 PM on April 24, 2007 [5 favorites]


"most Earth-like planet yet."

They have a Dick Cheney too?! Forget that.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:19 PM on April 24, 2007


maybe it's our own earth that had her own light reflected on a giant mirror 10 lightyears from us

yeah stupid, i know
posted by zouhair at 6:29 PM on April 24, 2007


HolyCrapFilter
posted by jason's_planet at 6:30 PM on April 24, 2007


One year lasts only 13 days on the planet

That's gonna play hell with annual three weeks of vacation.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:37 PM on April 24, 2007 [2 favorites]


A grim thought occurred to me the other day:

Judging by our ability to completely fuck-up our world, I suspect the chances of there being technologically-advanced life out there are significantly less than previously calculated.

To wit, the development of a technologically-advanced culture comes at the cost of over-use of natural resources to the point of complete environmental collapse.

Only a very few intelligent species figure out this hazard before it's much too late. We're not one of those species; we've gone fubar.

Also, Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft.
posted by five fresh fish at 6:46 PM on April 24, 2007 [1 favorite]


I'm pretty sure this means that we've seen all the way through the universe, and we're staring at the back side of the earth. Wonder how long it will be before we realize we've discovered ourselves...
posted by grateful at 6:48 PM on April 24, 2007


EatTheWeak: I'm wondering if any of them clawed up the evolutionary ladder high enough to develop language and culture. And if so, I'm wondering how powerful their telescopes are.

JAYZUS! I'd better put on some pants.
posted by hangashore at 7:16 PM on April 24, 2007


OK, grateful, I'ma stick my arm out my window and wave. Someone tell the astronomers to look for a dude waving.
posted by Rock Steady at 7:19 PM on April 24, 2007 [2 favorites]


The first colonist who suggests building beachfront condos or drilling for oil gets kicked in the groin.

I'll Rochabeau you for the beachfront.
posted by longsleeves at 7:38 PM on April 24, 2007


rochambeau.

(South Park reference.)

(slinks away......
posted by longsleeves at 7:40 PM on April 24, 2007


Vacapinta said it, earlier in the thread: light sail!

I think we'd want redundant propulsion, being as we have some distance to travel, and we have pesky fuel issue, so... we use an ion (or plasma) engine (or whatever) to get the ball rolling WITH a light sail for sustained propulsion/deceleration. As far as the interstellar debris is concerned, the light sail would work as both propulsion and sensor, you can adjust the position of the crew capsule by detecting when/where the light sail is hit. So far as I know we can't yet fix shuttle tiles reliably in space so keeping the sail working is a challenge. Nanobots?

It's great that we are finding these planets, but will we ever GET to them?
posted by stonesy at 8:48 PM on April 24, 2007


localroger: I wouldn't get too excited about this; the exoplanet is so close to its star that it's almost certain to be tidally locked with a day equal to its year. That means even though it's in the habitable zone for a spinning world, in fact one side bakes while the other freezes.

People are talking about this.

On the other hand, others are talking about the possibilities that atmospheres and oceans could still exist on such tidally locked planets. The March 2007 issue of Astrobiology contains a number of articles on the potential habitability of M-star planets.
posted by Sonny Jim at 8:53 PM on April 24, 2007


It's great that we are finding these planets, but will we ever GET to them

We -- the people using this discussion board -- will not. Our grandchildren might. Our great-grandchildren almost certainly will.

I'm an optimist.
posted by jason's_planet at 8:54 PM on April 24, 2007


There's one method I haven't seen mentioned yet: life extension. Other stars are very hard to get to, if you assume that human lifespans remain as they are now. But if we can find a way to live much longer -- whether biological, nanotechnological, electronic or whatever -- then we can travel to other stars in our own lifetimes. See Charlie Stross' Accelerando for an example.
posted by jiawen at 10:00 PM on April 24, 2007


And if so, I'm wondering how powerful their telescopes are.

Their first message to us, 40 years from now:

PLEASE WEAR PANTS OUTDOORS. KTHX.
posted by zippy at 10:02 PM on April 24, 2007


Their first message to us, 40 years from now:

PLEASE WEAR PANTS OUTDOORS. KTHX.


asdfasdfwpeofij;aslfjd;asdlfmas;ldfjkas;dlk

WE SAW THAT.

YOU SICK BASTARDS.


asdfasdrwqerweproisjpdafkas;dfs
posted by jason's_planet at 10:09 PM on April 24, 2007


But if we can find a way to live much longer -- whether biological, nanotechnological, electronic or whatever -- then we can travel to other stars in our own lifetimes.

