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Space Science

Extrasolar Planet Could Harbor Life 308

Posted by Zonk
from the hello-up-there dept.
BlueMorpho writes with a link to a Space.com article about a recently discovered extrasolar planet that may be able to harbor 'life as we know it.' Orbiting around the star Gliese 581 is a small rocky ball that might have the same liquid ocean and drifting continent configuration we're familiar with. The find may be unique in all of space exploration as this planet appears to be within a habitable band of temperatures for life, and is categorically not a gas giant. "The bottom line is exciting ...The conditions for life could be there, but is life itself? As yet, there's no way to know unless the planet has spawned beings that are at least as clever as we are. As part of the SETI Institute's Project Phoenix, we twice aimed large antennas in the direction of Gliese 581, hoping to pick up a signal that would bespeak technology ... Neither search turned up a signal."
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Extrasolar Planet Could Harbor Life

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  • by ColonelPanic (138077) <pmklausler AT gmail DOT com> on Friday May 18, 2007 @01:24PM (#19182261)
    This is categorically amazing! Gliese 581 has not one, but *two* planets capable of sustaining life as we know it!
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by u-bend (1095729)
      OMG!!! Pink pony life forms?! In Soviet Russia, new extra-solar dupe life form overlords welcome you!
  • by Chysn (898420) on Friday May 18, 2007 @01:25PM (#19182277)
    ...are the ones you can't see even with a telescope.
  • by zappepcs (820751) on Friday May 18, 2007 @01:28PM (#19182321) Journal

    "The bottom line is exciting ...The conditions for life could be there, but is life itself? As yet, there's no way to know unless the planet has spawned beings that are at least as clever as we are. As part of the SETI Institute's Project Phoenix, we twice aimed large antennas in the direction of Gliese 581, hoping to pick up a signal that would bespeak technology ... Neither search turned up a signal."
    emphasis mine

    The trouble is that despite the planet's title sounding like a science fiction title, the former residents of Gliese 581 were at least as clever as we are, and the planet is currently recovering from a complete nuclear winter...
    • Or maybe they're way more clever than we are, and think that trying to communicate with other beings with radio waves is stupid.
      • by SQLGuru (980662)
        They've already visited. And they are more clever than we are. They don't try to post witty comments on /.

        Layne
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by BakaHoushi (786009)
        To quote Calvin and Hobbes, "I think the surest sign of intelligent life in the universe is that none of it has tried to contact us."

        Seriously, if I were of a peaceful, technologically advanced society, I wouldn't want to communicate with Earth, either. Worst case scenario, the less friendly humans get ahold of alien technology and we start mucking up OTHER species' homes.
        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by russ1337 (938915)

          Seriously, if I were of a peaceful, technologically advanced society, I wouldn't want to communicate with Earth, either. Worst case scenario, the less friendly humans get ahold of alien technology and we start mucking up OTHER species' homes.

          Not to the Corporations rushing to patent alien genes and technology... no matter how loud the aliens call 'prior art' or obvious.

          I just hope the only time we hear from an alien race is when the earth is about to be destroyed to make way for an intergalactic high

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by bill_mcgonigle (4333) *
        Or maybe they're way more clever than we are, and think that trying to communicate with other beings with radio waves is stupid.

        Oh, please, have you never chirped at a bird?

    • by LehiNephi (695428)
      While the number of planets in our galaxy is huge, the probability of a planet having a composition and climate similar to that of Earth's is extremely remote. On top of that, the probability of life forming on that planet is also very remote, and on top of that, the probability that life would have evolved along a similar timeline is also very remote.

      On a different note, how powerful of a radio signal would have to originate from that planet in order for us to receive it?
      • by beckerist (985855)
        It's 20 light-years away. Therefore 20 years.
        • by beckerist (985855) on Friday May 18, 2007 @02:13PM (#19183037) Homepage
          Or...if I read your post correctly...it's more about the direction the signal emanates in. SETI has often been criticized because they are essentially looking for a whisper against the background of an airport. When we actually know WHERE to look, the strength of the signal required for us to actually notice is really very insignificant.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by lahvak (69490)

        While the number of planets in our galaxy is huge, the probability of a planet having a composition and climate similar to that of Earth's is extremely remote.

