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Space Science

28 New Planets Found Outside Solar System 258

Posted by Zonk
from the any-day-now-we're-going-to-here-about-squidgy-things-in-outer-space dept.
elkcsr writes "The San Jose Mercury news reports on the phenomenal discovery of 28 new extra-solar planets out there in our galaxy. All of them are outside of the band scientists consider necessary for supporting life as we know it, but the solar systems analyzed should still be quite familiar to those of us in this neck of the woods. System layouts feature small rocky planets towards the star and gas giants further out. The biggest difference seen is a preference for elliptical orbits, instead of generally circular orbit we enjoy. ' For example, the team also described new details about one specific exoplanet, discovered two years ago. This planet, which circles the star Gliese 436, is thought to be half rock, half water. Its rocky core is surrounded by an amount of water compressed into a solid form at high pressures and low temperatures. It makes a short, 2.6-day orbit around Gliese 436. Based on its radius and density, scientists calculate that it has the mass of 22 Earths, making it slightly larger than Neptune. "The profound conclusion is, here we've found yet another type of planet that is already represented in our solar system," Marcy said.'"
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28 New Planets Found Outside Solar System

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  • Cool (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Khyber (864651) <techkitsune@gmail.com> on Tuesday May 29, 2007 @12:45PM (#19310621) Homepage Journal
    If FTL travel ever comes about, we can see if there's different materials out there that we're not aware of. Too bad I won't live to see it.
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by grub (11606)

      Yeah, I'd love to be around for the first shipment of Unobtanium as well.

    • Re:Cool (Score:4, Insightful)

      by kalirion (728907) on Tuesday May 29, 2007 @01:28PM (#19311215)
      If FTL travel ever comes about, we can see if there's different materials out there that we're not aware of. Too bad I won't live to see it.

      You never know where technology will take us, even in the near future. Some say that we might experience technological singularity [wikipedia.org] within the next 20 years. Then it might be a rather short time until FTL, or at least the ability to prolong one's life/consciousness. Then again, it might also be a rather short time until our extinction.
      • Re:Cool (Score:4, Funny)

        by forkazoo (138186) <wrosecrans.gmail@com> on Tuesday May 29, 2007 @02:16PM (#19311803) Homepage

        You never know where technology will take us, even in the near future. Some say that we might experience technological singularity within the next 20 years. Then it might be a rather short time until FTL, or at least the ability to prolong one's life/consciousness. Then again, it might also be a rather short time until our extinction.


        As far as my dad is concerned, we passed the technological singularity a while ago.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Paperweight (865007)
      After reading this article [sunysb.edu] on a quantum erasure experiment, it seems that if path p (in this experiment) was lengthened enough you can tell, by looking at the double slit results of path s, if the polarizer is in place on path p before the p photon even reaches the polarizer. What if path p was lengthened to a distant location? Could someone there apply or remove the polarizer to path p letting you, by looking at the nearby double slit interference/non-interference results of path s, receive the signal of w
  • Strange... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Karganeth (1017580) on Tuesday May 29, 2007 @12:48PM (#19310679)
    What confuses me, is why scientist believe that having conditions the same (or very close to) those on Earth is necessary for life. For all we know, life could be able to live at thousands of degrees hot. You just don't know.
    • Re:Strange... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Cristofori42 (1001206) on Tuesday May 29, 2007 @12:53PM (#19310759)
      To their credit it did say "life as we know it" not just "life in general"
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by sconeu (64226)
        It's life, Jim, but not as we know it!

        Oh, and there's Klingons off the starboard bow!
      • I don't care about all this high-fallutin' life finding. I'm interested in finding a planet that's like our beautiful Earth, and not genetically altering myself so that I can live on a volcanic vent like exotic bacteria.

        We should want more Earths, so that we can have more green pastures to graze in and enjoy ourselves on. We can't get there from here anway, you say? Bah, where there's a will, there's a way. Once people see there are other places worth getting to, they'll set about finding ways to get there.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by grub (11606)

      What confuses me, is why scientist believe that having conditions the same (or very close to) those on Earth is necessary for life. For all we know, life could be able to live at thousands of degrees hot. You just don't know.