It would probably be easier to send a ship equipped with frozen embryos (with enough for viable breeding) which could be thawed, implanted in artificial wombs and raised by robots during the last 20 years of the trip. (Or alternatively on the surface of the planet after touchdown.) This solves a lot of the issues with feeding and housing near-immortal humans for trips taking hundreds or thousands of years.

The technology designed and deployed to get to another habitable planet isn't the problem. It's the underlying resources needed to undertake such a project (which would include no doubt a multi-century scientific effort at finding suitable planets and building the ships to go there) and the fact that as humans we don't really think ahead past our immediate offspring. (See also Climate Change, Nuclear War, the unanswered threat of a collision with a NEO etc, etc.)

Our culture trumps evolution and as culture driven animals we see that there is no direct economic benefit in caring whether humans living hundreds or thousands of years from now are able to explore and colonize an alien world. My genes would argue with that, but we gave up on natural selection (gene transfer) as a means of propagation a long time ago.

As past efforts have shown, when it comes down to it we're more interested in our thoughts and evidence of our existence out living us than our bodies or offspring.

Anything contrary is just rose-colored conjecture from people who have watched too much Star Trek.
posted by wfrgms at 10:58 PM on April 24, 2007 [1 favorite]


...that doesn't mean that there aren't little islands of relative density in interstellar space that we'd never know existed until we found out that hard way.

Keep in mind that about 20% of our galaxy's mass is in the interstellar medium (i.e., the stuff between the stars). It's much too late for me to be lecturing, so take my word for it that we know a surprising amount about the ISM, based on how light and radio waves are affected by their passage through it.
posted by neuron at 11:30 PM on April 24, 2007


I suspect the chances of there being technologically-advanced life out there are significantly less than previously calculated.

There's a great little book on this subject, called Where Is Everybody?
posted by neuron at 11:33 PM on April 24, 2007


does anybody know what the real estate market looks like there ? I'm looking for a nice place not too far from work.
posted by Baud at 3:55 AM on April 25, 2007


Earth 2, huh? I heard about that place. Didn't work out too well for the peeps who went there, as I recall.
posted by Effigy2000 at 4:06 AM on April 25, 2007


Why does it have to be so far away?
posted by four panels at 6:07 AM on April 25, 2007


Shouldn't this mean that there are also others, maybe closer? That we just haven't looked in the right direction yet? Or they're on the other side of our sun or something?
posted by amberglow at 7:27 AM on April 25, 2007


On what date did science formally accept the proven existence of planets outside our own solar system?

You misunderstand how science works. There is no formal acceptance procedure for scientific discoveries or conclusions. Only a general consensus building, based on the evidence.

(There are, in some cases, formal procedures for definitions, such as what constitutes a planet vs. a dwarf planet, or defining how long a meter is. But definitions are not discoveries.)

Extrasolar planets are generally accepted, not because they've been "formally accepted" by any scientific body, but because they're the best known explanation for the observations.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 8:12 AM on April 25, 2007


There is no formal acceptance procedure for scientific discoveries or conclusions.

Poor phrasing on my part. I think maybe what I was trying to get at was around what time would most textbook authors feel perfectly safe in stating "Why yes, there are indeed planets outside our own solar system." I think this is a good example of how the requirements of the scientific method can sometimes take a silly long time to prove what seems like common sense(not that this is a bad thing.) Ask your average Joe the question of when he/she thinks we first discovered planets outside of our own solar system? I'd bet they say something like 100 years ago.
posted by well_balanced at 8:50 AM on April 25, 2007


what I was trying to get at was around what time would most textbook authors feel perfectly safe in stating "Why yes, there are indeed planets outside our own solar system."

This is a good question, and I would like to know the answer as well.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 9:30 AM on April 25, 2007


The first definitive evidence of extrasolar planets came in 1992, orbiting the pulsar PSR B1257+12. The first star to have the presence of planets confirmed was 51 Pegasi, in 1995.

Claims have been made as early as 1855, when astronomer W. S. Jacob argued there was evidence for a planet in the 70 Ophiuchi system. It appears, however, that he was incorrect.
posted by EarBucket at 9:38 AM on April 25, 2007


!!!!!!
posted by Many bubbles at 2:03 PM on April 25, 2007


Shouldn't this mean that there are also others, maybe closer? That we just haven't looked in the right direction yet? Or they're on the other side of our sun or something?

