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Space Science

Ocean Planets on the Brink of Detection 159

Posted by Zonk
from the look-for-mon-cal-first dept.
ZonkerWilliam writes "It seems, at least theoretically, that there may be 'ocean planets' out there in the galaxy. If there are, we are closer than ever to detecting them. The formation of such planets is fairly likely, reports the PhysOrg article, despite the lack of an obvious example in our own solar system. We may have a former ocean planetoid in the neighborhood, orbiting the planet Jupiter: the moon Europa. These water worlds are the result of system formation castoffs, gas giant wannabes that never grew large enough. If any of these intriguing object exist nearby, the recently launched CoRoT satellite will be the device we use to see it. The article explains some of the science behind 'ocean worlds', as well as the new technology we'll use to find them."
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Ocean Planets on the Brink of Detection

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  • by Ice Wewe (936718) on Friday February 02, 2007 @04:32PM (#17865468)
    And on these ocean planets we shall find cloners. And when we find these cloners, we shall find the clone army. Long live the Jedi!
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by HTH NE1 (675604)
      "If there is water, that means there is oxygen. If oxygen, that means we can breathe." -- Dan Quayle
      • by AKAImBatman (238306) * <.akaimbatman. .at. .gmail.com.> on Friday February 02, 2007 @04:48PM (#17865782) Homepage Journal
        You really have to feel sorry for poor Quayle. He was (*is*) actually an intelligent fellow. He just can't speak in public to save his life.

        In this particular speech, he meant to say that where there's water, there's oxygen to be extracted. In this, he's quite correct. It would take a significant amount of energy, but it's perfectly feasible to extract breathable oxygen from water on Mars.

        It's just the way he put it that's outright hilareous. :)
        • by Thuktun (221615) on Friday February 02, 2007 @05:45PM (#17866692) Homepage Journal

          You really have to feel sorry for poor Quayle. He was (*is*) actually an intelligent fellow.
          MOUSEBENDER: It's not much of a cheese shop, is it?
          WENSLEYDALE: Finest in the district, sir.
          MOUSEBENDER: Explain the logic underlying that conclusion, please.
          WENSLEYDALE: Well, it's so clean, sir.
          MOUSEBENDER: It's certainly uncontaminated by cheese.
        • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

          by tyme (6621)
          AKAImBatman [slashdot.org] wrote:
          you really have to feel sorry for poor Quayle. He was (*is*) actually an intelligent fellow.
          I suppose that depends on the what the definition of "is" is.
        • Full qoute: "Mars is essentially in the same orbit... Mars is somewhat the same distance from the Sun, which is very important. We have seen pictures where there are canals, we believe, and water. If there is water, that means there is oxygen. If oxygen, that means we can breathe."

          In this particular speech, he meant to say that where there's water, there's oxygen to be extracted.

          Really? The part about canals strongly indicates he had no clue what he was talking about. He linked the water to canals, and
    • by Nesetril (969734)
      No we shall poison the Ancestor shark for some dark side points.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      or we may find Kevin Costner on a raft. I'm not sure which one is scarier.
  • by flynt (248848) on Friday February 02, 2007 @04:34PM (#17865506)
    It seems, at least theoretically, that there may be 'ocean planets' out there in the galaxy. If there are, we are closer than ever to detecting them.

    Nice to start the summary off with not just one, but *two* tautologies!
  • I really hope they don't find any of them. If they do, we'll have hundreds of water world remakes and the level of pain that would bring is too much to bare.

    • by Nesetril (969734)
      I think it's all but impossible to avert this calamity, since those remakes have smokers as a built-in audience.
    • You're like a turd that won't flush!
    • we'll have hundreds of water world remakes and the level of pain that would bring is too much to bare.

      Well, at least it will be less painful for the investors, who will be able to cut costs on the production by sending the cast and crew to another planet to film.

    • I really hope they don't find any of them. If they do, we'll have hundreds of water world remakes and the level of pain that would bring is too much to bare.