      I'm still amazed at how much stuff was created in just 6000 years. Another 28 planets! The miracles never cease...

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Ucklak (755284)
      Let's say we can go visit another planet and I can plant my NASA boot on their soil. I really would like to not wear a protective suit that would protect me from the elements.
      I also wouldn't want to do it naked either as we sometimes portray aliens that visit earth as naked beings (CE3K, War of the Worlds, etc...)
      • Erhm... so you're saying we can't send our nudists to those planets?
        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          Erhm... so you're saying we can't send our nudists to those planets?
          Have you seen some our nudists? I mean, come on, we don't want to scare any potential alien life forms away...

          • by nizo (81281) *
            ...we don't want to scare any potential alien life forms away...


            Wouldn't this be easier than exterminating them? Either way, they had no right to evolve on our planet before we got there.

        • ...only if they can ride their bicycles. [worldnakedbikeride.org]
    • by iminplaya (723125)
      For all we know, life could be able to live at thousands of degrees hot. You just don't know.

      Yes I do [resa.net].
    • Chemistry. (Score:3, Informative)

      by Ihlosi (895663)
      What confuses me, is why scientist believe that having conditions the same (or very close to) those on Earth is necessary for life. For all we know, life could be able to live at thousands of degrees hot. You just don't know.

      Chemistry works the same way, regardless of which solar system you are in. While it might be possible that life exists on planets that are slightly colder or slightly warmer than Earth, the chances of it existing on places as cold as Pluto or as hot as Venus/Mercury are infinitesimal

      • "Chemistry works the same way, regardless of which solar system you are in."

        Prove it.
        • We see the same basic elements even in distant galaxies, the same interactions of matter and energy. It's a pretty damn easy inference that the rest of the observable universe functions as we see it here.
        • "Chemistry works the same way, regardless of which solar system you are in."

          Prove it.
          It's science. You can't "prove" it. You can only draw reasonable conclusions from the available evidence and, until evidence disproving your conclusion becomes available, assume that your conclusion is close enough to correct to be useful
      • Alien Chemistry (Score:3, Interesting)

        I always liked Sci-Fi stories where aliens had alien chemistry. There was one where creatures lived on the Sun with bodies formed of plasma shaped by intricately twisted magnetic fields. They were spacefaring, but one of the hazards was annoying chunks of cold dark matter in the orbital plane. (what was God thinking?) One touch was instant death for a Sun person. Another had inhabitants of Jupiter swimming in methane seas and smelting solid hydrogen for tools.
    • Primordial plasma (Score:5, Interesting)

      by MillionthMonkey (240664) on Tuesday May 29, 2007 @02:05PM (#19311671)
      For all we know, life could be able to live at thousands of degrees hot. You just don't know.

      Sure we know. Life won't survive at thousands of degrees because organic molecules fall apart at those temperatures, unless it's based on some element we don't see in the periodic table. A few thousand degrees means a good part of an eV per particle. Most chemical bonds will break in such an environment. Other elements don't behave right for life- they either form little molecules with a dozen or so atoms, or long simple polymers like asbestos. At thousands of degrees you won't even see that. Oxygen and fluorine can produce stable compounds with high bond energies but even those will break, and ceramic-based life has generally been a non-starter. Carbon itself will for the most part only exist in a free state although carbon monoxide (surprisingly stable) appears in stellar spectra.