        Can you elaborate on that? Why would it be remote? Do you have any way to estimate the probability?

        On top of that, the probability of life forming on that planet is also very remote

        Again, can you justify this claim? I am not disputing your claim, I just have no idea how can the probability of this be calculated. I have seen people making this claim several times already, however, none of them ever seemed to care to support the claim with at least some estimate.

        and on top of that, the probability that life would have evolved along a similar timeline is also very remote.

        That I can agree with.

        • Re:The trouble is (Score:4, Interesting)

          by steveo777 (183629) on Friday May 18, 2007 @03:05PM (#19183827) Homepage Journal
          Probability of another earth-like planet? Prohibitive.
          1. Our sun's positioning in this galaxy is basically perfect. We're between two of the 'arms' of the milky way. Meaning we're nestled safely away from the gravitational chaos of other stars that may want to rip us out of our orbit around the center of our galaxy. So that rules out many places in our galaxy. Not saying there isn't a chance. I'm just saying that theoretically, the planets in there may be screwed some time in the future. Most other galaxy styles don't have a 'safe harbor' like this.


          2.Earth itself has so many favorable factors for it that it is astounding. The tilt of our axis makes for an optimal environment for life across our whole planet. I remember reading that many astrologers estimate that just a half a degree either way and we'd have much larger ice caps or a band of uninhabitable desert. Our elliptical, almost circular, orbit keeps us in the most comfortable spot. A million miles either way and we'd be toastier or colder. Life could still exist, but it would be less than 'ideal'.
          As I understand it, our ferrous core spinning at slightly different speed creates our Van Alen Belts to protect from solar wind.
          We have an asteroid belt that has protected us from undoubtedly billions of asteroids over the millennial of Earths existence.
          Our tidal locked moon pulls on the oceans causing the Earth to continue spinning at a proper speed to maintain life.

          How' that? When you consider all this, and the probabilities being of this happening elsewhere (or just 'enough')... you can pretty well give up hope. But there isn't any fun in that! I'm all for looking for hospitable planets. This universe is fascinating. What a waste to not explore?!

          • by toganet (176363) <<moc.liamg> <ta> <nosgdohwg>> on Friday May 18, 2007 @03:19PM (#19184055) Homepage

            Look out, your anthropomorphism is showing. True, it is unlikely that humans would have resulted from adaptation to an environment different than our own. But that's how adaptation works.

            We may very well find "life" on planets that fall far outside your narrow definition of it -- but, as Dr. McCoy said, "not as we know it".

          • by zoips (576749) on Friday May 18, 2007 @03:23PM (#19184113) Homepage
            It'd be cool if someone would come up with a more interesting argument than we're perfect, everything here is perfect, so it's the only way to go. It's a good logical starting point, go with what you know, but claiming that life on Earth is the only way to go because that's how it works here is, well, basically begging the question, and last I heard, logical fallacies are bad.
          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by drinkypoo (153816)

            Our sun's positioning in this galaxy is basically perfect. We're between two of the 'arms' of the milky way. Meaning we're nestled safely away from the gravitational chaos of other stars that may want to rip us out of our orbit around the center of our galaxy.

            Actually, a recent study suggests that we are passing sideways through this galaxy.

            I'm not sure how relevant this is anyway, but let's move on.

            The tilt of our axis makes for an optimal environment for life across our whole planet.

            Irrelevant: we don

          • Re:The trouble is (Score:5, Interesting)

            by hubie (108345) on Friday May 18, 2007 @04:39PM (#19185193)

            I think you need to recheck some of your facts.

            Our solar system moves in and out of the spiral arms as well as up and down through the galactic plane [cornell.edu]. We go through the galactic plane about every 35 million years, and through the spiral arms about every 100 million years. Some postulate that these timescales coincide with various mass extinctions that occurred.

