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Space Science

Dusty Disc May Mean Other Earths 289

Posted by simoniker
from the cosmic-roomba dept.
DoraLives writes "According to the BBC, astronomers say they have evidence for Earth-like planets orbiting a nearby star. The star in question is Vega, which is nice and close (as stars go), quite young (also as stars go), and one of the brightest stars in the sky. Apparently, 'Vega has a disc of dust circling it, and at least one large planet which could sweep debris aside allowing smaller worlds like Earth to exist.' Should be interesting to keep an eye on it as the years roll by as the disk rotates and our optical powers keep growing."
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Dusty Disc May Mean Other Earths

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  • by ChrisTower (122297) on Monday December 01, 2003 @06:28PM (#7603382) Homepage
    If it does have an Earth-type planet, it'll probably be inhabited by a bunch of beings that look like my late father... that's barely worth the trip out there, or an hour and half.
  • Soon... (Score:5, Funny)

    by Kenja (541830) on Monday December 01, 2003 @06:28PM (#7603388)
    Soon we'll be able to use amazingly powerful telescopes to stare out across the light years and see some one on Vegas planets staring back.

    Then the arms race starts.

    • Re:Soon... (Score:4, Insightful)

      by sisukapalli1 (471175) on Monday December 01, 2003 @06:34PM (#7603470)
      There is a high likelihood that one species is at a much more advanced stage than the other. Most likely, we'd be the more advanced ones (primarily due to the age of Sun and earth).

      It would be like the pilgrims landing in the US. Complete colonization one way or other. Not much scope for an arms race...

      S
      • Most likely, we'd be the more advanced ones (primarily due to the age of Sun and earth).

        not necessarily. Any one of a number of different events in earth's past could have slowed us down, and absence of other events could have sped things up - when you're talking about evolution of life - and then once intelligent life evolved, evolution of culture/technology. I'd say it's a toss-up, either way - with the PRIMARY indicator that they're more advanced being: they have not yet come to contact us.
      • Well it can actually be ether way. So yea it took 5 billion years to create "Intelligent" life, on earth, But the speed of evolution (or culture) isn't a constant. Yea there is probably a period of a billion years to evolve past a single cell more or less. So on vega if conditions are right there could be a culture more advanced then us. Or it could just be filled with slime.
        This is the same with cultures the burning of the Library of Alexandria was said to set man kind back a thousands years. So it co
      • "It would be like the pilgrims landing in the US. Complete colonization one way or other."

        Yeah, and in complete violation of the prime directive.

        Damn pilgrims.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday December 01, 2003 @06:29PM (#7603396)
    She's the Expert on going to Vega....
  • So... (Score:5, Funny)

    by Stile 65 (722451) on Monday December 01, 2003 @06:30PM (#7603407) Homepage Journal
    Vegans really ARE aliens from another solar system!

    I'm off to eat some meat.
    • by pavon (30274)
      Well since they made it here before we made it to Vega that would make them a more civilization, no? :)
    • by pavon (30274)
      Well since they made it here before we made it to Vega that would make them a more advanced civilization, no? :)

      PS. sorry about the bad version of this post. I even previewed it, grr.
  • by garyrich (30652) on Monday December 01, 2003 @06:30PM (#7603409) Homepage Journal
    not all that earthlike
  • by the_2nd_coming (444906) on Monday December 01, 2003 @06:31PM (#7603426) Homepage
    Vega is where the message was relayed to earth from in Contact, perhaps rather than just relayed, it will actually be FROM Vega :-)
    • If you remember the book, it pointed out that Vega was a giant star, with a lifetime of only a few million years. If the Vegans are going to avoid getting supernova'ed to death, they'll have to evolve like hell.

      Hear me, Vega? The clock is ticking.
  • by Sheetrock (152993) on Monday December 01, 2003 @06:32PM (#7603439) Homepage Journal
    The more Earth-type planets we find in our tiny observable radius of the Universe, the greater the statistical probability that others exist where we can't see them.

    The likelihood of other meaningful life in the Universe just got better. And I for one welcome the possibility.

    • The likelihood of other meaningful life in the Universe just got better

      I've always considered the likelihood of other meaningful life in the Univers to be a statistical certainty. The problem lies in having that life exist close to us, both in space _and_ time. What's the use in having dozens of close neighbors that all killed themselves off 2000 years ago? Sure, it would give us some interesting ruins to poke around, and archaeology would be cool again, just like in the early 80's. My point is that o
      • I just hope that it's close enough and alive enough for us to talk to it and sell it stuff.

        Or download their pr0n. . .
      • Life is probably very common, but, IMO, most technologically advanced civilizations don't make it past The Great Filter [gmu.edu].

