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Space Science

Earthlike Planet Orbiting Nearby Star 617

Posted by kdawson
from the 13-days-a-year dept.
The Bad Astronomer writes "Astronomers in Europe have announced the discovery of a planet with only 5 times the Earth's mass, orbiting a red dwarf star 20 light years away. It orbits the star so closely that it only takes 13 days to go around... but the star is so cool that the temperature of the planet is between 0 and 40 Celsius. At this temperature there could be liquid water. Models indicate the planet is either rocky like the Earth or covered in an ocean. While it's not known if there actually is liquid water on the planet, this is a really big discovery, and indicates that we are getting ever closer to finding another Earth orbiting an alien star."
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Earthlike Planet Orbiting Nearby Star

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  • Strange new worlds (Score:3, Insightful)

    by richdun (672214) on Tuesday April 24, 2007 @08:32PM (#18864235)

    This is a really big discovery...

    And that, my friends, is the understatement of the millennium.

    • 20 light years. So that would take us 20 years to get there travelling at the speed of light, or slightly longer going not quite as fast?
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Wonko the Sane (25252) *

        So that would take us 20 years to get there travelling at the speed of light
        20 years by the perspective of an observer on earth, instantaneously by the perspective of the traveller.
        • by s20451 (410424) on Tuesday April 24, 2007 @09:06PM (#18864583) Journal
          instantaneously by the perspective of the traveller

          Unfortunately the traveller would not percieve the passage of time any more, having been transformed into raspberry jam by the accelleration forces.

    • Definately. Due to it *relatively* close distance to us, the reasonably similar environment (or capable of supporting a similar environment) means that we could be looking at the first possible colonization project outside of our solar system some time in the future (probably later rather than sooner, mind)
    • Earth-like planet only 5-times the Earth's size...

      That's like saying "I'm dating this girl who's like Jessica Alba. She's latina, has dark hair, and is only five times Jessica Alba's size! So you see, she is plainly like Jessica Alba!".

      Heh.

      Disclaimer: I am very excited by this news; I'm just being a smartass!
      • by JanneM (7445) on Tuesday April 24, 2007 @09:21PM (#18864713) Homepage
        That's like saying "I'm dating this girl who's like Jessica Alba. She's latina, has dark hair, and is only five times Jessica Alba's size! So you see, she is plainly like Jessica Alba!".

        But it's still a living, breathing girl. By the same token, other discovered extrasolar planets would like trying to have a meaningful relationship with a bulk freighter.
        • OFQ (Score:5, Funny)

          by orkysoft (93727) <orkysoft@myr[ ]box.com ['eal' in gap]> on Tuesday April 24, 2007 @10:06PM (#18865107) Journal

          (Obligatory Futurama Quote)
          From the Futurama episode Love and Rocket:

          Fry: Wow Bender, are you and the ship an item? I mean, I know you're both items but -- how can you date a ship anyway? It'd be like me dating a really fat lady. And living inside her. And she'd be all like -- <ship noises>
          Bender: Fry, in order for me to get busy at maximum efficiency, I need a girl with a big four hundred ton booty!
          Leela: Bender, dating your co-worker and primary mode of transportation is immoral, illogical and a violation of interstellar shipping statute 437-B.
          Bender: That's what makes it so nasty!
    • And this! :)

      Earthlike Planet Orbiting Nearby Star

      Might just pop over there now..
    • I, for one, am beginning to sense the need for a revolt against the "grass is greener" bandwagon seeking to promote colonization of another planet in lieu of taking proper care of the planet that has always been here for us, Earth. Join me in this revolt by tagging stories inciting the thought of fleeing Earth like some kind of foreclosed duplex -- trashed and slashed -- for the chance at taking over a pristine ecosystem with the tag "theresnoplacelikehome".

      Thank you for your support.
      • by icebrain (944107) on Tuesday April 24, 2007 @09:45PM (#18864903)
        We don't propose abandoning Earth like a "foreclosed duplex"--and we certainly don't advocate letting things go to hell here while we look for a new place to trash. The idea is survival--colonizing other planets helps ensure survival of the species.
        We could go completely green and make Earth a complete paradise--and then some rock could come along and kill all of us.