            The axial tilt of the Earth changes all the time. The tilt angle varies between 22 and 25 degrees over a period of about 41000 years. There is also precession of the orbit that happens on a 22000 year timescale. The changing tilt angle changes the severity of the seasons (length of seasons, ice ages, etc.), but it doesn't have anything to say about whether the planet could harbor life.

            There isn't anything magical about our molten core and magnetosphere. We usually expect large rocky planets to have them, so we find it unusual if a planet doesn't have a magnetosphere.

            I wouldn't say that the asteroid belt has protected us. The asteroid belt is basically a planet that either didn't form, or didn't survive. Its existence is probably one of the biggest threats to our survival on this planet. It is a race to see whether a large asteroid or comet hits our planet and wipes us out. Nobody doubts that it will happen again in the future; we just don't know when it will.

            The Moon actually causes a drag on the planet that is slowing down the Earth rotation. I don't recall hearing what an ideal rotation rate for the Earth is to sustain life.

            Once one gets their head around how many stars there are in just our own galaxy, many people consider it a given that there is life all around in the galaxy. Even if you take the most pessimistic odds for life to develop, once you multiply that by the number of stars out there it would seem to be very likely. The most famous statement of this is the Drake Equation [activemind.com]. Of course, once you consider the extremely large distances between any two stars it is easy to come to the conclusion that all this life will not come in contact with each other (the intelligent life, that is).

            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by jagdish (981925)
              Sometimes I think we're alone in the universe, and sometimes I think we're not. In either case the idea is quite staggering.
              - Arthur C. Clarke
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Chris Burke (6130)
      Well that actually got me thinking, though I may have my facts wrong.

      Doesn't SETI focus on a specific band of the EM spectrum that is not polluted by solar radiation and thus an obvious place for any sentient beings on another world to broadcast a signal that would allow themselves to be found?

      The follow up question being: Are we broadcasting such a signal at that frequency?

      Seems like if we're assuming whatever sentient beings out there think like us and thus we can deduce what they would do to be found, t
      • Re:The trouble is (Score:5, Interesting)

        by fyngyrz (762201) * on Friday May 18, 2007 @04:33PM (#19185103) Homepage Journal
        Doesn't SETI focus on a specific band of the EM spectrum that is not polluted by solar radiation and thus an obvious place for any sentient beings on another world to broadcast a signal that would allow themselves to be found?

        The follow up question being: Are we broadcasting such a signal at that frequency?

        The answers are, respectively, yes, and no. Though we have made a heck of a lot of noise at other frequencies, and the earliest of those signals are very roughly about 100 light-years out by now. They would be extremely weak and difficult to detect, though with a large enough space-based antenna system, it is certainly doable if they listen in the right direction. Signals that have gotten about 50 light years out are much more powerful; they've reached fewer stars, of course.

        I suspect that our "window" of using RF transmissions through the air will close within another century or so. There are better, more reliable things available to us such as fiber; almost incomprehensibly higher bandwidth by virtue of one fiber being able to lie next to another, not so easy when using RF, better availability, much more difficult to interfere with, more efficient in terms of energy required in use... RF just doesn't make a huge amount of sense for broadcast, and this is becoming more so every day. And I say that with a certain degree of regret, being an extra-class ham radio operator who grew up with the romance - no, really, I'm serious, romance! - of radio signals fading in and out from all over the world.

        Seems like if we're assuming whatever sentient beings out there think like us and thus we can deduce what they would do to be found, that only makes sense if it's something we would do in order to be found by other sentient life forms.