      Of course the definition of "life" is abstract in a general sense and doesn't necessarily involve electron chemistry at all. But if there's life anywhere on the sun, it's the sort of life that college-age geeks imagine existing at some level in the cellular automata programs they write for homework.
    • This question gets brought up in every single "We found water on X!" discussion.
      The reason we're looking so hard to find earthlike planets is NOT that we think they're necessary for life.
      It's that WE HAVE NO IDEA HOW TO FIND OTHER KINDS OF LIFE. If there is life that lives outside our oxygen+water environment, we haven't seen it. So we can't look at planet X and planet Y and say "Ahh, planet X is a lifeless rock, but planet Y is just right for methane/silicon life!". We've never seen any methane/silicon lif
    • by Pedrito (94783)
      There are certain reasonable limits we can put on life, despite what sci-fi writers come up with. For example, silicon based life isn't possible, at least not naturally (man-made or alien-made, maybe). Only carbon is capable of creating complex molecules. Using any scientific basis for the definition of life, life requires a certain degree of complexity. You can create computer chips from silicon that might one day be able to achieve what we'd consider life (through some redefinitions of the word), but comp
    • "life could be able to live at thousands of degrees hot. You just don't know."

      Several good reasons...

      1) We assume anything complex enough to be called "life" is made
      of some kind of complex molecules. In general complex molecules
      break down into simpler components at high temperatures. I think it is safe to assume the laws of chemistry are the same everywhere.

      2) We observe that life here is based on common chemicals found everywhere in space. Life everywhere is likely based on "what's
      around" and the same
  • by mrchaotica (681592) * on Tuesday May 29, 2007 @12:49PM (#19310697)

    And how many systems have we looked at? It seems with the rate we're finding new planets nowadays, we might be able to start narrowing down the possible values of fp [wikipedia.org]

    (Side note: I really wish Slashdot would allow <sub> and <sup> tags. I know only a subset of HTML is allowed to prevent abuse, but there's nothing harmful about subscripts and superscripts!)

  • we are not alone (Score:2, Insightful)

    by jcgam69 (994690)

    "Our Milky Way galaxy has 200 billion stars. I would estimate that 10 percent of them, perhaps, have planets that are habitable," Marcy said.
    We are most definitely not alone in this galaxy.
    • Re:we are not alone (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Jarnin (925269) on Tuesday May 29, 2007 @01:18PM (#19311083)
      When you're typing away on your computer late at night, do you consider yourself to be alone? Sure, you might be the only human in the room, but you are definitely not alone. There are insects and mites creeping around that room hidden from view. There are bacteria covering every surface of the room. So while a layperson would say "I'm here by myself" a biologist would smirk and keep quiet so they didn't scare you silly with all the bugs you're surrounded with.

      Habitable planets mean just that: there's probably life on them, but not life you would ever think twice about. Many of those planets, if habitable, wouldn't look like they're life-bearing at all. Sure, they might have oxygen atmospheres which we could breath, and they might have liquid water, but toss in your fishing pole and you wouldn't catch any fish (or fish-like animals).

      I'm really getting tired of all the sensationalist journalism that reports on findings like this. Sure, there's most likely habitable planets out there, and sure, there's probably life on them, but when you explain to a layperson what kinds of life, they say "oh, is that all?". Science fiction has embedded itself into our consciousness so that the only life we think about is animal life. Unless there are little green men running around on those planets, most people simply don't care (which is sad).

      I can't wait until we find signs of life on Mars or Europa. Even bacteria would be the most important discovery in the history of humanity, but the mindless masses with simply shrug their shoulders and flip the channel to something a bit more their level.
      • by kalirion (728907)
        I can't wait until we find signs of life on Mars or Europa. Even bacteria would be the most important discovery in the history of humanity, but the mindless masses with simply shrug their shoulders and flip the channel to something a bit more their level.

        Define "most important discovery in the history of humanity" please.

        I consider fire to be rather important. Electricity, atomic energy, microbiology, genetics, radio waves, etc. Plus all the neat inventions which make uses of said discoveries.... Bacteria
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by zCyl (14362)

        Habitable planets mean just that: there's probably life on them, but not life you would ever think twice about.

        I don't know about that. Every single planet we've ever found life on so far has also evolved intelligent life. Coincidence, perhaps, but that's a pretty good hit ratio.