      What's worse is when you think about how amazingly vaste the entire universe is: It's entirely possible that there's a planet out there where, through sheer chance, the events of Waterworld actually took place-- whoah, I need to lie down for a sec.

      Deep breaths. Deep breaths.

      *shudder*

  • Nitpick (Score:2, Insightful)

    by whisper_jeff (680366)
    ...we are closer than ever to detecting them.

    I know it's a nitpick, but of course we're closer than ever to detecting them. Guess what, we're closer to detecting them now than when you began reading this reply (by a couple seconds, but still closer).

    • by lazlo (15906)
      Unless someone's already found them. In which case we're further from finding them now than we have been since as long before they were found as we are past when they were found now. Yeah. That parses well.

      Of course, this all assumes that the terms "closer" and "further" are being used to measure a temporal distance. If I'm looking for my keys, I could have been closest (physically) to finding them this morning when I was in the kitchen where they're under the newspaper, even though in only a few minute
    • by Thuktun (221615)

      I know it's a nitpick, but of course we're closer than ever to detecting them. Guess what, we're closer to detecting them now than when you began reading this reply (by a couple seconds, but still closer).

      You're older than you've ever been.
      And now you're even older.
      And now you're even older.
      And now you're even older.

      You're older than you've ever been.
      And now you're even older.
      And now you're older still.

      - They Might Be Giants, "Older"

  • CRo T. Satellite

    Of course, on said ocean planets inhabited by cetaceans one could exclaim:

    "Admiral, there be whales here."
  • by creimer (824291) on Friday February 02, 2007 @04:39PM (#17865610) Homepage
    With global warming, we will have plenty of practice on surviving an "ocean" world when it comes time to send ships out to colonize these strange, new worlds.
    • Re:The Good News... (Score:4, Informative)

      by Thuktun (221615) on Friday February 02, 2007 @06:45PM (#17867456) Homepage Journal
      I'm pretty sure we already have plenty of experience surviving on an ocean world, since we already live on one. What we're not used to is surviving while sea levels rise, perhaps uncontrollably, which is probably what you meant.

      The projected maximum rise in sea level due to total melting of glaciers is around 80m. [usgs.gov] The average elevation of exposed land is about 2870m, [ilstu.edu] which is about 35 times as high. Melting everything won't inundate the globe, but it will require relocation from low-lying areas.
      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by creimer (824291)
        If you read the article, an ocean world is entirely water with a frozen core of water. Earth has a crust over a molten core that's cover with two-thirds of water. Technically, Earth is not an ocean planet. Assuming that you don't include the 40 days and 40 nights when God flooded the earth back in the days when building an ark on dry land was considered a stupid idea.
        • Considering that the term "ark" meant vessel as a container rather than a conveyance such as a ship, building it on dry land was rather a good idea.
  • The formation of such planets is fairly likely, reports the PhysOrg article, despite the lack of an obvious example in our own
    solar system.

    Hmm what about Earth then?
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Orange Crush (934731)

      Hmm what about Earth then?

      The Earth is a very large lump of iron and rock with just enough water for a few puddles to thinly cover 2/3 of its surface. The article is talking about whole planets composed almost entirely of water. Think of a bunch of melted comets that got smooshed together.

      • by Nesetril (969734)
        So, it's like one giant game of Blitzball?! WOAH...
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by KillerBob (217953)
        Minor nitpick, but by volume Earth is mostly Silicon, and by mass it's almost half oxygen. (Silicon makes up another quarter of the Earth's mass total mass).

        Earth is called a "water world" because it has a hydrosphere, though. The presence of water on a planet is by no means unique (Europa, Mars, most of the asteroids in our solar system), but the presence of water in abundance in the star's green zone hasn't been seen anywhere else. Earth is the only planet in the solar system where the *surface* temperatu
  • hm (Score:5, Funny)

    by UPZ (947916) on Friday February 02, 2007 @04:41PM (#17865646)
    I, for one, welcome our beautiful mermaid overlords!
  • by wile_e_wonka (934864) on Friday February 02, 2007 @04:41PM (#17865650)

    The formation of such planets is fairly likely, reports the PhysOrg article, despite the lack of an obvious example in our own solar system.
    Ummm...what about EARTH?
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward
      *sigh* RTFA. An Ocean planet is 100% ocean surface with depths ~100 km. Earth is just a tiny surface puddle covering a slight majority of the surface.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by wile_e_wonka (934864)
      Just after writing this I actually RTFA and felt a bit stupid. I had wondered why more commenters had picked up on the whole "Earth" thing. Judging from the fact my comment got modded up (so far, anyway), it goes to show some of the moderators don't RTFA either.
    • Ummm...what about EARTH?