        It is what we'd do - we're not doing it for political reasons, not scientific or technical reasons. It has been proposed over and over that we broadcast; and has been turned down every time. The question is, do we want to invite visitors? It is one thing to be curious to see if you have neighbors, and to learn the answer without disturbing them or letting them know we're here; it is entirely something else to let them know we're here, or to invite them over - as unlikely as that seems given what we know of physics today. Considering that it is unlikely, it would be all the more intimidating if someone from the Sirius system, just to pluck one out of a hat, heard our signal and a day after they heard it there, they showed up here. The question is, what would they show up with if their physics are that good? All they really need is the ability to shove a few large rocks in our direction and they could go home snickering about those silly primates that used to live on Sol 3... that concerns a lot of people. Some earth species are quite aggressive and territorial, and man is one of them. Looking at our own behavior, it doesn't seem too conservative to think that the same might apply to someone else. So the politics are knotty.

        • My argument against this line of reasoning is always the same.

          Sure, space aliens from planet X that came to visit us would have to be be way more advanced than us. Sure they could wipe us out in a heartbeat.

          But, why would they bother?

          Why would a race so far advanced, bother to travel so far just to wipe ot some inconsequential race? There is nothing we would have that they would want. Any resources available on Earth they would be able to harvest from any number of other places closer and more convenient gi
  • by spentmiles (917302) on Friday May 18, 2007 @01:28PM (#19182325)
    I wonder what we'll find fist: a) A planet as inhabitable by us as Earth. b) A way to genetically modify humans to adapt to currently inhospitable conditions. Maybe we'll be able to breath sulfurous air, like that found on XJ93832, which is otherwise a resort planet. I've been doing my own experiments with a homemade dutch oven. My subject/wife is quite an innovator. I think she's been altered at the genetic level several times.
    • by MontyApollo (849862) on Friday May 18, 2007 @01:35PM (#19182447)
      I have wondered how well we could adapt to even an Earth like planet in terms of infectious agents like bacteria and viruses. Would we just have to accept higher mortality rates until our immune systems adapted over time?

      The medical science and technology might the easy part compared to interstellar travel though.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Rei (128717)
        The odds of another planet harboring life that could infect us effectively are ridiculously low. Infectious agents are able to infect us that they've been around us long enough to figure out how to do it.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by DAtkins (768457)
          Sure, you may not get Space AIDS, but space hay-fever is gonna be a big problem. You know, until someone comes up with a space Claritin...

          In all seriousness, getting the flu isn't nearly as likely as simple anaphylactic shock.
      • I have wondered how well we could adapt to even an Earth like planet in terms of infectious agents like bacteria and viruses. Would we just have to accept higher mortality rates until our immune systems adapted over time?

        I'd imagine it's extremely unlikely for pathogens that could infect us to have evolved without lifeforms similar to us to evolve in. For example, most human pathogens won't infect pigs, and they are not too far from us (genetically speaking). How similar would life forms on another planet

      • by RsG (809189) on Friday May 18, 2007 @01:55PM (#19182771)
        It's not terribly likely that alien pathogens could harm us. Remember that most plain old fashioned terrestrial diseases are only able to infect a limited variety of hosts. HIV originated in chimps (our closest living evolutionary relatives), rabies is limited to mammals, the flu (which is versatile by viral standards) is primarily limited to mammals and birds, etc. Even diseases like malaria which spend parts of their life cycle in very different hosts (us and mosquitoes) are fairly specialized.

        Try and imagine dutch elm disease making the transition from trees to humans. Then remember that both host organisms are terrestrial - we're more closely related to trees than we would be to any alien. It's not totally impossible that some alien bacteria could, by some chance, find the human body hospitable (or vice versa), but it isn't very probable.