        The catch is that perhaps 50% of that intelligent life will take billions of years to evolve, and the other 50% of that intelligent life evolved intelligence billions of years before we did.

        Given the quantity of habitable planets

        • by Plutonite (999141)

          Every single planet we've ever found life on so far has also evolved intelligent life.
          And how many planets is that? Is it also a coincidence that we are unable to engineer a single primitive life form with thousands of years of engineering (and about 30 years of nano-tech) behind us?

          Initial construction of reproducing cells from raw chemicals is more difficult than millions of years of mutation-selection leading to intelligent life.
        • by drawfour (791912)

          I don't know about that. Every single planet we've ever found life on so far has also evolved intelligent life. Coincidence, perhaps, but that's a pretty good hit ratio.
          Sorry, a sample size of 1 has no statistical relevance.
      • Re:we are not alone (Score:5, Interesting)

        by localman (111171) on Tuesday May 29, 2007 @03:13PM (#19312559) Homepage
        the bugs you're surrounded with.

        And covered with and permeated with, too! The healthy bacterial flora of the skin and digestive system; and even more amazingly the mitochondria in each cell. Most scientists now accept them to be specialized bacteria that became symbiant with primitive cells so many millenia ago, which is why they have their own genes and genetic code, distinct from the host, i.e. you. Though they're as much a part of me as my cells, I sometimes like to think of some percentage of my body weight being made of little creatures living literally in every part of me, processing glucose and ketones into ATP or whatever to keep me going. Kind of creepy but kind of cool.
    • It's not that simple (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Moraelin (679338) on Tuesday May 29, 2007 @01:55PM (#19311569) Journal
      It's not that simple. Just being in the right band doesn't mean it'll be habitable, or that life developped... at the right time.

      E.g., look at Venus. It's in the right band too, but it's hell. The slow rotation speed means it has almost no magnetic field, and the solar radiation stripped away all hydrogen. The result is a world without water, and with an atmosphere of almost pure CO2. (Well, ok, and a little nitrogen.)

      E.g., look at Mars. We're finding that it used to have water, but the world is so small that it didn't manage to retain an atmosphere. Not only the low gravity means that gas has a hell of an easier time escaping, but the core already froze and it ended up without much of a magnetic field again. So solar winds helped strip it of whatever atmosphere it hadn't already lost.

      Earth itself paints an even scarier story.

      See, Earth started with an atmosphere of mosthly methane gas. That's a _very_ powerful greenhouse gas, about 200 times more potent than CO2. But that was ok because the sun also was a lot less hot. Without the methane, Earth would have been a deep frozen snowball and life would never have evolved.

      But then the sun gradually got warmer, very gradually over billions of years. And Earth would have eventually become a hell worse than Venus.

      Luckily some of these new (at the time) bacteria had started doing photosynthesis for a living, and turned the atmosphere into lots of oxygen and nitrogen, which doesn't quite act as greenhouse gasses.

      And incidentally that _did_ cause the planet to turn into a deep frozen snowball in the process. Luckily a new batch of carbon got spewed into the atmosphere and thawed it again. It took some tens of millions of years for that to accumulate, though, because we're talking a _lot_ of carbon in the air to defrost as snowball Earth. As in, at least one estimate says 13% carbon dioxide. And that was the first scary skirting with complete extinction.

      And from there it's been riding a bit of a thin line between turning into hell and turning into a snowball. E.g., if you look at the massive coal deposits from the Carboniferous era, they had to come from _somewhere_, and that somewhere is almost certainly the air. Without the right conditions for this (e.g., the lower sea levels and the recent event of plants whose wood couldn't be broken because bacteria which can digest lignin didn't yet exist), would Earth have eventually turned into Venus?

      So basically if you look at it, 10% of the planets being in the right band still paints an over-optimistic picture. You also have to have the right conditions and the right timing. E.g., if the oxygen production had come a billion years later, Earth would now be pretty much the same as Venus.

