Solar System Akin to Earth's Is Discovered
June 14, 2002 11:16 AM   Subscribe

Solar System Akin to Earth's Is Discovered Any minute now, I imagine somebody at a listening station on a smaller, bluer planet a few in from this one making a minute adjustment to their equipment and promptly spraying warm stimulant-laced beverage over their console...
posted by hob (13 comments total)
...and complaining that Szorganz-filter just isn't as cool as it used to be. :)
posted by byort at 11:23 AM on June 14, 2002

That does it. I'm getting a Drake Equation tattoo.
posted by 40 Watt at 11:37 AM on June 14, 2002

At this very moment, a Starbucks executive is thinking, "Wow, a whole new untapped market!"
posted by jonmc at 11:44 AM on June 14, 2002

Its the Astronomy Picture of the Day

It should be interesting to see if we can find some kind of extra-solar empirical support for Bode's Law.
posted by vacapinta at 11:44 AM on June 14, 2002

First things first: let's steal their women.
posted by ColdChef at 11:50 AM on June 14, 2002

I think it's fascinating. I also read that scientists can't detect any planet smaller than Jupiter-size, but they are close to having the technology. Exciting!
posted by Kafkaesque at 11:57 AM on June 14, 2002

Not trying to derail, just sharing this in what seems like an appropriate context - Newest Hubble Image released yesterday - an amazing closeup of the Retina Nebula. Full info and larger resolutions here.
posted by kokogiak at 12:25 PM on June 14, 2002

seriously, we need to send them webcomics first. THEN coffee. coffee is for when we reduce the cost of getting physical shit into orbit.
posted by clango at 12:58 PM on June 14, 2002

So the system is 41 light years away. We've been hollering into the darkness some 100 years now, with the volume on high for about 70 or so years. So about now the fine folks of 55 Cancri are hearing about the Ingmar Johansson/Floyd Patterson fight....Hmmm. Wonder when we'll start hearing from them. It would suck if they'd just blown up their civilization 100 years ago (or a 1000, for that matter), or if ours implodes about the time theirs develops radio.

(NB: I know that we have not found life on other planets. Yet. I'm merely speculating idly on a Friday afternoon.)
posted by BitterOldPunk at 1:29 PM on June 14, 2002

Can an astrogeek help me understand how much skepticism should be applied to the methodology for discovering these alleged "new planets?" Just curious, since I see a lot of false certainty in bio-science news stories. The description of the technique sure did raise my eyebrows:

"The effect is extraordinarily subtle. Viewed from 33 light-years away...the sun's motion under the influence of Jupiter would amount to the width of a dime viewed from a distance of 1,000 miles."

No room for intrepetive error in that, is there? I dunno, seems there must be plenty of debatable assumptions underlying these searches, not to mention lots of room for debate over whether the signal that's being pulled out of the noise and taken as evidence of a "new planet" is really signal at all. Of course, that won't make the Washington Post. Instead we get tossed-off references like this:

"Along with announcing the 55 Cancri discovery, the researchers also announced the discovery of an additional 14 planets orbiting other stars."

Is there any debate about the technique in serious astro circles?
posted by mediareport at 4:08 PM on June 14, 2002

mediareport - I've seen as many as 5 or 6 differing methods for discovering planets - involving star-wobbles, spectrum analysis, occlusion (basically an incredibly distant eclipse), and a few others. They all are quite open about methodology. If I remember correcty, there were some early 'extrasolar' planets detected a few years ago that were considered dubious discoveries. Lots of people attacked the methods - they found some mistakes, but I think in the end, most agreed that it was a discovery. The calibration on some of the newer large telescopes is insanely precise.
posted by kokogiak at 4:56 PM on June 14, 2002

I like the idea that you want a Jupiter-sized planet in a flat (nearly circular) elliptic orbit before you can hope to grow an Earth. That big-ass gravity well protects the inner planets from incoming space rocks, ice and other lethal splooge. Kubrick is vindicated: life on Earth comes from Jupiter.
posted by crunchburger at 6:00 PM on June 14, 2002

kokogiak is right. The techniques today are generally accepted though they have undergone much scrutiny. Most of the results are due to measurement of doppler shifts to produce velocity profiles over the course of many years. I know the press makes this sounds easy but accumulating the necessary data is tedious, precise work. In the case of many of Marcy and Butlers candidates, they have been taking observation of these same stars for up to ten years.

What doppler shift is measuring is star wobble. The inference is then that this is caused by a nearby heavy object. This method has been used in the past to map out binary star systems where one companion is much brighter than the other (e.g. a brown dwarf system)

There is of course controversy. Some researchers argue that the perceived movement of the star is not a wobble but some sort of pulsation - contraction or expansion of the star itself. There isnt much evidence to support this assertion though. It helps extra-solar planet researchers and their credibility that many of the big names in solar physics - the internal physics of stars - are part of the extra-solar program. This includes Bob Noyes and Sally Baliunas (disclaimer: I once did research for Noyes and admire him very much)

The next step, as kafkaesque suggests, is to start finding earth-like planets. I know of one project from the European Space Agency, Darwin, under way to do exactly this. The objective is to launch and deploy a space-based interferometer which would look for and hopefully provide actual images of earth-like planets!
posted by vacapinta at 10:34 PM on June 14, 2002

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