        Plus, the human immune system has a habit of attacking anything remotely foreign. That's why you get problems like allergies and organ rejection. If an alien organism is enough like us to pose an infection risk, then it's also most likely similar enough to trigger an immune response. And the diseases that we face today have had millions of years of evolution to prepare them for our immune system, whereas anything alien has not. So even if life elsewhere is very much like life here, it'll have the same catching up to do that we will. Admittedly pathogens evolve faster than their hosts, but then again these hosts have medical technology to make up the difference.
        • by Control Group (105494) * on Friday May 18, 2007 @02:16PM (#19183077) Homepage
          There's a flip side to this, of course. I have a strong suspicion that, were we ever to encounter life anywhere else, we'd turn out to be horrifyingly allergic to everything there.
        • That is interesting. What about something like open-wound bacterial infections? I thought those were pretty common through out the animal kingdom (other than something like vultures). Do different bacteria affect different animals in these situations?
          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by smellsofbikes (890263)
            Viral particles are pretty specific, because they rely on the host to do a lot of the heavy lifting for them: the host supplies most of the DNA replication and protein synthesis equipment and all the natural resources.

            Bacteria, in contrast, do 80-100% of the work themselves. They can actively invade -- move in a directed manner -- and can physically attach themselves to cells and start doing damage. Helicobacter pylori, for instance (the bacterium that causes many ulcers) is shaped like a screw and physic
        • by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 18, 2007 @02:57PM (#19183689)
          IAAMB (I am a Microbiologist), and I've heard this argument a million times from a million people that don't really understand the concept of pathogens. A few points worth mentioning:
          1. Highly infectious diseases behave that way because they jump from a species in which it has coevolved (HCV in humans, Influenza in birds, various other diseases in pigs, rats, insects, etc), and so become not-terribly-pathogenic and suddenly entered a situation where it can jump species to another host. The extreme death rate of these diseases is a direct consequence of the fact that they DIDN'T evolve in the presence of humans, and that the new host behaves in an entirely unfamiliar manner to the foreign viral strain. Killing every organism it comes across is a horrible way for a virus to survive - the ideal is to achieve a minimal killing rate such that it becomes endemic to the population, with only a small proportion falling ill and dying. As such, our hypothetical alien virus has the potential to behave in this manner, provided the alien host is biochemically similar to us in one or more of the modes of entry for the viral strain. Admittedly, this only gives the potential for a mutant strain that could mess you up, but it's the same idea as Influenza - most truly common strains can't hurt you, but repeated contact with it in close quarters can give rise to an infectious system. Now, the true argument here is that it's unlikely that these hypothetical alien species we run into will have similar cell-surface proteins or modes of entry into the body - but simply arguing that a virus cannot infect a species it's never seen is a naive and deceptive idea. The far greater danger is...
          2. Infectious microbes. The alien equivalent of bacteria, fungus, protozoa, worms, etc. It is quite likely that we will encounter a species which benefits from growing in a human-like environment, most likely some kind of warm, damp tissue bed. Find a rapidly growing strain of alien microbe which digests its food externally, mix well with a human mucus lining, and you very rapidly have the potential for a flesh eating species. Equally likely is that one of the common hormones fed out into the air by alien critters (think of the compounds produced by plants et al for communication) behaves as a carcinogen to the naive human metabolism, or acts as some kind of hormone mimic. Industry produces such compounds all the time, not to mention legitimate toxins on Earth - there's no way of saying that the air on a warm spring's day on an alien world wouldn't be lethal to us due to immediate and violent immune responses to the foreign contaminants. There are many possibilities about what alien organisms might do to us, and it's silly to think that just because we've never seen it, it won't cause some kind of mass physiological response.
      • Not a problem (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Per Abrahamsen (1397)
        Viruses are DNA specific, most can't even swap between species on Earth.

        Bacteria are slightly worse. The ones that cause us trouble tend to be highly specialized, which of course wouldn't be a problem on another planet. But there are also generalist. Most likely, our natural defense would have no trouble with those, but we could be unlucky.

        The defense is also the largest problem, we would not be a good food source for the native life, but neither would the native life provide the necessary nutrients for
      • I think our assumption is the same as with humans meeting aliens, our bugs will kick their bugs asses!

        There is a LOT of life on earth all competing, if their life is more vicious than ours we run away or nuke the planet cuz our bugs can't kill theirs.