        Those that *do* make it past that mass extinction filter (nuclear? bio? nano?), to Singularity [kurzweilai.net], are probably so far advanced as to be unrecognizable and uninterested in us primitive biological ants.

        It's a pity humans still have all their eggs in one basket; until we've got self-sustaining offworld populations, we're a ticking time bomb.

        --

    • The likelihood of other meaningful life in the Universe just got better. And I for one welcome the possibility.

      I, for one, welcome our new Drake Equation [seti-inst.edu] overlords.

    • The likelyhood of life elsewhere remains the same whether humans will ever be able to observe it or not. The likelihood of finding life is a different thing.
  • Not the first, (Score:3, Interesting)

    by ActionPlant (721843) on Monday December 01, 2003 @06:32PM (#7603442) Homepage
    But this certainly seems to be the most promising.

    I'm still all about developing a means of getting us out there to explore these places.

    Plus, it would certainly be nice to finally find a backup for our planet. You can't tell me there aren't at least a few people out there who have been rather alarmed at all of our recent unexpected solar activity.

    Damon,
    • I think the issue with the recent solar activity is we haven't charted the sun's activities long enough to know if this is abnormal behaviour or just some random burping.

      I definitely agree with you that we need to start developing our long-range space transport systems, we are advanced enough to at least do some deep explorations of our solar system within a hundred years. By that point we'd likely be ready to start sending sub-light speed probes out that can get to nearby stars within a few decades.

      Now t
    • ActionPlant Says:
      "it would certainly be nice to finally find a backup for our planet. You can't tell me there aren't at least a few people out there who have been rather alarmed at all of our recent unexpected solar activity"

      I think the real threat to our planet is ourselves, not our sun.
      Thus, I hope we do not find a backup planet.
      I hope this is it. If we foul our planet to the point it is unlivable, we deserve our fate.
      Another planet would be a convenient way out.

      Not, of course, that I am in any posit

      • I think the real threat to our planet is ourselves, not our sun.

        I think you ment biosphere, not planet ...

        Thus, I hope we do not find a backup planet. I hope this is it.
        If we foul our planet to the point it is unlivable, we deserve our fate.


        First, IMHO this is utterly wrong factually: once a society colonizes
        space, all it'll need is energy and materials. I suggest that actually
        there may be few solar systems which are completely uninhabitable.

        Second, from the pragmatic POV, this sounds to me li
  • Contact (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Necro Spork (260099)
    Will everyone else now belive me that Carl Sagan may know more than he is letting on?
  • by js7a (579872) * <james@b[ ]k.org ['ovi' in gap]> on Monday December 01, 2003 @06:33PM (#7603455) Homepage Journal
    Until we get good stellar-occluding interferometers and coronagraphs, we can't be sure. Once we get those in place, it becomes possible to determine the atmospheric composition (i.e., O2, H2O, N2, etc.)

    Here are Terrestrial Planet Finder links at:

  • Life imitates art (Score:2, Insightful)

    by lildogie (54998)
    Vega was the source of the extraterrestrial signal in Carl Sagan's "Cosmos."
    • Re:Life imitates art (Score:3, Informative)

      by DeadVulcan (182139)

      Vega was the source of the extraterrestrial signal in Carl Sagan's "Cosmos."

      You mean "Contact," surely. And unfortunately, although it was the source of the signal, the system itself contained no life. So I don't think we can draw any parallels here.

    • Not "Cosmos," "Contact," as everyone else on Slashdot has been quick to point out. "Cosmos" was his excellent little science-education show on public television, as well as the book that accompanied it. PBS here in the US still airs it occasionally.
  • Sounds like somebody just got the "Contact" DVD on sale.
  • ... they'd be laughed off the stage.

    Seriously, there's a chance that a big planet might have cleared enough space so as to not preclude the existence of a planet the same size as ours

    CALL THE PRESIDENT! THE ALIENS ARE COMING!!
  • by the time we can see anything appreciable in the system, we'll actually BE there. These changes take place REALLY slowly, and we'll all have evolved into "pure energy" beings by the time anything firmer than a large dust-bunny is in place.
  • by JamesP (688957) on Monday December 01, 2003 @06:40PM (#7603534)
    Apparently everybody is thinking of earth-like planets and stuff. Sorry, but NO.

    1 - Vega is 25 light-years away. That's around the corner and "today" in astronomical terms

    2 - Carl Sagan picked Vega not because of planets, but because there were none, just a bunch of dust... There was a RELAY there, not aliens...

    3 - The news actually said about process that could happen; a balance between a dusty ring and an outer planet...

  • by wowbagger (69688) on Monday December 01, 2003 @06:40PM (#7603538) Homepage Journal
    I am SO depressed that all the /. crowd can come up with are lame Contact references.

