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Space Science

Microlensing Uncovers Earth-Like Planet 263

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the bring-your-mittens dept.
smooth wombat writes "Using a new technique called gravitational microlensing, a team of astronomers have discovered the smallest Earth-like planet circling a star 20,000 light years away in the constellation Sagittarius. Unfortunately the planet takes ten years to circle the red dwarf and has a surface temperature estimated at -220 C which means it's just a larger version of Pluto so the chance of finding life on this planet is essentially zero."
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Microlensing Uncovers Earth-Like Planet

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  • Wait... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by scolby (838499) on Wednesday January 25, 2006 @04:21PM (#14561945) Journal
    Unfortunately the planet takes ten years to circle the red dwarf and has a surface temperature estimated at -220 C which means it's just a larger version of Pluto so the chance of finding life on this planet is essentially zero.
    So it's earth-like how?
    • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 25, 2006 @04:26PM (#14561995)
      Unlike all the gas-giant, Jupiter-like planets we've seen so far. It's very difficult to spot tiny, Earth-sized objects from so far away. We may not find this new planet very hospitable but it's still an important discovery.
      • by Rei (128717) on Wednesday January 25, 2006 @06:17PM (#14562992) Homepage
        I don't see how it would necessarily be incredibly hostile. First off, they don't even have albedo figures for this planet, let alone information on how much greenhouse effect the planet has. Secondly, if this actually is a solid planet that is this massive, it should have ample internal radiological heating, so rough calculations from solar input adjusted by albedo aren't really accurate. Even if the surface is frozen, it should have warm subsurface layers. Ne?
    • Re:Wait... (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Alotau (714890) on Wednesday January 25, 2006 @04:28PM (#14562020)
      From the article:
      "This is the most Earth-like planet we have discovered to date, in terms of its mass and the distance from its parent star," he told BBC News. "Most of the other planets that have been discovered are either much more massive, much hotter or both."

      He is an astronomer, so when saying it was Earth-like he was, of course, speaking relatively.
    • by grahamsz (150076) on Wednesday January 25, 2006 @04:30PM (#14562045) Homepage Journal
      it must be "mostly harmless"
    • ...Proxima Centauri is our neighbour and humans only recently diverged from the other apes. Earth-like is really just a literal translation of the Latin elements of the technically correct word which is "terrestrial".
    • Re:Wait... (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Randolpho (628485)
      It's "earth-like" in that it's "rocky", rather than a gas giant.

      Mercury, Venus, Mars, and Pluto are all "earth-like" planets.

      Well... Pluto is more like a large comet. ;)
    • Re:Wait... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by mrsev (664367) <mrsev.spymac@com> on Wednesday January 25, 2006 @04:47PM (#14562242)
      "at -220 C .......so the chance of finding life on this planet is essentially zero."

      I get fed up with people saying this. Our data set for planets that can support life is 1. We have no idea what "other" lifeforms can survive. Pretty much everywhere we look on earth we find life.

      We find it at +120C at several thousand atmospheres of pressure next to thermal vents.

      We find it at -40 C under meters of ice.

      We find it living in our stomachs at a pH of less than 2.0.

      We find it making a living from cleaning the insides of a sharks mouth.

      I am sure that if you go into the charred remains of Reactor core number 4 chernobyl you will find plenty of life.

      All you need for life is some form of energy that can be harnessed and some raw materials to use. There is no justification for saying that we should look for life at 300 kelvin and 1 atmoshphere pressure and 20% oxygen. For the report on a "scientific" article it is just lame speculation dressed as informed fact.
      • Re:Wait... (Score:2, Funny)

        by errxn (108621)
        We find it making a living from cleaning the insides of a sharks mouth.

        Wait a sec, what does this topic have to do with The Apprentice?
      • Re:Wait... (Score:5, Insightful)

        by birge (866103) on Wednesday January 25, 2006 @06:07PM (#14562914) Homepage
        well, you generally don't find complex life at temperatures where water and most (all?) hydrocarbons freeze, do you? i'm sorry you're 'fed up' with this kind of rampant speculation, but given that life anywhere will still have to obey the same physics, it's unlikely we'll find complex life at temperatures where little chemical activity takes place, and where pretty much everything is solid.
        • Re:Wait... (Score:5, Insightful)

          by mrsev (664367) <mrsev.spymac@com> on Wednesday January 25, 2006 @07:17PM (#14563407)
          OK Ill bite:

          >>well, you generally don't find complex life at temperatures where water and most (all?) hydrocarbons freeze,

          Life on earth evolved to use complex hydrocarbons because they "work" well at the temperatures we experiance. Remember that we live at around 300 kelvin. Some things on earth live at 200 kelvin some at close to 450 kelvin. This is quite a wide range. Where hydrocarbons dont work something else will.