        Otherwise we send in the infected blankets.
  • As yet, there's no way to know unless the planet has spawned beings that are at least as clever as we are.
    Oh, I don't know. That sort of feels like an "asked and answered" statement.
  • hey kids! Exciting news a planet could have life - assuming it has an atmosphere. And if it does have that atmosphere, it doesn't overheat the planet through greenhouse heating. And oh yeah, all we know about it is its orbit and mass. And it almost definitely doesn't have life. Aren't you excited?

    When the media flogs "science" stories like this, full of marginal ideas that probably aren't true are we just conditioning the public to ignore actual science as pie in the sky crap? Or does the break from Paris Hilton news stories have some tangible benefit to educating society at large?
    • A planet of Earthlike mass in the habitable band would almost certainly have to have an atmosphere of some kind. Whether or not that atmosphere is breathable or not is another question altogether. From that distance, Venus or Mars would look pretty good to extraterrestial terran planet hunters. Masswise Venus is a near twin of earth but the surface conditions are straight out of Dante's Inferno. Mars is a shade too light to hold on to a thick O2 atmosphere and is basically a cold rusty desert. My guess is this place is apt to be more like Venus or Mars than Earth. Any chance we could talk Goldilocks into planet hunting?
    • When the media flogs "science" stories like this, full of marginal ideas that probably aren't true are we just conditioning the public to ignore actual science as pie in the sky crap?

      No, we're also inspiring another generation of kids to enter scientific fields. Seriously, how much does stuff like this pique the interest of the next Goddard, or even the next rank-and-file NASA employee? Or maybe the next Branson, who is willing to spend a fortune of private funds on space-related activities (even if he do

      • by magarity (164372)
        Seriously, how much does stuff like this pique the interest of the next Goddard, or even the next rank-and-file NASA employee? Or maybe the next Branson, who is willing to spend a fortune of private funds on space-related activities (even if he does have a long-term profit incentive)?

        The next Goddard or rank and file NASA employee would languish at said NASA these days. The era of fast moving government projects to explore space a la Apollo is past for the foreseeable future, we can only hope. Ap
    • Yes, looking at stories like this make me think that "Star Trek" and other popular science fiction actually has done a lot more harm than good in our society. Everyone talks about how it "encourages us to dream" and all that. But sometimes dreaming is a BAD thing. It's foolish to be looking across a universe that is most analogous an insurmountably HUGE sterile desert and wishfully thinking we're going to find life on any given planet with just one or two of the many elements needed for life as we know it.
      • by wiggles (30088)
        Man, who pissed on your cheerios this morning?

        Quit being such a buzzkill and get some imagination. Dreaming is a good thing.

        You sound like the "You'll never make it!" guy from Gulliver's Travels.
  • by s31523 (926314) on Friday May 18, 2007 @01:31PM (#19182363)

    As part of the SETI Institute's Project Phoenix, we twice aimed large antennas in the direction of Gliese 581, hoping to pick up a signal that would bespeak technology ... Neither search turned up a signal.

    Because tiny microbes living in the soil always emit "signals". Technologically advanced life vs. life are two very different things. Jetson's like colonies would be nice to find, but honestly, we are more likely to find single cell organisms who haven't quite figured out how to build a radio tower.
    • by CastrTroy (595695) on Friday May 18, 2007 @01:39PM (#19182495) Homepage
      Not only that, what if they don't use radio waves to communicate. I know it seems a little far fetched, but they could just have FibreOptic cables running all over the place. The only reason for radio waves is to broadcast stuff. If you have everything on demand, as i hope humans will within the next 40 years, then you don't have much use for radio waves. There's still things like cell phones that require radio waves, but I think the signal may be a little too weak to be picked up by our antennas. Also, we only invented radio less than 150 years ago. I'm sure if we found a civilization as advanced as we were in the 1800s, that it would be quite big news.
      • by elrous0 (869638) *
        Very true. The odds of life are rare. The odds of intelligent life are even rarer. The odds of intelligent life living close enough to communicate are even rarer than that. The odds of intelligent life living close enough to communicate AND living coincidentally with our own modern civilization is even rarer still. And, even if all those conditions were met, the longest odds may well be our ability to even PERCEIVE the aliens, much less communicate with them.