      RTFA.

      Ocean planet == planet entirely/mostly composed of water. The Earth is .02% water, so not quite a water planet. These planets oceans would have an "average depth [...] on the order of 100 kilometers".
    • by BrianH (13460) on Friday February 02, 2007 @06:26PM (#17867216)
      Interestingly, any truly "Earthlike" planets we find ARE more likely to be covered in water. We have oceans here on Earth only because we also have continents. While the exact origins of the continents are still debated, the one common theory is that they're remnants of the same impact that formed the moon e.g. the impact blew off much of the surface of the original Earth, and that our "continents" were formed from the portion of the original crust that wasn't destroyed. Since the new crust was formed from denser materials deeper in the planets core, the lighter original crust rode higher on the mantle than the rest of it. That original crust cracked apart, became the foundations (cratons) for the continents we have today...or at least kicked off a cycle of crustal formation that lead to the continents we have today. Comparable planets in our Solar System that did not experience similar impacts (Mars and Venus) have relatively flat surfaces and nothing resembling continents.

      What if that impact had never occurred? The Earths surface would be level, like the other terrestrial planets, and instead of the water settling into the lower basins (the oceans), it would cover the entire surface of the planet to a depth of several kilometers. Only a few of today's highest peaks would extend above that water level. Those peaks, in all likelihood, wouldn't exist either. Not only would the tectonics needed for their formation be absent, but a world without continents would have monster surface waves and erosion would scrub them below the waterline in a few million years. If there were ANY life here, it would be no more advanced than the fish which exist today.

      Unfortunately, if we DO ever get out into space and find "Earth-like" planets of comparable mass and temperature, they will probably be water-bound just as the Earth would have been.
      • by tygt (792974)
        So the idea is that without the impact, we'd have a really nice, smooth, consistent crust layer?

        Would there not still be plate techtonics? A smooth crust requires the lack thereof, because colisions and subduction cause the crust to fold and thrust.

        Wouldn't there still be convection in the mantle? Unless you're going to freeze the Earth's mantle (freeze, as in solidify), the crust will be subjected to forces from within.

        • by BrianH (13460) on Friday February 02, 2007 @11:03PM (#17869702)
          Actually, the Earths convective mantle may be a byproduct of its plate tectonics, and not the other way around. Venus provides us with an excellent example of this, as it is in many ways a geologic twin of the Earth...minus the impact and big moon. Venus has a molten core and geologic activity (it's covered in volcanoes), but no tectonics. Why? Because there is no convection in the mantle. That's also why Venus has no magnetic field. The creation of a dynamo for an electric field requires a metal conductive core, rotation, and convection in the mantle. Magnetic analysis of the planet indicates that it has a conductive metal core, and its rotation, while slow, is sufficient to generate a field of some intensity.

          So why no magnetic field? No convection. Why no convection? Two possibilities. 1) The lack of tidal stresses from a comparatively large moon permitted its mantle to largely solidify already, as happened on Mars. 2) On the other hand, the LACK of tectonics may have deprived the core of a way to vent excess heat. Convection happens on Earth because the top of the mantle is cooler than the bottom, and the top is cooler BECAUSE it can let off heat through tectonics. It's a self perpetuating process. With Venus, the lack of tectonics deprived the mantle of any heat release sources other than volcanism. This would permit the Venusian mantle to get much hotter than the mantle on our own planet. The increased heat without outlet would lead to a mantle far more uniform in temperature...and a mantle that is uniformly hot will have no convection.