          >>do you? i'm sorry you're 'fed up' with this kind of rampant speculation, but given that life anywhere will still have to obey the same physics,

          I think that you underestimate "life" we have plants that eat "light". We live on a planet with an 20% oxygen atmosphere. This was put there by those plants.

          We have bacteria that use sulfur instread of iron. We have creature that change color at will. We have creatures that emmit light. We have creatures that live in the middle of the sahara desert.

          -220 C may be cold for us but what you need for life is a energy differential. Our fish swim in water, birds fly in the air. On another planet they may swim and fly in molten lead or liquid sulfuric gas, somewhere else they may swim in methane.

          On earth some creature survive on caffine solution and hot dogs! There is no reason to assume that alien life should be anything like our own.

          Let me put it this way if you told a 19th century biologist that on earth there were creatures who live at 400 Bar of pressure at +130C in extreme saline conditions they would say it was impossible, that life could not exist under these conditions.

          It is silly to make a prediction of probabilities with a data set of a single sample.(In this case life on earth)We have not even looked properly for life on any of the other planets in our solar system.

          • Re:Wait... (Score:3, Insightful)

            by birge (866103)
            i understand the apparent fallacy of basing one's idea of life on one planet. but that doesn't change the fact that physics is the same on any planet, and it is not just luck of the draw that we're carbon-based. it's more about the valence structure of carbon, and less about the temperatures we happened to find our proto-selves in. besides the complexity allowed by carbon systems (and i don't think there are too many alternatives, except maybe silicon) there is also the fact that certain elements are in abu
            • Re:Wait... (Score:3, Informative)

              by tigersha (151319)
              The carbon-Silicon which are the only atoms allowing complex molecules is one aspect. Another is the fact that life seems to require a small liquid solvent molecule (Water on earth). Ammonia has been mooted as an alternative. That tends to limit the ranges quite a bit since there are just not that many of those.

              There is another issue here. Life on earth seems to be foudn everywhere we look, but it is becoming clearer and clearer from genetic studies that all the forms have a common ancestor. Life on Earth c
          • Re:Wait... (Score:3, Insightful)

            by DerekLyons (302214)

            Let me put it this way if you told a 19th century biologist that on earth there were creatures who live at 400 Bar of pressure at +130C in extreme saline conditions they would say it was impossible, that life could not exist under these conditions.

            Of course he would - because he had no idea of what those conditions were like. On the other hand, we know what the conditions are like at -220C.

            It is silly to make a prediction of probabilities with a data set of a single sample.(In this case life on earth)We

            • Science is not law (Score:3, Interesting)

              by Steeltoe (98226)
              Handwave all you want, but the laws of physics and chemistry say that life is not possible in liquid lead or liquid methane.

              There is really no evidence either for- or against it. The objective standpoint is that we just don't know. It may be scary to have nothing to hold on to, but we should grow more comfortable with it since it will benefit us in the longer run. The wise man knows he don't know.

              There are indications that with our present knowledge, we can't model life to fit those conditions, but we also
      • Re:Wait... (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Nazmun (590998) on Wednesday January 25, 2006 @06:32PM (#14563118) Homepage
        I'd agree with you on needing so called perfectly earthlike conditions for life but... -220c is cutting it...

        It's so close to absolute zero that most chemical reactions dont' happen there. The chance of life forming is probably next to nothing.
    • Re:Wait... (Score:3, Insightful)

      Arrgh- Who says the chance of finding life isn't very good? How would we even know what we are looking for as far as intelligent life? The only "intelligent" life that any of us know is on Earth... and we assume that intelligent life will look like us to some degree. Perhaps our imaginations aren't big enough to even have any idea as to what exists out there, and perhaps we are missing tons of it. Who is to say that there isn't intelligent life in the form of a vapor, or a thinking rock somewhere in the uni
      • Re:Wait... (Score:5, Informative)

        by DerekLyons (302214) <(fairwater) (at) (gmail.com)> on Wednesday January 25, 2006 @05:14PM (#14562510) Homepage
        Who is to say that there isn't intelligent life in the form of a vapor, or a thinking rock somewhere in the universe? [...] I hate to use a middle manager term, but what we need is a paradigm shift. To assume intelligent life would warm blooded and bipedal may be a mistake. Who knows what forms are out there?
        Nobody is assuming that intelligent life would be warmblooded and bipedal. In fact, nobody said anything about intelligent life in the first place, just that there was little likelihood of this planet harboring life.