        Assuming that our narrow radio spectrum is a un

        • The odds of life are rare. The odds of intelligent life are even rarer ...
          The first sentence is a guess. We don't know enough yet to make a meaningful estimate on how rare or common life is. That's part of why the search for extraterrestrial life is interesting.

          The second sentence (and 3rd, 4th, and 5th) is a given, but not very helpful. (Simple logic indicates that intelligent life can't be more common than life, and so on.)

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Timesprout (579035)

      we are more likely to find single cell organisms who haven't quite figured out how to build a radio tower
      Or maybe President Bush [slashdot.org] was just visiting when they listened for signals.
    • Not only that, our "advanced" species has only been emitting space-bound signals for 90 or so years of the 200,000 years or so we've been around. That's an infinitesimal amount of time.

      If we found any species like us with cities/culture/tool making ability, it'd be amazing, even if they were far behind us in terms of development. At this point, any animal life outside this planet would be a life-changing find for us, so I think the "hoping for signals" was just a shot in the dark, and knowingly so.
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by markbt73 (1032962)
      The secret is to bang the rocks together, guys.
  • Recently? How recent? Doesn't it take like, 100 years for radio signals to go that far?
    • by magarity (164372)
      FTFA: Gliese 581 is, as astronomical distances go, relatively close: only 20 light-years away.

      From the poster: Doesn't it take like, 100 years for radio signals to go that far?
       
      Please report to remedial physics class.
  • by jhsiao (525216) on Friday May 18, 2007 @01:37PM (#19182469)
    The planet is so close to the star that it's likely tidally locked so that only one side faces the sun and the other side is in eternal night. The temperature differential between the hot day side and the cold night side might cause the border to be under constant storm activity.

    A "year" where the planet rotates around the star is only 13 days. If tidally locked, a "day" is the same amount of time.

    The same tidal forces would also make any large oceans on the surface prone to immense tides. The strong tides may also result in more tectonic activity than on Earth.
    • by dottyslashdottydot (1008859) on Friday May 18, 2007 @01:51PM (#19182709)
      No, if it's tidally locked, there will be no "immense tides" in the oceans. Tidally locked means the same face of the planet is always facing the star. Just like the same face of the moon faces the earth... the moon is tidally locked to the earth. On this planet, any oceans would be higher at the points closest and furthest away from the star, but unlike the earth, these 'bulges' would never move, and water levels wouldn't change much, therefore no tides, at least from the star alone. The other planets in the system would most likely have some sort of influence on that planet's oceans.
    • A _sidereal_ day would be the same as the year on a tidally locked planet, but nobody talks in sidereal days except some astronomers. The vast majority talk about a solar day, the noon-to-noon time, and that, for a tidally locked planet, is undefined.

    • by boskone (234014)
      Actually, while causing some issues, having a very cold area near a really hot area would seem to lend itself to incredible power production due to the winds or even vai a carnot cycle. This would give a plentiful resource for the settlers to use to terraform with.
  • by Rauser (631244) on Friday May 18, 2007 @01:40PM (#19182515)
    "We twice aimed large antennas in the direction of Gliese 581, hoping to pick up a signal that would bespeak technology"

    The first interspace wardriving attempt thus ended in failure. The Gliesians must be hardwired.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by infinite9 (319274)

      The first interspace wardriving attempt thus ended in failure. The Gliesians must be hardwired.


      Nah, they're just using appletalk just like Jeff Goldblume said. (hachoo)
  • It's stories like this that always keep me thinking. Sometimes I wonder if I will be alive when we first find life elsewhere, or if we will get sidetracked on our quest.