      Are we alone? Maybe not, but don't get that optimistic based on that 10% figure.
      • by jddj (1085169) on Tuesday May 29, 2007 @02:05PM (#19311679) Journal
        More to the point, not even a hundred years elapsed between the time we made the first tentative experiments with radio and the point at which we developed the technology to wipe life off the planet with the machinery of war.

        This doesn't even comprehend accidental or intentional sterilization of the globe with some new biological weapon or experiment not yet comprehended.

        It's possible that over the long term, only the not-as-smart-as-us lifeforms survive.

        We'd have to find each other not just in space, but in time as well. And the realities of time in space travel mean there may no longer be a welcoming committee there by the time we put down the gangway.
  • Can any astronomers out there clue us in? Is this just observational bias or are elliptical orbits more common than our more circular ones? I mean, I know it's likely a long way in the future, but that could be a small problem for our future colonization of the galaxy. It would certainly mean our new homes would likely be less than earth-like.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by IdleTime (561841)
      We are circular? that's news to me. We are also elliptical around the sun.

      The only problem I see, is space travel. It's a long long long way to the nearest exoplanet and we will probably never be able to travel that far thanks to the laws of the universe.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by spun (1352)
        The article says the newly discovered planets have more elliptical orbits than ours. As for space travel, well, generation arks aren't out of the question. Even using such a system we could colonize the entire galaxy in a few million years.
        • I think we're a long way off from producing self-contained ecospheres that can survive for tens and hundreds of thousands of years in voyages to even the closest solar systems with potentially habitable planets. Can you imagine the complexities involved in assuring such vessels can be maintained. You would have to have a vast amount of raw materials, processing facilities and technical know-how. You would have to have a very efficient long-term energy source to keep things going, and you would have to ha
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Kadin2048 (468275) *
        We are circular? that's news to me. We are also elliptical around the sun.

        I think they mean "more elliptical." Or rather, orbits where the foci of the ellipse are much, much further apart.

        I guess the assumption is that a very elliptical orbit would produce too much variation in the planet's climate to sustain live and allow it to evolve very far, although I'm not sure what the basis for that is. Seems that, with the right ingredients, you could get all sorts of interesting forms of life that could withstand
        • I think part of what we're ultimately looking for is Earth-like worlds, not just in size or density, but in the possibility of holding Earth-like life, and by extension, possibly being able to support human life. I'm quite sure there all sorts of worlds that could harbor life, and even finding some sort of hot house where temperature-tolerant bacteria evolved or some world that went through annual super-freezing and super-heating seasons due to a highly elliptical orbit would be incredibly exciting, but I
        • by localman (111171)
          Talking about extreme variations: I always liked the idea that the giant sequoia trees included forest fires in their reproductive cycle. Apparently they wait many decades until there are huge natural forest fires that wipe out the small and medium sized vegetation before the seed pods drop. Then they land in clear and fertile soil with little competition. Of course, their trunks have to be fire resistant, and they are. Their leaves and small branches have to be high enough to avoid the worst of the hea
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by honkycat (249849)
        The Earth's eccentricity is 0.0167 [wikipedia.org] -- that is EXTREMELY close to circular.
    • by jd (1658) <[moc.oohay] [ta] [kapimi]> on Tuesday May 29, 2007 @01:21PM (#19311135) Homepage Journal
      IANAA, but Patrick Moore plays the xylophone.

      A circular (or near-circular) orbit should be extremely rare. It is the special case of an elliptical orbit where the speed is very very close to the theoretical speed required to orbit at that distance from the sun and the direction of motion is very close to being at right-angles to the sun.

      The Earth is an intriguing case - the original third planet collided with a planet the size of Mars, resulting in part of the crust being blasted off into space forming a mass that is now our moon and a debris ring. A collision on that scale - two almost equally massive objects slamming at an angle - must have resulted in a change in velocity. Since Earth is now on a near-circular orbit, it would seem not unreasonable to assume it started off on a much more elliptical path.