        That being said, life depends on a certain level of chemical activity (I.E no thinking rocks) and a large degree of predictable organization (I.E. no intelligent vapor). Anything else requires repealing the laws of physics and chemistry as they currently understood. (The former is possible on the cosmic and subatomic scale, I.E. outside the realms of life. The latter is unlikely in the extreme.)

    • Earth-like is a really really stupid term. It means something that's in the same vague ballpark of size and such. It's kind of like "high temperature superconductors" which only have to be cooled with liquid nitrogen... they don't have to be brought near absolute zero to superconduct :P
    • It's not a gas giant.
    • Well, it's more like earth than the super-gas-giants we normaly find!
    • Re:Wait... (Score:4, Funny)

      by vsprintf (579676) on Wednesday January 25, 2006 @08:41PM (#14564014)

      So it's earth-like how?

      Well, it sounds a lot like North Dakota, so the question becomes, can I get broadband access, and will my company pay for relocation expenses? :)

  • Oh, Rebecca... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by TripMaster Monkey (862126) * on Wednesday January 25, 2006 @04:22PM (#14561957)

    Sorry to carp, but it's stuff like this, especially in 'science' articles, that drives me to distraction.

    From TFA (boldface mine):
    Predicted surface temperatures are minus 220 degrees Celcius (-364F), meaning that its surface is likely to be layer of frozen liquid.
    Umm...wouldn't that be the textbook definition of solid ? In the absence of any information as to the composition of the 'frozen liquid, the term 'frozen liquid' could apply equally well to any terrestrial planet.
    • by garcia (6573)
      Umm...wouldn't that be the textbook definition of solid ? In the absence of any information as to the composition of the 'frozen liquid, the term 'frozen liquid' could apply equally well to any terrestrial planet.

      It's obvious that they were suffering from a severe case of brain freeze from eating too many Slushies. Mmmm, red.
    • Re:Oh, Rebecca... (Score:3, Interesting)

      by k4_pacific (736911)
      No, not all solids are frozen liquids because not all solids can be melted. Sugar, for example, doesn't melt, buit decomposes into water and carbon when heated, so it can't be a frozen liquid.
      • Perhaps you're thinking of the boiling point of sugar? As another poster pointed out, melting sugar is an important part of candy making.
      • by Jim_Callahan (831353) on Wednesday January 25, 2006 @04:58PM (#14562359)
        Uh, melting point varies with pressure and a couple other factors that depend on your PVT model. You can melt pretty much any material if you set the conditions correctly, regardless of wether the decomposition temperature is below the MP at 1 atm or not. The liquid phase may not be very accessible, but it's always there.
         
        Also, you need a better example, since Sucrose (the molecule people mean when they say 'sugar' without a qualifier) has a MP of 191 degrees centigrade at 1 atm, i.e. it has a viable liquid phase pre-decomposition. Perhaps you're thinking of Glucose or Ribose?
         
        You could make an argument that 'frozen liquid' would refer to an amorphous (non-crystalline/glassy) structured solid only, as these result from a skipping of the phase formation bit of solidification to just lock the structure of the liquid into solid form. However, I think it's more likely that the writers of the article just skipped the materials phase of their education, locking the structure of their brains into a void-filled physics-oriented glass. Or they just, you know, made the intellectual equivalent of a typo. Whichever.
        • ...it's really a sad day for America when we require a goddamn ACT OF CONGRESS to make our DVD players work properly. ~

                The worst part is that the act of congress it to make them NOT work properly...
      • Somewhere in the Milky Way? Boom boom!

         
      • "Sugar, for example, doesn't melt, buit decomposes into water and carbon when heated, so it can't be a frozen liquid."

        I have candy says otherwise.