I don't know - but we can check in 6 months...
posted by grateful at 4:43 PM on April 25, 2007


What if they're on the other side of their sun (or there are other suns inbetween us and them)? Can we still detect them?
posted by amberglow at 6:21 PM on April 25, 2007


It seems like space is way way too big (and goes in all directions) to ever catch everything, or even a fraction of things.
posted by amberglow at 6:22 PM on April 25, 2007


amberglow: the chance of another star being between us and theirs and them being close enough for us to in principle be able to spot their planet is essentially zero.

If they're on the other side of their star we could wait for them to orbit round, but the kind of radial velocity measurements HARPS makes actually need the planet to move round its orbit anyway so we can pick up the star itself wobbling back and forth in response.
posted by edd at 6:28 AM on April 26, 2007


ahh...thanks, edd. Are we looking in all directions, or not even close?
posted by amberglow at 9:35 AM on April 26, 2007


Also, is it true stars are closer together in the middle of the galaxy, or is that just a guess?
posted by amberglow at 9:37 AM on April 26, 2007


"ahh...thanks, edd. Are we looking in all directions, or not even close?"

We're looking in as many directions as we can scratch up the funds to pay for, methinks. :)

"Also, is it true stars are closer together in the middle of the galaxy, or is that just a guess?"

Average distance between stars does change depending on where you are in the galaxy, but that doesn't necessarily correlate with distance from center. In general, each individual star is on an orbit around the gravitational center of the galaxy, and the slight variations of orbital speed take each star in and out of parts that are more empty or more full. Galactic stars that aren't members of double- or multi-star systems, or of star clusters, tend to be a few light years apart no matter where you are.

One thing's for sure: the closer you get to the core, the faster the orbit around it.

I'm a little annoyed that some news outlets are reporting this as a "habitable" planet, as if we know that humans could live on it. We're not even close to knowing that yet. Grumble grumble stupid reporters.
posted by zoogleplex at 11:51 AM on April 26, 2007


Pretty much all directions yes. We can only find planets around nearby stars, so I think there's not much of the effect zoogleplex mentions coming into play here.

There is the fact that the telescope used here is in the southern hemisphere which will mean it can't look at stars to the north. I'm not sure how many northern telescopes have instruments that can do planet finding.

However, a lot of the new instruments that'll be going up that I think will be really amazing (like TPF) will be space-based. So I guess they'll be able to point much more freely.
posted by edd at 2:43 PM on April 26, 2007


ahhh...thanks. (As long as all that stuff is cheap--we need money to be spent here, for us first. I can't wait, tho, til we find life and habitable places elsewhere--i'd love to see another viable world before i died, if it was possible--even if just pictures on TV.)
posted by amberglow at 2:56 PM on April 26, 2007


Space missions are always relatively expensive, but not ludicrously so compared to other parts of government expenditure and manned space missions (particularly if you're nuts enough to want to send people to Mars).

The experiment that found this planet - well, I don't know the cost but I'd bet it's really quite good value for money as astronomy goes. The telescope it's mounted on is sizeable, but you'd call it a medium sized telescope at 3.6m compared to the large 8-10m ones, and it's been operating since 1976 - so it's been churning out quality science like this for a very long time now. The instrument itself is a lot more modern of course.

I'd not try to attempt to draw a comparison between spending on science like this and say, medical research or environmental matters. You could argue that all day long. However, ESO has an annual budget of about 100 million euros (to run all its telescopes and fund its research and development). Compare that to what Bush was talking about for going to Mars (a more recent link as well), and you can see this stuff is great value.
posted by edd at 4:30 PM on April 26, 2007


That is true, telescope use like this is really very cost-effective, amazing amounts of interesting data generated very cheaply.

But still, there aren't really that many 'scopes, and pretty much all of them are booked solid many years in advance.
posted by zoogleplex at 6:54 PM on April 26, 2007


couldn't we just send off a ton of really small ones cheaply? Like a dozen from the Space Station--just give them a good push in all different directions -- they'd just keep going, no? (unless they hit something)
posted by amberglow at 10:01 AM on April 27, 2007


Boy, amberglow, that would sure be great... I think every 'shtrominer on earth would love to do that. However, that "ton" costs about $100,000 a pound just to put in LEO... and $200 mil is often difficult to come by in the astro biz, sadly.

It should be otherwise.
posted by zoogleplex at 12:50 AM on April 29, 2007


it seems like it'd be cheaper (and more valuable) than one big one sent off in one direction...they could look and record and transmit back all the info on everything they see until they die. And they could be limited and tinyish, like the ones amateurs have, with a modem and solar battery attached.
posted by amberglow at 10:39 AM on April 29, 2007


actually, it's the kind of thing that schools could sponsor (or something like that, or a different college could pay for each one or something)
posted by amberglow at 4:32 PM on April 29, 2007


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