    When the discovery happens, it might be bacterial, insect, or something else, but every day seems to be getting us closer to finally proving that we aren't alone. Will that be our generation's moon landing / claim to fame? Finding not just building blocks but actual species (preferably with legs)on some mass of rock orbiting Gliese 581
  • by PMuse (320639) on Friday May 18, 2007 @01:45PM (#19182613)
    This is easily the most exciting time period in the history of astronomy (to date). New discoveries of real interest (even to nonexperts) are being made monthly. What a marvelous time to be living!
  • uh-oh (Score:5, Funny)

    by jollyreaper (513215) on Friday May 18, 2007 @01:52PM (#19182723)
    God help those poor bastards if they've got oil.
  • Perhaps it's time to establish a colony. How far are we from building a sleeper or generational ship giving aggressive assumptions (accept risky cryogenics, one way trip, generous time limits for a journey)?
    • by Greyfox (87712)
      The planetarium guy on Colbert said that with our fastest rocket it'd take 400,000 years to get there. That's an awfully long time to put up with the kids going "Are we there yet?!"
  • by 140Mandak262Jamuna (970587) on Friday May 18, 2007 @02:03PM (#19182873) Journal
    No wonder SETI could not get any signal from them. They learnt their lessons. Last time they visited us on the Independance Day we uploaded a virus into their system. So they just set their modem "To ignore pings from the WAN side."
  • by creimer (824291) on Friday May 18, 2007 @02:07PM (#19182935) Homepage
    Gliese 581 is, as astronomical distances go, relatively close: only 20 light-years away. It's one of the few star systems which, if inhabited, might provoke conversation. A simple exchange, along the lines of "how are you?" followed by "fine, and you?" would require a mere four decades. Tedious, but not unthinkable.

    The actual exchange...

    EARTH: How are you?

    GLIESE 581: Sorry, we don't need Viagra. You can try the next planet over.
  • FTFA:
    "There should be a belt of moderate temperatures somewhere near the twilight ring between light and dark."

    Sounds VERY similar to the Twi'lek homeworld [wikia.com]
  • by Anonymous Coward
    I haven't seen anyone mention this, but Gliese 581 is an M-class dwarf. There's serious concerns about the habitability this entire class of star. They have large magnetic fields and are subject to very large solar flares which could exterminate life within their solar system. More details available:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/M_dwarf#Habitability [wikipedia.org]

  • The real question about supporting life is not only breathable air, but also the surrounding belts that insulate a planet from intense radiation. Ozone layer, Van Allen Belts, and the like are just as - if not more important - than a breathable atmosphere.

    PLUS planet tilt.

    And distance.
    And possibly rotation speed.

    I'm not saying that life exists anywhere else...just that the odds are against it. Maybe.
  • As part of the SETI Institute's Project Phoenix, we twice aimed large antennas in the direction of Gliese 581, hoping to pick up a signal that would bespeak technology ... Neither search turned up a signal.
    If only they were using Verizon for wireless communications, we'd be hearing them now.
  • We didn't find any planets for years and all of a sudden we find like 4 useful ones in 1-2 years? Is this a product of the new networked telescope system or did we get some new giant telescope or something?

    Where is this information coming from?
  • The previous article, from 3 weeks ago when the news was actually fresh:

    http://science.slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=07/04/2 5/0024257 [slashdot.org]
  • the same planet we heard about a couple weeks back, that is 50% more massive than Earth and with 1.5 times our gravity?

  • SETI is a joke (Score:4, Insightful)

    by dsanfte (443781) on Friday May 18, 2007 @03:42PM (#19184385) Journal
    SETI is looking for a ridiculously-strong, directed signal. Basically someone would have to have a transmitter with unheard-of wattage pointed right at the earth for us to detect it with the Aracaibo telescope.

    Basically, if the Aracaibo telescope were on Gliese and were pointed at Earth, it wouldn't detect us. Until the SETI project gets a better telescope, the fact that we didn't detect anything coming from Gliese when we pointed one of our ground-based radio telescopes at it only means they aren't stupid enough to spend a billion dollars to build a 20MW directional transmitter, point it right at the earth, and leave it blasting for thousands of years hoping we'd give a listen.

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