        Sure, sucrose eventually decomposes into carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen. But then so does pretty much every other organic compound, given sufficient heat.
      • Though not all solids are frozen liquids, all frozen liquids are solids. Hence, the grandparent was correct.
      • Sugar, for example

        Bad example. You've obviously never visited a candy factory. A better example would be Iodine, or CO2, both of which undergo sublimation instead of entering a liquid state. There's a catch - this happens under standard conditions. Anything can be made liquid if you dick around enough with the pressure and temperature - you get liquids with pretty interesting properties.

        Just because a few things don't exist in a liquid state at STP doesn't mean that solid is a bad choi
    • I think it was meant to specify a solid that under "ordinary" earth circumstances would be a liquid. If you were talking about a planet covered in water-ice, it seems more relevant to say it is a frozen liquid, rather than just a normal, solid planet. Same with the moon of Titan. It is mostly covered by solids, but expanding that to frozen liquid methane is much more interesting. Doesn't that make more sense?

      -Jesse
      • Re:Oh, Rebecca... (Score:2, Insightful)

        by k4_pacific (736911)
        How, geo-centric of you. I would think that, on this planet, water is normally in a solid state. Actually, given that most of the visible universe is stars, one could argue that the normal state of matter is fusioning plasma and that anything else is non-fusioning frozen/liquid/gaseous plasmas.
        • Yes, it is geo-centric, because I live here! Why would I think of it in a non geo-centric way? That does me no good at all. Thinking of it based on being a Human means "Hmm, this is frozen liquid, if it were water, I might melt some, and have a drink if I happened to land a colony there in the future" rather than the non-geo centric view of "It's just another boring solid planet". If I were thinking about earth from a molten-lava-people centric view, I might say it's a frozen liquid planet, because that's w

          • ..."Hmm, this is frozen liquid, if it were water, I might melt some, and have a drink...

            This shows you've missed my point entirely. While the surface of this recently discovered planet may in fact be composed partially of water ice, there is most probably a significant collection of other solids such as nitrogen, oxygen, and methane (to name a few). Calling such a surface 'frozen liquid' is wore than useless, because accouding to your 'geoentric' view, the term 'frozen liquid' evokes images of water ice,
            • I haven't missed your point, that I know of. I only used water-ice as an example. I meant as a generalization that calling something frozen-liquid indicates that as something useful to humans, it's generally a liquid. If it were frozen methane, we might use it as a refuelling station for example. I would imagine that's the primary reason for searching for other Earth-like planets, is to either move there someday or look for life similar to our own.

              -Jesse
        • How, geo-centric of you.

          Well excuuuuse us for not living in space! :p
      • Re:Oh, Rebecca... (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Procyon101 (61366) on Wednesday January 25, 2006 @08:35PM (#14563971) Journal
        If you've ever been to a place where liquid water doesn't exist [livejournal.com] as I have, you very quickly take on a different viewpoint. Water is normally, even on this planet, often a sand or a gravel, undifferenciated from any other mineral at a cursory glance. "Frozen liquid" in reference to water stops having meaning at about -30C because it simply doesn't exist naturally in that state. You start thinking of gasoline and oils as "frozen" or "thawed" instead. Titan gave us a glimpse of an strangely familiar world where water was the predominant mineral and methane was the liquid that rained down and formed oceans.
    • Umm...wouldn't that be the textbook definition of solid ?

      Indeed.

      You can tell there astrohackery (just made that up!) about when every relatively insignificant find has the word "life" printed every other sentence.

      The "Search for Extra-Terrestrial Life" could be more aptly characterized as "Groveling for Funding."

  • by nharmon (97591) on Wednesday January 25, 2006 @04:22PM (#14561959) Homepage
    Cold...inhospitable...sounds like Earth to me.
  • by slashrogue (775436) on Wednesday January 25, 2006 @04:23PM (#14561972)
    The more novel thing (to me) would be discovering the ruins of ancient (chronologically speaking) civilization on a planet like that.
    • Of course that would be more interesting, but we can't even see any planets directly at this point let alone Earth-sized planets. And to detect a dead civilization you'd need to see very detailed surface features (assuming they didn't leave a beacon or something), and we can't even see the lunar lander with Hubble on our own moon.
    • by GungaDan (195739) on Wednesday January 25, 2006 @04:57PM (#14562354) Homepage
      Is there a non-chronological context for the word "ancient?"