          So it becomes a self-perpetuating cycle. Something fractured the early crust of our planet, permitting subduction. Subduction and tectonics in general introduced temperature irregularities into our mantle, which kicked off convection. Convection then drove tectonic activities by itself.

          A protoplanet under bombardment would have a fairly consistent mantle temperature once bombardment began to ease. Energy imparted from impacts would spread throughout the body, and cooling would occur uniformly at the outer edges of the planet where the molten material came into contact with space. The planet would then begin cooling from the outside in, resulting in a relatively uniform crust. Again, you merely need to look at all of the other terrestrial bodies in our own solar system to confirm the model.

          It appears that something "else" is required to kickstart plate tectonics. The only really major thing we can identify, that fits the models, is our moon. The giant impactor which blasted lunar material away from the Earth disrupted the mantles temperature and blasted away a signifigant portion of the lighter material which should have formed our crust. The glancing blow which the models suggest would have been required for the Giant Impactor theory would have also left the side of the planet opposite the impact relatively unscathed (aside from the many millenia of debris impacts which certainly followed). As an added bonus, the newly formed moon around the planet, comparatively large and in a tight orbit, would have induced tidal forces which helped (and still help today) to keep the mantle moving.

          No impact = No giant moon, no disruption of the even cooling of the surface, no disruption of the mantle, no convection, and no tectonics. Geologically, the Earth would be Venus, only covered in 1-2 kilometers of water and with a more temperate atmospheric blanket (it would probably be a far colder planet than it is today). Aside from a volcanic island or two, the planet would be a big orbiting ball of water.
          • by mi (197448)

            Convection happens on Earth because the top of the mantle is cooler than the bottom, and the top is cooler BECAUSE it can let off heat through tectonics. It's a self perpetuating process.

            Friction and cooling should've killed it long ago — what is the energy source, that perpetuates it? Why has not the planet's core cooled yet?

            • Maybe the Sun has something to do with it?
            • The planet's core is a giant RTG [wikipedia.org]. Most heavy materials like iron, nickel, and the radioactive metals are in the core. The longer lived radioactives like U-238 continue to decay and heat the core to this day. Mind you, I'm talking about decay not chain-reaction fissioning. While "natural reactors" are possible that isn't what is happening here.
              • by mi (197448)

                Ok, thanks. So, the GGP is not quite right saying "it is a self-perpetuating process". Tectonic movements simply carry the RTG-produced heat to the surface — and our perpetuated by the decay, not by "self"...

                I take it, Venus does not have the internal RTG of the Earth's power?

          • by Ihlosi (895663)
            It appears that something "else" is required to kickstart plate tectonics. The only really major thing we can identify, that fits the models, is our moon.

            Hm. Is it too late already, or can we still find a suitable piece of space rock to hit Venus with, within the next couple of hundred years ?

      • by shaitand (626655)
        'If there were ANY life here, it would be no more advanced than the fish which exist today.'

        That conclusion doesn't follow anything else you've said. Is there some reason you feel that being a land-dweller is prerequisite to being an advanced lifeform? I wouldn't even consider it a safe assumption that land dwelling creatures on earth (including man) are the most advanced to have evolved on our own planet. Unless of course you define 'advanced' strictly on the basis of tool usage and not on the basis of int
      • by Mal-2 (675116)
        What if that impact had never occurred? The Earths surface would be level, like the other terrestrial planets, and instead of the water settling into the lower basins (the oceans), it would cover the entire surface of the planet to a depth of several kilometers. Only a few of today's highest peaks would extend above that water level. Those peaks, in all likelihood, wouldn't exist either. Not only would the tectonics needed for their formation be absent, but a world without continents would have monster surf
  • but... (Score:1, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward
    I'm willing to bet these ocean planets are infested with sharks, alien sharks, alien sharks with lasers on their frickin' heads.