      Virtually all of the known objects in the Kepler Belt follow extreme orbits - some varying by 300+ AU in distance from the sun. However, these are all very old objects. They have not been subject to many collisions and are almost in their original state.

      On the basis of our extrasolar observations to date, plus the Kepler Belt observations, plus the Earth enigma, I would conclude that elliptical orbits are the norm for younger solar systems and that more circular orbits become slightly more common in older systems where there is a chance that collisions will have averaged things out better.

      • by Bemopolis (698691)

        A circular (or near-circular) orbit should be extremely rare. It is the special case of an elliptical orbit where the speed is very very close to the theoretical speed required to orbit at that distance from the sun and the direction of motion is very close to being at right-angles to the sun.

        Well, not that rare. You make it sound as if there is a cosmic crapshoot between all values of ellipticity, ergo the subset of low ellipticities should be small according to the vagaries of chance. However, the for

        • by jd (1658)
          Hmmm. Wouldn't that be true only over a sufficiently long timeframe?

          Since the collisions are down to chance, and planets probably don't form simultaneously, there must surely be a timeframe in which the probability of a high-speed collision that would destroy a planetary mass is low enough that the planets are traveling in a more-or-less random direction. As the timeframe increases, the number of significant masses would presumably increase, and the probability of any two masses colliding would also incre

        • A large planetoid sweeping through the debris disk in a highly elliptical orbit is more likely to suffer a high-velocity collision that will break the planetoid into smaller chunks

          There's more than that. A planetoid in an eccentric orbit will be moving faster than the surrounding medium when it's closest to the star and slower than the medium when it's farthest. This means the orbit will be circularized, because the proto-planet will be slowed down by the dust in the accretion disk when its speed is highes

          • Mea culpa. I shall bow to the wisdom of the Great Minds. :) Seriously, now it's written out in both the parent and grandparent post to this, it's pretty clear-cut. (Being wrong is never fun, but it gives me a chance to learn from the experts.)
      • by chgros (690878)
        The Earth is an intriguing case - the original third planet collided with a planet the size of Mars, resulting in part of the crust being blasted off into space forming a mass that is now our moon and a debris ring.
        You sound quite sure about that. This is still a hypothesis. Also I don't see what it has to do with the eccentricity of Earth's orbit.
        the Earth enigma
        What about the Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn and Uranus enigmas? They all have fairly circular orbits (some more than Earth)
        the Kepler Bel
        • by jd (1658)
          Ok, first everything in science is "theoretical" to some degree - we weren't around 4.5 billion years ago. However, it was recently (I seem to remember a Slashdot story on this in the last week or so) accepted by astronomers that this was the best of all currently proposed theories. It is also the only model that can account for the moon's momentum (it has escape velocity and this limits where it can originate from), it is the only model that can account for the moon's composition (it is composed of the sam
    • Can any astronomers out there clue us in? Is this just observational bias or are elliptical orbits more common than our more circular ones? I mean, I know it's likely a long way in the future, but that could be a small problem for our future colonization of the galaxy. It would certainly mean our new homes would likely be less than earth-like.

      I can't understand why we would make the assumption that these planets might have orbits similar to ours - I mean, they are observing planets with very short orbits so
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by jtwright (1108791)

      Can any astronomers out there clue us in? Is this just observational bias or are elliptical orbits more common than our more circular ones?

      Well, IAAA. There are no strong observational biases going on here regarding the eccentricities of the orbits of exoplanets. If anything, we're somewhat less likely to detect orbits in extremely eccentric orbits (but it turns out those are rare, anyway). It is a mystery why the planets in the Solar System are on nearly circular orbits when most of the exoplanets are in more eccentric orbits. Most of these planets are not much like those in our Solar System -- the median mass is 1.7 Jupiter masses and t