    • by bigpat (158134) on Wednesday January 25, 2006 @05:11PM (#14562483)
      The more novel thing (to me) would be discovering the ruins of ancient (chronologically speaking) civilization on a planet like that.

      And even more interesting than that would be to discover that the planet was still inhabited, by beautiful amazonian women, and that they had sent a space ship to come get me.

      Short of that, however, I'll take it as very exciting that it might be possible to use this same technique to discover more earth sized planets around other stars in the near future. So that we can use the information to target those solar system for further observation. Then maybe we can start talking about finding another civilization and planets full of sexy alien women and such.

  • Earthlike? (Score:3, Funny)

    by tradiuz (926664) on Wednesday January 25, 2006 @04:24PM (#14561974)
    So its earthlike in the fact that it is a planet, earth sized, and orbitting a sun? Thats like saying I'm hung like Ron Jeremy, in the fact that we both have a penis and are ugly as sin.
    • Actually, it's 5.5 times the size of earth, so not exactly earth size. In galactic terms, yes, in terms of habitability I'm guessing no.
  • I tend to think the chances of us finding life on anything 20,000 life years away is essentially zero.
  • Too bad (Score:5, Funny)

    by NitsujTPU (19263) on Wednesday January 25, 2006 @04:26PM (#14561993)
    Unfortunately the planet takes ten years to circle the red dwarf and has a surface temperature estimated at -220 C which means it's just a larger version of Pluto so the chance of finding life on this planet is essentially zero.

    It's especially unfortunate given the ease of a mission requiring us to travel 20,000 light years from Earth, then survive 57.3 Kelvin temperatutes.
  • Quote from TFA: (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Enigma_Man (756516) on Wednesday January 25, 2006 @04:28PM (#14562019) Homepage

    Quote:

    "How can we prove there is life on a distant planet when we have problems seeing if there is life on Mars?"

    So, by all means, let's just stop looking then. That's the easy solution. Seriously though, I hate when people think like this. Maybe by looking out into deep space, we'll discover some new method for easily detecting life which we can then apply to Mars. That is unlikely, but still, science is about exploring, not just throwing down the hat at something silly like a problem that we can't quite answer yet.

    Whomever said that hopefully isn't a scientist and/or working on this project.

    -Jesse

    • Dr. Foo: "To prove there is life on a far-off planet would be difficult," Dr Dominik told the BBC News website. "How can we prove there is life on a distant planet when we have problems seeing if there is life on Mars?"

      Mr. Bar: Whomever said that hopefully isn't a scientist and/or working on this project.

      Indeed. Unfortunately: "Dr Martin Dominik from the University of St Andrews is a co-leader of the PLANET collaboration, one of the microlensing networks used to detect the new planet." Crap.

      Frankly, if si
    • Re:Quote from TFA: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by barawn (25691)
      Seriously though, I hate when people think like this. Maybe by looking out into deep space, we'll discover some new method for easily detecting life which we can then apply to Mars.

      The other problem with that quote is that searching for life on Mars is difficult because Mars is very, very close to dead. Mars isn't teeming with surface life. That's pretty much a total given. It might have life clinging in a few underwater reservoirs, but it's not like Earth.

      If someone was able to see Earth from a distant sta
    • So, by all means, let's just stop looking then. That's the easy solution. Seriously though, I hate when people think like this.

      Some people need an explaination of positive proof vs negative proof, and your quote was part of a rhetoric about that. Let's say we've had a really big thermonuclear war, and I came out of the bomb shelter and went out looking to see "are there any other humans alive?". If I met some people down the street, that would be positive proof. But if I didn't? If the streets werwe empty,
    • Couldn't agree with you more. One of my favourite quotes (Robert F. Kennedy I think) is:

      Some men see things they way they are and say, "Why?"
      I dream things that never were and say, "Why not?"

      The universe would fast become a dull place if we all gave up and decided it wasn't worth looking at it anymore.
  • by undeadly (941339) on Wednesday January 25, 2006 @04:31PM (#14562063)
    "Unfortunately the planet takes ten years to circle the red dwarf and has a surface temperature estimated at -220 C which means it's just a larger version of Pluto so the chance of finding life on this planet is essentially zero."

    Come on, read a few posts on Slashdot on Intelligent Design and you will know that there is no chance involved here. Absense or precense of life is by design and only those not graced by Kansas education falsly believes otherwise.