        And, chances are, the knowledge we would gain just from trying to build a "slowboat" colony ship (one that does not travel at an appreciable fraction of c) would be of immense value in helping preserve Earth's environment. Such a ship would be an entire self-contained, self-sufficient ecosystem, having to last hundreds, if not thousands, of years with no resupply and no dependable external power source. Creating such a system would lead to incredibly-efficient systems, and the lessons could be transferred to everyday engineering projects and other systems. Think water reclamation, ultra-efficient farming and food production techniques (solves hunger problems too!), clean, efficient sources of energy...
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Nazlfrag (1035012)
          Indeed, such a project could show us why GP is right, that there is no place like home, and that we are already on that slow boat. The colony ship would need 100% reclamation of all materials, with no toxic byproducts. This already rules out nearly all of our modern farming, manufacturing and other techniques. Our problem is how to decontaminate and sustain an already toxic colony ship, a much more difficult task, but one that needs the first steps to be taken. Colony ships seem to be the most likely first
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Paulrothrock (685079)

        The long-term survival of the species depends on leaving Earth to colonize other Earth-like worlds. Anyone who opposes this simply wishes the human race to become extinct.

        Also, the idea that we need to destroy any ecosystem we come into contact with is a false dichotomy. It's people like you who give rational environmentalists like me a bad name. I'm an environmentalist because I want to help save humanity, not because I think we shouldn't be allowed to survive.

  • by heauxmeaux (869966) on Tuesday April 24, 2007 @08:32PM (#18864245)
    Turns out it's just Rosie O'Donnell
  • by pyro_peter_911 (447333) on Tuesday April 24, 2007 @08:33PM (#18864249) Homepage Journal
    Hi-rez imaging of the planet shows that there's already three Starbucks stores, a bridge project sponsored by Ted Stephens, and fourteen RIAA lawyers looking for copyright infringers.

    Peter
    • by linzeal (197905) on Tuesday April 24, 2007 @08:41PM (#18864333) Homepage Journal
      So it is devoid of life, culture and civilization in other words.
    • by celerityfm (181760) * on Tuesday April 24, 2007 @08:48PM (#18864397) Journal
      I say nuke the site from orbit, it's the only way to be sure.
      • by celerityfm (181760) * on Tuesday April 24, 2007 @08:57PM (#18864503) Journal
        Regret dawned after that post, as this came to mind:

        "It is of course well known that careless talk costs lives, but the full scale of the problem is not always appreciated. For instance, at the very moment that Arthur said `I seem to be having tremendous difficulty with my lifestyle,' a freak wormhole opened up in the fabric of the space time continuum and carried his words far far back in time across almost infinite reaches of space to a distant Galaxy where strange and warlike beings were poised on the brink of frightful interstellar battle. The two opposing leaders were meeting for the last time . . . and a dreadful silence fell across the conference table as the commander of the Vl'hurgs, resplendent in his black jewelled battle shorts, gazed levelly at the G'Gugvant leader squatting opposite him in a cloud of green sweet-smelling steam, and, with a million sleek and horribly beweaponed star cruisers poised to unleash electric death at his single word of command, challenged the vile creature to take back what it had said about his mother.

        The creature stirred in his sickly broiling vapour, and at that very moment, the words `I seem to be having tremendous difficulty with my lifestyle' drifted across the conference table. Unfortunately, in the Vl'hurg tongue this was the most dreadful insult imaginable, and there was nothing for it but to wage terrible war. Eventually of course, after their galaxy had been decimated over a few thousand years, it was realised that the whole thing had been a ghastly mistake, and so the two opposing battle fleets settled their few remaining differences in order to launch a joint attack on our Galaxy -- now positively identified as the source of the offending remark.

        For thousands more years the mighty ships tore across the empty wastes of space and finally dived screaming on to the planet Earth, where, due to a terrible miscalculation of scale, the entire battle fleet was accidentally swallowed by a small dog.

        Those who study the complex interplay of cause and effect in the history of the Universe say that this sort of thing is going on all the time, but are powerless to prevent it.

        `It's just life,' they say."

        Indeed. RIP, Mr. Adams.
  • omg omg (Score:5, Funny)

    by drfrog (145882) on Tuesday April 24, 2007 @08:34PM (#18864267) Homepage
    planet orbiting a red star?
    on the same day kryptonite is found

    coincidence?

    of course!

  • More links: (Score:5, Informative)

    by Beolach (518512) <beolach@@@juno...com> on Tuesday April 24, 2007 @08:36PM (#18864281) Homepage Journal
    The BBC [bbc.co.uk] and Scientific American [sciam.com] have good quotes from Stephane Udry of the Geneva Observatory, lead author of the scientific paper reporting the results. Others [world-science.net] are already calling it "possibly habitable".