    YOU CALL YOURSELVES GEEKS! DROP AND GIVE ME TWENTY!

    Vega, as ALL REAL GEEKS know, was the home of Mother Thing of Robert Heinlein's "Have Space Suit, Will Travel".

    And if they are watching Earth circa 1978, we'd better be damn thankful they don't rotate us 90 degrees just on general principles!
  • This is what I read the title as, and was very confused when this story wasn't the least bit about how a dusty diskman could somehow be the cause of parallel dimensions. Let me tell, I was excited about this research, and now am quite disappointed.
  • Vega (Score:3, Funny)

    by Malicious (567158) on Monday December 01, 2003 @06:44PM (#7603585)
    Now all we need is Jodie Foster to point all of her radio telescopes toward it, and we'll be having corporate sponsored alien space travel devices in no time.
  • by G4from128k (686170) on Monday December 01, 2003 @06:45PM (#7603594)
    The article suggests that Vega is only 350 million years old. Moreover, at about 3 times the mass of the Sun, the lifespan of Vega will only be about 1 billion years. Given that it took about 3.5 billion years for life to get going, it seems unlikely that planets around Vega have (or ever could have) interesting lifeforms, even if an Earth-like planet is present.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      I thought that life started 3.5 billion years before now, not that it took 3.5 billion to instantiate. Am I wrong? (actually, I think it's 3.8 billion)
    • Given that it took about 3.5 billion years for life to get going, it seems unlikely that planets around Vega have (or ever could have) interesting lifeforms,

      Define "interesting" -
      Some scientists are still finding "interesting" the life-like chemical reactions detected by Viking on Mars. "interesting" enough to keep sending more probes.

      As long as there are human beings, there will be people looking under every rock in the universe for something "interesting" - even if it's a guessed-at fossil of a shred
    • I assume you mean *multicellular* life, or possibly *intelligent* life. The Vega system should be just old enough for the first primitive life forms to have emerged
      -This could mean an opportunity to observe the very transition from a "pre-DNA world" (based om RNA or even more primitive genetic substrates) to a "DNA world" -this is itself probably even more interesting than watching the planet-forming process around Vega.
  • by Birger Johansson (416220) on Monday December 01, 2003 @06:45PM (#7603595)
    -Since the Vega system is very young, any terrestrial planets will probably not yet be in a "finished" state, but will still be busy accreting smaller planetesimals- for the Earth, this initial process might have taken 30 million years. Also, any such planets will not have finished differentiating into a core, a mantle and a crust.
    If you send a probe there, it will not be able to find a cool surface on any of the larger planetesimals (growing proto-planets).
    The Vega system is interesting because it provides a snapshot of the early phase of planet formation.
    If you want to make a "Star Trek" style tour of a system, landing on the planets and checking for the presence of life, you need to find a more "mature" system, where the planetary crusts have had time to cool off, and where most of the orbiting debris has alredy been swept up by planets.

    One other interesting point about the Vega system though: It is bound to have an amazing number of large, highly visible comets ! In mature systems, most comets have either been kicked out to the Oort cloud or crashed into a planet.

    Yours Birger Johansson Sweden
    • by mindriot (96208) on Monday December 01, 2003 @07:20PM (#7604010)
      If you send a probe there, it will not be able to find a cool surface on any of the larger planetesimals (growing proto-planets).

      Hm, given that Vega is 2.3935E14 km away and that Voyager I is travelling at 62500 km/h, a probe sent there will be travelling for about 437169 years. So maybe, by the time it gets there the planet will be ready :-)

    • The sun has 5 billion years more to live, so that in theory would allow some time for a planet similar to earth to develop.

      The problem is if humans survive for that long, by current trends in our history I suspect they won't. Probably another type of lifeform would evolve and attempt to reach Vega (i.e. cockroaches).

  • Wow... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by i_am_syco (694486)
    I thought I'd be the first one with a Contact joke. Seems I'm one of the last.
  • by StefanJ (88986) on Monday December 01, 2003 @06:52PM (#7603687) Homepage Journal
    This article is a little misleading.

    By Earthlike I believe they mean terrestrial; a rocky world, as opposed to a gas giant.

    Other known terrestrial worlds include baked-out Mercury, greenhouse-wracked Venus, and dry, cold Mars. Most people would not consider these "Earthlike" in the Star Trek Class M sense of the word.

    That said: Even given the existence of terrestrial planets, Vega isn't a great place to go looking for a habitable, life-bearing world. It's a bright, hot star, which also means that it is a short-lived star. In a few hundred million years, when its potential planets begin to cool to the point where water would condense, Vega would be getting ready to wander off the main sequence and get way unpleasant to be near.