    • I'd say that the chance of *finding* life on this planet is essentially zero, anyway, simply because it's essentially zero for just about any planet we find - how are you going to take a close enough look to determine whether there's life at a rock that's so far away that it's almost impossible to even register that it's there at all?

      The chance of life *existing*, of course, is another matter...
  • Don't insult us! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by 32bitwonder (684603) on Wednesday January 25, 2006 @04:43PM (#14562188) Homepage
    This style of reporting is beyond annoying. I'd much rather have this story presented like it is "Using the microlensing technique first predicted by Albert Einstein in 1912, a team of astronomers have discovered a rocky planet about 5 times the mass of the earth some 25,000 light years away. It orbits a red dwarf....." Personally I was more intriqued by Albert Einsteins' involvement than the idiotic claims of the planet being "Earth-like" but.....not.
  • It's sad to see that BBC is now following suit of PMSNBC and CNN in creating fluffy, repetetetive, 'sound-byte' laden articles like this one. You could probably sum this all up in one paragraph, about like the blurb on the top of the page here is.

    Bummer.
  • by Oink (33510) on Wednesday January 25, 2006 @04:44PM (#14562206)
    Since I am related to the guy interviewed for the ESO Press Release I feel obliged to link to it.

    http://www.eso.org/outreach/press-rel/pr-2006/pr-0 3-06.html [eso.org]

    I have not read the BBC article. But this is the official PR document. It's nice having relatives in the field. I had this news days ago. :)
  • by Ancient_Hacker (751168) on Wednesday January 25, 2006 @04:46PM (#14562222)
    >the chance of finding life on this planet is essentially zero.

    Well, if you mean life, as in Jessica Alba, you're correct.

    But that's a tad provincial, limited, humdrum, some might say. We know very little about chemistry at 50 degrees Kelvin. Maybe there are some chemical reactions that don't go at all at our room temperature, but run just fine at 50K.

    Might be a tad slow, but who says life has to run at our speed?

    • Might be a tad slow, but who says life has to run at our speed?

      The news reporters who have had up to 2 semesters of science in their formal education.
      Have a little survey amongst your non-computer friends, and ask them if Moon has gravity...
  • by aquatone282 (905179) on Wednesday January 25, 2006 @04:52PM (#14562287)

    " . . .has a surface temperature estimated at -220 C which means . . . the chance of finding life on this planet is essentially zero."

    Obviously these researchers have never met my ex-wife.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 25, 2006 @04:54PM (#14562310)
    "surface temperature estimated at -220 C ... so the chance of finding life on this planet is essentially zero"

    I am sure the little green men on that planet are saying the same thing about our 32 C planet. "There is no way anything could live on a planet above -100 C."
  • by Bob3141592 (225638) on Wednesday January 25, 2006 @05:04PM (#14562421) Homepage
    I can't believe most everyone here is up in arms because the term "earthlike" was used. That basically refers to mass, and is technically correct in it's field. Remember, astronomers refer to anything above helium as "metals." But it leads so many to say "Nothing to see here, there's no giant trees or sea monsters on that planet." How jaded do you have to be to have ridiculous expectations like that?

    That astronomers can detect that planet at all is a phenomenal acheivement. Before this, the only extrasolar planets that could be detected had large masses in close orbits, a rather extreme situation. But here's something quite outside that class. So its parameters aren't inside the "habitable zone." It's the first discovery of its kind. The attitude I'm seeing here is like someone claiming poker is no fun because they haven't been dealt a royal flush on their first hand. It's the process, more than this particular result, that should inspire amazement.

    And it was seen at 20,000 light years away. That really, really far, a galactic distance! That means there are a lot of stars potentially obnservable using this technique. Even if the alignment is relatively rare, with billions of stars to try, perhaps sooner or later one or two will prove themselves to be more interesting to this unreasonably demanding crowd. But then I'm sure the discovery will be discounted if the alien civilization hasn't developed Linux.
    • That astronomers can detect that planet at all is a phenomenal acheivement.