    Very cool news!
  • by steak (145650) on Tuesday April 24, 2007 @08:38PM (#18864295) Homepage Journal
    I threw this together in a couple minutes after reading this.

    http://x014.uploaderx.net/x/astronautcat.jpg [uploaderx.net]

    [m]
  • by 644bd346996 (1012333) on Tuesday April 24, 2007 @08:39PM (#18864311)
    So, the temperature range indicates that it can probably be made hospitable for humans. Sure, we might have to bring a lot of our own oxygen and water to start with, but otherwise, we just need a colony ship. And, of course, the gravity is pretty strong (2.25 Gs) so we will have trouble with that. And, it being so close to the star, there might be a big radiation problem, forcing humans to go underground. But that wouldn't be too bad, because it would make gravity a bit less of a problem.

    What I think is the coolest thing is that this is the smallest extrasolar planet found so far. We are getting close to being able to detect earth-sized planets. Once we do, I think the number of potentially colonizable planets will go up quite a bit.
    • Of course, it is a 20 light year journey. Better buy some tickets for your children too :-)
    • by Scott Ransom (6419) <sransom AT nrao DOT edu> on Tuesday April 24, 2007 @09:12PM (#18864647)
      Actually, this is not the smallest planet yet found. The first extrasolar planets are still the smallest known: the planets around the millisecond pulsar B1257+12: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/PSR_B1257+12 [wikipedia.org]

      The optical planet hunters often conveniently forgot this system (or dismiss it for various reasons).
    • by Onan (25162)

      And, it being so close to the star, there might be a big radiation problem, forcing humans to go underground. But that wouldn't be too bad, because it would make gravity a bit less of a problem.

      You have a pretty generous definition of either "underground" or "a bit".

      Its diameter appears to be around 20,000Km. To reduce net gravity to 1G, you'd need to go just over 10,000Km deep. Which is awfully close to being as deep as Australia is--from Europe. Reducing net gravity by 1% would require a couple ord

  • by plasmacutter (901737) on Tuesday April 24, 2007 @08:40PM (#18864317)
    We are currently developing technologies which allow a maximum speed of 0.6 X the speed of light.

    if you create a probe with an ion drive and send it off in the next 10 years we could be looking at surveys of the planet in question by 2070.
    • by Dr. Eggman (932300) on Tuesday April 24, 2007 @08:50PM (#18864417)
      But then our probe's signal transmitter would also be 20 light years away =(
      • by plasmacutter (901737) on Tuesday April 24, 2007 @08:57PM (#18864513)
        as i said.. sent 10 years from now.. 20 light years at an average of 0.4 times the speed of light.. 2058 would be the arrival time.. then it communicates back data by laser.. 2078 would be the time we see the signals. of course this would require an international effort to prevent losing track of this project should a certain bloated government disappear *cough*.

        still, this is within the realm of practicality, and if it returns promising results it could usher in a new era of colonization.
        • Well, I never was very good at math...

          Still, It is 20 light years away which makes any reasonable kind of controlling it impossible. It would have to be artificial intelligence surveying, which means we're not getting anything out of it beyond what we put in. But, the signal is already present, here on Earth, in the of observable phenomenons. Perhaps in less time than it would take for the probe to reach it's destination and send back it's information, we could have already developed methods of reading an
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Bad D.N.A. (753582)
          should a certain bloated government disappear

          as opposed to all of the other bloated governments out there?

          then it communicates back data by laser

          Please sit down and do the math. Do you realize the pointing requirements for what you suggest. With the best tech we have the laser would be swinging between Pluto and the Sun thinking it was right on target.

          still, this is within the realm of practicality, and if it returns promising results it could usher in a new era of colonization.

          right... and
    • It would still take 20 years for those radio signals to get to us though. I think it would be a pretty good idea to put together a project to push out a probe to likely locations to send a narrow beam signal back to us. It would have to have a power source capable of lasting that long though. Talk about building something to stand the test of time. Pioneer 10 gave up a while ago, and Voyager 10 probably doesn't have much life left in it. but to be fair these probes were not designed to last 30 years, they j
    • by strider44 (650833) on Tuesday April 24, 2007 @10:10PM (#18865167)
      "allow a maximum speed of 0.6 X the speed of light"

      ... something tells me you're not really a fan of the theory of relativity are you?
    • by StefanJ (88986) on Tuesday April 24, 2007 @10:38PM (#18865463) Homepage Journal
      No.

      The best theoretical ion drive I've read about has an Isp of 10,000 seconds. That translates into an exhaust velocity of 100 kps (rounding up a bit).

      Speed of light: A touch less than 300,000 kps.