      -AC for a reason.
  • But first we gotta make sure it has fresh water. I don't want to have to drink my own pee.
  • by bendodge (998616) <bendodge@@@bsgprogrammers...com> on Friday February 02, 2007 @04:48PM (#17865788) Homepage Journal
    Before the Voyager got to Uranus and Neptune, Dr. Russ Humphreys proposed that the plants were originally made of water, and made very accurate predictions of their magnetic fields based upon that theory.

    Look under the section "Water: The Raw Material of Creation" *tranquilizers recommended* http://creationresearch.org/crsq/articles/21/21_3/ 21_3.html [creationresearch.org]

    (Please be sure to actually read is before axing my karma.)
    • The field would decrease exponentially, that is, by a fixed percentage per unit time (Figure 3) . (Since readers of this Quarterly come from very diverse areas of science, I am italicizing and explaining the more technical terms).

      Thought this was funny. I have to start doing this on Slashdot as well, since only scientists specializing in astronomy and evolutionism know the meaning of words like "exponentially".
  • I was trying to explain this theory about fifteen years ago to an x-girlfriend.
    The way I thought about it was:
    Heat(scale? strength?)of Star vs Mass of Planet vs Distance from Star
    I called it the God Ratio in a tongue-in-cheek sort of way. I have no idea what calculations I was playing with and was way off of any "real" science about it, but the basic gist is the same.
    • by bhsx (458600)
      OK, now that I've RTFA it's not quite the same thing. My "God Ratio" was talking more about life on other planets. More precisely, the "God Ratio" dealt with planets with polar ice caps. The polar caps, imho are a necessary part of a stable planet.
      • I thought you might be talking about the idea of Galactic Habitable Zones [astrobio.net] (which deals with characteristics of our solar system as well.) But it sounds more like you might be thinking of the Rare Earth Hypothesis [wikipedia.org] which focuses more on the planet and the solar system they reside in. While there is a good deal of consideration given to glaciation, it focuses more on it's possible impact on evolution. It's a wonderfully interesting book, if you haven't read it. It also gives an equation based on the Drake equa
        • by bhsx (458600)
          Rare Earth Hypothesis is definitely what I was getting at, though I wouldn't have known it back then. Where was Wikipedia 15 years ago, huh?
          I could be happily married right now, but to a different woman(I am happily married)!
          It's funny in a way, in that her basic premise, which prompted my theory, was basically the Fermi paradox. "If there are intelligent beings from other worlds, we would know by now, we'd have proof..."
          My answer to that was my own version of the REH, which I'd never heard of; but wo
  • Okay, everyone listen, this is important...when we get there and raise the city of Atlantis, don't even think about waking up the goth aliens.
    • don't even think about waking up the goth aliens

      And their queen; Marilyn Manson.

      Honestly, that was my first thought when I saw a Wraith queen for the first time "gaaaahhh!! Its Marilyn Manson!!!". Turned out that it was a different actor (actress even).

      But he'd be a great special guest star. I wonder if they've approached him about it?

      • Marilyn Manson may be a queen, but he isn't Goth. He's a heavy metal rocker who owes much of his act to glam and Alice Cooper.
        • Marilyn Manson may be a queen, but he isn't Goth

          I didn't say he was a goth; he looks like a Wraith queen. Which also happens to look a bit like a disgruntled goth.
          • Marilyn Manson doesn't look like a Goth, either. He looks like that homosexual death metal dude Mortiis.
  • by Weaselmancer (533834) on Friday February 02, 2007 @04:54PM (#17865888)

    Attempt no landings there.

  • is not a myth - I've seen it!

    (sorry)
  • by Camel Pilot (78781) on Friday February 02, 2007 @04:57PM (#17865944) Homepage Journal
    I first read the title as:

    "Ocean Planets on the Brink of Destruction"

    Oh my... were screwing up those too huh?
  • World (Score:3, Funny)

    by alexj33 (968322) on Friday February 02, 2007 @05:05PM (#17866076)
    Maybe we will someday find such a world- a peaceful pastoral world without war; a world without hate.