            In a press release later that afternoon the astronomers admitted that the new earth-like planet was in fact a speck of dust on their telescope...
    • Nobody's bothered by the actual facts of what's going on here, it's just kind of annoying that the headline that was used is not only basically untrue, it also ignores what's really happening. Like you explained, this is a darn cool step in planetary discovery, it's just that past evidence has proved that 90% of the people who glance at that headline are going to walk away with the wrong idea about what was discovered. Why would you exaggerate what happened, especially on a site like /. where so many of the
  • essentially zero (Score:3, Insightful)

    by LesPaul75 (571752) on Wednesday January 25, 2006 @05:04PM (#14562422) Journal
    ... so the chance of finding life on this planet is essentially zero.
    This statement is essentially nonsense. It is equivalent to me saying, "The chances of my friend Joe flooglebarging a flarglefilk are essentially zero." It's something that no one has ever done before, something that no one has any idea how to do, and something that no one has any statistical data on whatsoever. As far as we know, every single planet in existence could be completely saturated with living creatures, or ours could be the only one in the entire universe.
    • It is equivalent to me saying, "The chances of my friend Joe flooglebarging a flarglefilk are essentially zero."

            Next time check your spelling, it's "floogelbarging" not "flooglebarging". Sigh.

            (The spelling Nazis strike again!)
  • Astronomers suggest name for this new planet of frozen liquid surface: Hoth.

    The etymology of the name was not entirely clear at press time.
  • Yes, Earth-like (Score:3, Insightful)

    by AragornSonOfArathorn (454526) on Wednesday January 25, 2006 @05:30PM (#14562637)
    Despite all these posts from people bitching about how this planet isn't exactly the same as our own, it's the closed we've found so far, and is much more Earth-like than the rest. It is not a huge, hot gas giant like most of the other extrasolar planets discovered. It has a solid rocky surface, and is relatively small.

    If they can detect planets like this now (especially at 25,000 light years! wow), it is only a matter of time before a planet that is truly Earth-like is discovered.
  • by tbcpp (797625) on Wednesday January 25, 2006 @05:32PM (#14562653)
    Anyone should know that each planet takes only one year to orbit it's star. It may take more or less earth years. But that's beside the point.
  • It takes ten years for the planet to orbit its parent star, a common-or-garden red dwarf that lies about 28,000 [nature.com] light years from Earth, close to the centre of our Galaxy. P.S. I submitted this news today at 4 a.m. : 2006-01-25 04:10:30 Discovery of the smallest yet Earth-like planet (Science,Space) (rejected)
  • Captain (Score:2, Funny)

    by ch-chuck (9622)
    sensors indicate a Class-M planet, with breathable air and humanoid lifeforms that speak English, having some kind of problem that can be solved in the next 45 minutes.

  • In Other News... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Absolut187 (816431) on Wednesday January 25, 2006 @05:48PM (#14562766) Homepage
    The Glomeks, whose metabolism depends on collecting quarks from cosmic rays, have observed a tiny rocky planet in the outer arm of the "Milky Way" galaxy, which appears somewhat similar to their own.
    However, they have noticed that this planet is surrounded by a thick gaseous vapor, which would block out nearly all of the nourishing radiation.
    And therefore, the Glomeks have concluded:

    "... so the chance of finding life on this planet is essentially zero." **

    Footnotes:
    ** The Glomeks are prone to appeals to ignorance.

  • by Michael Woodhams (112247) on Wednesday January 25, 2006 @05:55PM (#14562817) Journal
    Back in about 1995, I was in Auckland finishing up my Princeton PhD, and travelled to the MOA telescope (a pre-existing .6m telescope) when they were setting up their new camera. I installed Linux on about 3 desktop computers in the dome. They had a rack-mounted Sun machine controlling the camera, and there was a pre-existing DOS computer which controlled telescope pointing.

    A few points of interest/weirdnessess
    MOA is a collaboration with Japanese, so all the Linux installs included Japanese language support, including Japanese xterm windows.

    Communication between the Linux boxen and the DOS box was purely by creating/deleting files on a shared drive. E.g. the Linux box would put a file on the drive saying where to point, and then would busy-wait looking at the file until it disappeared, at which point it knew the telescope was now tracking the required location.

    The camera would do 30 second exposures. The Sun box ran a little script to do an exposure, which would send commands to open the shutter, wait, close the shutter, and read the data. The exposure timing was done with a "sleep 30" command! I was *not* happy with that, but didn't convince people to change it.

    Since then, they have built their own new 1.8m telescope, and likely replaced the camera, so the above information is out of date. I haven't had any involvement in the project other than that one trip.

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