      Plugged into the rocket equation:

      Mf+Mp / Mp = e^{300000/100) = 2.72 ^ 3000

      Well, the Windows calculator tells me that's 5.0899334329769958439246007097416e+1303

      That's the ratio of ("fuel" and payload) to payload.

      Um, even if I screwed up somewhere, and I'm off by a factor of a million, that ain't good.
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        Am I the only one surprised that the windows calculator can operate on numbers that large?

        That is a truly shockingly large number.
    • We are currently developing technologies which allow a maximum speed of 0.6 X the speed of light.

      if you create a probe with an ion drive and send it off in the next 10 years we could be looking at surveys of the planet in question by 2070.


      Again, correct me if I'm wrong but according to http://nmp.nasa.gov/ds1/tech/ionpropfaq.html [nasa.gov], ion drives only deliver 10x the efficiency of chemical rockets. So to reach 0.6c, wouldn't an ion drive require more propellant than exists in the universe?
    • by niktemadur (793971) on Tuesday April 24, 2007 @11:18PM (#18865807)
      As much as I love the idea, sorry to poop the party but we're forgetting the white elephant in the room: 3D interstellar billiards.

      Course correction on the way will be next to impossible, so we'd have to know the exact position of the planet, to the second, of the probe's arrival to the gravitational influence of the planet. Here we are, messing up martian probes with six months' travel time because of measurement glitches, and now this? We'll have to wait much longer for a manned mission.
  • More information... (Score:5, Informative)

    by Barkmullz (594479) on Tuesday April 24, 2007 @08:42PM (#18864343)

    The link in the blog seems to be broken. There is some more information about the planet (Gliese 581 c) on Wikipedia [wikipedia.org], MSN [msn.com], and Space.com [space.com].

  • by iminplaya (723125)
    When we talk to these people, we don't discuss religion or politics, or work. That just leaves the weather and women. Nothing else matters. Got it?
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Dr. Eggman (932300)
      Well, I guess I'll have to settle for non-verbal research...*Charges up the Probulator*
  • My Hope (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Brad1138 (590148) *
    I am not religious, I am an Atheist. I have no "God" to look forward to meeting (I don't believe anyone else does either but anyway). My biggest hope is that before I die we will have proof of alien life, hopefully a spaceship will land in Times Square so there will be know question about it. This is a very exciting time, every time Scientists make a new discovery like this I feel that much closer to my dream.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Blakey Rat (99501)
      Why? What does proof of alien life accomplish?

      I think a true atheist wouldn't capitalize "Atheist." Makes it seem like a religion by a different name.
  • by dominique_cimafranca (978645) on Tuesday April 24, 2007 @08:51PM (#18864437) Homepage
    So should we classify a planet like this as Class "M"?
  • With the red star, it sounds like the planet JEM in Frederick Pohl's book of the same name.

    So when are we going to invent tactran so we can travel there? And are we going to have wild orgies under the gasbags?
  • Rocky like Earth? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by dreamchaser (49529) on Tuesday April 24, 2007 @09:13PM (#18864659) Homepage Journal
    Models indicate the planet is either rocky like the Earth or covered in an ocean.

    Last time I checked, the Earth's surface is 75% covered by water.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by rm69990 (885744)
      Ummm...they're talking about rocky (eg. Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars) as opposed to Gas Planets (eg. Jupiter, Saturn, Neptune, Uranus). Whether or not there is water on the surface is completely irrelevent.
  • Um, yeah, *liquid* (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Russ Nelson (33911) <slashdot@russnelson.com> on Tuesday April 24, 2007 @11:23PM (#18865855) Homepage

    temperature of the planet is between 0 and 40 Celsius. At this temperature there could be liquid water.


    Errrr, we have liquid water on earth at this temperature. More importantly, what is the air (if any) pressure. That will affect whether you have liquid water at 40C or not.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Teancum (67324)
      With 5x the mass of the Earth, the atmosphere would be something more akin to Venus than something more like the Earth or Mars. Still, this is something that would be interesting to try and speculate about in terms of a fictional story about going to this planet.

      Unless this planet also had a collision with a similarly sized planetoid (such as is speculated with the Earth and the current favored theory of the creation of the Moon) that would have stripped much of the original atmosphere away, I don't see ho
  • by drix (4602) on Wednesday April 25, 2007 @12:49AM (#18866539) Homepage
    Raise your hand if you feel you were born about 100 years too early.
  • Seti @ Home (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Stripsurge (162174) on Wednesday April 25, 2007 @01:27AM (#18866805) Homepage
    Would it be worth pointing a radio telescope at this thing?

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