  • by AttillaTheNun (618721) on Tuesday May 29, 2007 @12:50PM (#19310725)
    An orbit in 2.6 days, huh? That's gotta be a record. Barely time to recover from the New Year's hangover before popping the cork again.
    • If you count celebrations for the Vernal and Autumnal equinoxes you can just stay drunk all the time.
    • by dreamlax (981973)
      You know, Venus has a day longer than it's year . . . and it also spins backwards compared to the other planets in our solar system.
      • by SirBruce (679714)
        Actually, 3 planets rotate "backwards" - Venus, Uranus, and Pluto. Or 2 if you don't count Pluto. Or, if you flip north and south, then all of the planets except those 3 rotate backwards, along with the sun. It's all a matter of perspective.
  • here? (Score:2, Informative)

    by coldcell (714061)
    "any-day-now-we're-going-to-here-about-squidgy-thi ngs-in-outer-space dept."

    Surely he means 'hear'?

    also:

    Its rocky core is surrounded by an amount of water compressed into a solid form at high pressures and low temperatures.

    You mean... ice?

    • water compressed into a solid form at high pressures and low temperatures.
      You mean... ice?

      He probably means one of the weirder kinds [wikipedia.org] of ice.

    • Re:here? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Adambomb (118938) * on Tuesday May 29, 2007 @12:58PM (#19310847) Journal

      You mean... ice?
      Actually, the interesting thing there is that it is a specific kind of high pressure ice. If you never thought a topic as mundane as ice could have complexity, check out the different different known phases [wikipedia.org].

      Surely he means 'hear'?
      Maybe they just mean we're going to go somewhere, whereabouts squidgy things in outer space are!
  • "The profound conclusion is, here we've found yet another type of planet that is already represented in our solar system," Marcy said.

    Yet another type that's already represented? I guess it's not "another type," then.

  • Exotic ice. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Palmyst (1065142) on Tuesday May 29, 2007 @12:58PM (#19310839)
    Cold water is denser than ice. So compressing H2O near its melting point actually tends to melt it rather than freeze it. Extremely high pressure can turn this back into solid state again.

    Gliese 436 b is supposed to be at a surface temperature of 520 Kelvin. The phase diagram of H2O [lsbu.ac.uk] indicates that for certain "exotic" forms of ice to form at that temperature, you need more than 10^9 Pascals of pressure. It would be interesting to calculate the gravitational force on the surface of the planet, and at what depth pressures of 10^9 Pa can be created by gravity, from the known data about the mass and size [wikipedia.org] of the planet.
  • We're surrounded!
  • print "I, for one, welcome our new exo-planet overlords" * 28
  • Elliptical? (Score:4, Informative)

    by soundhack (179543) on Tuesday May 29, 2007 @01:19PM (#19311097)
    Umm it's been ages since I took any astronomy course, but I thought Kepler figured out that *our* orbit was elliptical?

    I assume the article meant "elliptical" in the qualitative sense, that their orbits "looked" like ellipses while our orbit "looks" like a circle.

  • I fancy me a new planet to call my own.
  • Considering that we're finding so many planets, don't you think it's rather assuming of us to claim that Riyo Mori is really, truly, Miss Universe 2007?

    I do.

    TLF
    • by kalirion (728907)
      I think you'll have a hard time convincing human judges to vote for the Green Blob representing Omicron Percei 8. On the other hand, I do hear good things about those Orion slave girls.
  • "The profound conclusion is, here we've found yet another type of planet that is already represented in our solar system"

    Dupe?
  • ...depends very much on what you can see:

    System layouts feature small rocky planets towards the star and gas giants further out. The biggest difference seen is a preference for elliptical orbits, instead of generally circular orbit we enjoy.

    Yeah, but that's because the state of the art can only detect rocky planets when they're really close to the star, but can detect gas giants when they're further out; and planets with elliptical orbits are much easier to find than circular orbits, so a disproportionate number of those appear.

    Some of these solar systems could have a thousand earth-like habitable planets in the multiple A.U. range, and we wouldn't even know they were there.