    Another strike against life developing on Vega worlds: a greater percentage of its energy output would be in "bluer" wavelengths, including UV. Once it got started, life might adapt to UV, but to get started in the first place it needs some stability. I can see a influx of UV ripping apart delicate chemical chains in Vega Prime's oceans, greatly reducing the chance that life would get a foothold.

    All this said, this is hopeful news, because the existence of one planet-forming debris field means there are probably others . . . some around more genial F and G and K class stars.

    Stefan

    • Sloppy definition of "Earthlike"

      You can't expect all planets roughly 10000 miles in diameter to be just like Earth. Hopefully the Vegans have much better television.

  • by Suppafly (179830) <slashdot@NoSpaM.suppafly.net> on Monday December 01, 2003 @06:57PM (#7603744)
    Earth is a proper noun, no amount of dust is going to result in other earth's. Maybe earth-like or m-class or whatever you want to call them, but other earth's doesn't make sense in the same way other solar systems doesn't make sense.
    • Earth is a proper noun, no amount of dust is going to result in other earth's. Maybe earth-like or m-class or whatever you want to call them, but other earth's doesn't make sense in the same way other solar systems doesn't make sense.

      I agree regarding Earth, unless you're referring to the generic "earth", meaning dirt. But saying other solar systems does make sense. Sol is the proper name of our solar system, just as Alpha Centauri is the proper name for that particular solar system.
      • Sol is the proper name of our solar system, just as Alpha Centauri is the proper name for that particular solar system.


        No, Sol is the name of our sun. The system of our sun is the Solar System.
    • other earth's doesn't make sense in the same way other solar systems doesn't make sense

      Doesn't make sense in the same way we descrive the "moons of Jupiter"?

      Language changes when our perspective changes.

      And oh yeah, there's no need for an apostrophe when you pluralize words. Earths :)
  • ... more information regarding the Vegan Orbital Fort discovered in the dusty disk, including a panel discussion on whether it is heading our way, and what we're going to do if it is.

  • Should be interesting to keep an eye on it as the years roll by

    Yes, because the 1st billion years (or so, give or take a couple hundred million) of Earth's existance were oh so exciting. And don't even get me started about the 2nd billion! Wow!
    And the third billion... oh, my, god!

    As the years roll by? What is that supposed to mean? That maybe, we might be lucky enough to see a planet form over the next 100 million generations or so? Wooppee!

    I'll be excited when someone turns that slideshow into an animated GIF, ok?
  • I must be getting dyslectic, after having read about the Swedish Student Party solving the 16th Hilbert Problem, now I was reading

    "Dusty Disc Man Means Other Earths".

    And I'm thinking, "How can they tell all that from a DiscMan? Way to go Sony!"
  • The study also mentioned that they processed the radiotelescope signal to extract the audio component. Click here to listen to the extracted audible spectrum. [funwavs.com]
  • There's got to to be lots more where this came from. This particular sample was a lucky find, being a mere 25 light-years away. Could this lead to predicting similar (or better) environments beyond such easy eyeshot?

  • This article jumps straight to the rosy suggestion that just because a planet is small and dense (ie: non-gaseous) that it is "Earthlike".

    This is extremely poor journalism.

    It would be like saying, "Human-like life found at the bottom of the sea!", when what you found in fact was a carbon-based multi-cellular organism.

    Don't believe the hype.

  • no text, just sig
  • by fiannaFailMan (702447) on Monday December 01, 2003 @08:00PM (#7604424) Journal
    Don't they mean a 'Class M' planet?
  • who knows (Score:2, Funny)

    by ShadowRage (678728)
    with these new planets forming, one day (assuming we're still alive and havent killed each other off like morons) we'll be receiving radio signals asking if they're alone or not in the universe.. :P
  • Space settlement [slashdot.org] is the major activity of immediate practical importance.
  • by reallocate (142797) on Monday December 01, 2003 @08:19PM (#7604602)
    This is an all-too-common example of sloppy BBC reporting. Evidence of Earth-like planets at Vega has not been found. What's been found is a dust disk that conforms to theories that very large planets ormed early in a system's development will migrate to larger orbits, dragging a lot of debris that would otherwise crash on small planets and inhibit life there. (Still a lot of rocks left over to crash and burn, though. Take a look at all those craters on the Moon. Earth would look the same, if not for erosion.)

    Good news, though, but not as good as imaging a small planet and getting positive results for water, oxygen and methane.
  • I was just moving some furniture around, and I found some dusty discs that could only reasonably have come from an Earth-like planet. So I would support this new "dusty disc implies Earth-like planet" idea. I wonder if they would like hi-res photos of the discs I located?
  • Dusty, eh? Guess those other Earth haven't yet invented this [homemadesimple.com].

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