    Then I can picture us attacking that world, 'cause they'd never suspect it.
  • They have no chance to hide make their time.
  • then Ice World, Fire World, Forest World and Cave World, then fight the big boss, view the crappy finale video and bask in the glory of a game well played.
  • Or something like that anyway.. Oh wait, superbowl is on TV.......
  • Tell me over again, my friend... you don't believe we're on the eve of detection?
  • by Rheingold (2741) <wcooley@@@nakedape...cc> on Friday February 02, 2007 @07:53PM (#17868134) Homepage
    I'd rather find desert planets... only there will we find the Spice.

    Wil
  • by HoneyBeeSpace (724189) on Friday February 02, 2007 @07:59PM (#17868184) Homepage
    If you'd like simulate a water world yourself, the EdGCM [columbia.edu] project has wrapped a NASA global climate model (GCM) in a GUI (OS X and Win). You can add CO2 or turn the sun down by a few percent all with a checkbox and a slider. Supercomputers and advanced FORTRAN programmers are no longer necessary to run your own GCM.

    It is a very general GCM so included in the download are paleo-earth configurations. You can run a simulation of the earth from 750 million years ago [columbia.edu] when it was mostly covered in water (but also very cold) to see one possible scenario. As mentioned above, you can add CO2 and turn up or down the sun or any other GHG to see other scenarios.

    Disclaimer: I'm the project developer.
  • ...that's right, my friends.

    Entire worlds filled with smart-assed killer whales called "Shamu", "Namu" and other oriental-sounding made-up names ending in "u" who all think it's jolly hilarious to splash you with water...

    Don't trust those sly, beady-eyed orcas - they've even got us all believing that they're mammals when we all *REALLY* know they're just bloody big fish!

    Wibble!

  • by heroine (1220) on Friday February 02, 2007 @09:43PM (#17869118) Homepage
    Corot sounds like another space based IR telescope with an incrementally better mechanism to reject glare. The output is going to be an intensity graph over time, with small dips from planetary transits, the same thing we've been doing for many years.

    The real breakthrough is when we finally have enough magnification and resolving power to see living things on other planets. The great barrier reef is a living thing that can be resolved from beyond Mars orbit with today's technology. The first extrasolar life we see is going to be something like a great barrier reef.

    The trick is going to be making a telescope the size of the solar system. The mission is probably going to use 2 Hubble size telescopes on opposite sides of Mars orbit, with incredible magnification well beyond the diffraction limit of each telescope, and the highly diffracted images from both telescopes being combined in software to produce a corrected image with a virtual aperture the size of Mars orbit. Only with that kind of mission are you going to "detect" habitable, extrasolar planets.

    • Using optical interferometry to produce actual synthetic aperture images is turning out to be extremely difficult even with earth-based observatories with fiber-optic links between them. While ssing multiple telescopes in orbit like you suggest may be theoretically possible, but I'm seriously wondering about whether it'll be doable within any kind of foreseeable future. It's also going to take more than just two to produce actual images.
      A less technologically insurmountable potential way of getting extra-so
  • When I hear talk of ocean worlds I am always reminded of the amazing speculation about them that Stapledon did in his books.

    In Olaf Stapledon's book "Star Maker" [wikipedia.org] (see here [sfsite.com] also) he describes one water world .. I'm thinking of the world of the living ships, not the that of the dolphin-crab symbionts or the avians. Living ship-like beings, think a cross between a whale and a squid with natural deployable sails. The symbionts eventually develop technology and starships because there are a few islands that bec

  • I thought that said "Open Planets"

    I thought there was some FOSP stuff going down for which I missed my ticket.

    Yeah, I could almost see it - a Free Open Source Planet...

    No taxes, free beer (as in free beer). Pi*d^2 virgins for every geek ("d" can be enhanced, check your email for details.)

    Everyone would have unlimited funds, thanks to a PayPal account, linked to a Nigerian bank account.

    Oh, forget it, humoring the masses is too tedious right now, the phone is ringing.

  • If were're talking about H20 I just can't see how there could be a core of ice. Core of rock sure, maybe ancoring down some ice but I don't see how a core could be mostly ice. The ice would immediately try to float to the surface.

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