    • The other thing we should be waiting for, and it may not happen quite in our life time, is large inferometers made up of widely spaced telescopes orbiting the sun. These ought to get us to resolution levels where we might even be able to differentiate continents on some hypothetical Earth-like planet. We're certainly not that far away from at least detecting planets more in the terrestial range of sizes, and being able to detect atmospheres similar to our own isn't fantasy any more either.

      What I really wo
  • by lahi (316099)
    "Hmmm."
    "Oooh!"
    "Urgh!"
    "Urgh!"
    "Urgh!"
    "Urgh!" ...
    "You can cancel one research program:"
    "Get lots of money immediately"
    "Build a decoy ship"

    -Lasse
  • Methodology? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Enrique1218 (603187) on Tuesday May 29, 2007 @02:50PM (#19312203) Journal
    I have questions about the methodolgy employed these discoveries. How much can we really know about these planets? For instance take the wobble method, we can infer the orbital period from the wobble (periodic changes in the star's spectrum). However, we still have some difficulty with the size of the planet and its orbital radius. First, if we are using Kepler's Third Law (P^2=4pi^2*OR^3/(G(M+m)), we would need know the mass of the star. What are the methods for determining that and how accurate are they? Then, we need to know either orbital radius or the mass of the planet to get the rest of the picture. Maybe the mass can be infer by the amplitdue of the wobble, but how is that calibrated? What if there are more than one planet (our system has 8 with four big ones)? How will the other planets affect the wobble? What about normal periodic solar activity like sunspots producing periodic changes in the spectrum that we are inferring as being cause by the wobble? (Our star spectrum changes every 11 years which is also the period of Jupiter). How accurate is the transit method? This being slashdot and all, we might better benefit if those with knowledge discuss the details behind these exoplanet "discoveries".
    • by mangu (126918) on Tuesday May 29, 2007 @03:54PM (#19313209)
      we would need know the mass of the star. What are the methods for determining that and how accurate are they?


      Mass of the star can be calculated from its spectrum and brightness. We have models for star formation, based on studies of the nuclear reactions that happen at the core. These stars are all relatively near, so the distance to several of them can be measured directly from the parallax. Knowing the type of the star and the distance, the mass can be calculated from the brightness.


      This book [willbell.com] shows in an introductory way how it's done, with examples of all the calculations in BASIC. It's a very interesting book, highly recommended.

      • You didn't answer how accurate that was. I did some checking and the error in that method is 20-30% and the stars have to be main sequence. Overall, I wanted to point out the disconnect at the level of the laymen that makes it difficult for them to weigh the conclusions by experts in the field. Your solution was for the laymen to go read a book. However, that solution can be flawed if one does not have the time or the background to find out for himself. In this age, the level of scientific knowledge is too
  • I think it is a statistical certainty that there is other life in the universe. I think it is a statistical liklihood that there is other life in the galaxy.

    I also think it's a statistical certainty that we'll not find any in our lifetimes. And sometimes that makes me sad.
  • Now that our stellar neighborhood is becoming a little more complex than points of light, are there charts or (sky) maps out there that diagram these newly discovered planets and how their orbits might look?

    I've also often wondered why we don't have Eve Online-style maps of our own galaxy. Even if we don't know distances for some stars to any meaningful degree of accuracy, surely we could come up with a best guess, or represent stars as lines representing the range of possible distances.
  • For 30-40 years we have been searching the space and we were not able to find many planets until last few years. And suddenly we find 26. what the heck is going on ? Were these already found and being hidden from the public ?
    • by wikinerd (809585)
      It's very easy to repeat something already done. Any techniques, theories, and technology used for the discovery have been practically proven after the first discovery, and other scientists are more willing to invest their precious time on theories and techniques that are proven to produce results. Furthermore, discovering things is usually very good for your career (but not always - depending on where you live and how you communicate your findings you may find yourself in trouble, eg Galileo). After a s
  • Did anyone else read the headline as "28 New Patents Found Outside Solar System"?

    I gotta stop reading all these GPLv3 drafts....

"A great many people think they are thinking when they are merely rearranging their prejudices." -- William James

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