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Space Science

Solar System Date of Birth Determined 266

Posted by samzenpus
from the was-it-on-a-monday dept.
Invisible Pink Unicorn writes "UC Davis researchers have dated the earliest step in the formation of the solar system — when microscopic interstellar dust coalesced into mountain-sized chunks of rock — to 4,568 million years ago, within a range of about 2,080,000 years. In the second stage, mountain-sized masses grew quickly into about 20 Mars-sized planets and, in the third and final stage, these small planets smashed into each other in a series of giant collisions that left the planets we know today. The dates of these intermediary stages are well established. The article abstract is available from Astrophysical Journal Letters."
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Solar System Date of Birth Determined

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday December 19, 2007 @09:23PM (#21759568)
    Of course it was. Even then, everything crashed on Mondays.
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward
      And then came Patch Tuesday...
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by dougisfunny (1200171)
      It has had a pretty good uptime since then.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Chris Burke (6130)
        It has had a pretty good uptime since then.

        Bah, that's easy when the majority of your system is just running their idle loops! Out of the whole dang system only one core has any active clients, and it's been starting to look a little flakey lately as the client process is gobbling up all the resources.
  • Margin of Error (Score:4, Informative)

    by richdun (672214) on Wednesday December 19, 2007 @09:26PM (#21759592)
    So to borrow from someone else's profound statement, all of our recorded history in well within the margin of error (by 4 orders of magnitude or so).

    There's a nice political joke in there for those not yet in their holiday brain coma.
  • by Empiric (675968) on Wednesday December 19, 2007 @09:27PM (#21759604) Homepage
    ...to 4,568 million years ago, within a range of about 2,080,000 years.

    Similarly, I've discovered my birthday to be defined as subsequent to July.
    • Re:So many gifts..! (Score:5, Informative)

      by xPsi (851544) * on Wednesday December 19, 2007 @09:39PM (#21759710)

      ...to 4,568 million years ago, within a range of about 2,080,000 years.

      Similarly, I've discovered my birthday to be defined as subsequent to July.
      At a glance it might seem like a crude measurement, but its really about 4 parts in 10000, which is really quite good. This would be like knowing your birthday to within 4 hours during the year (better than I know my own birthday off the top of my head, to be honest).
      • by powerlinekid (442532) on Wednesday December 19, 2007 @09:52PM (#21759824)
        Honestly I think the problem is in the way it was expressed. The margin of error looks better if they had stated:
        "...to 4,568 million years ago, within a range of about 2 million years"
        or
        "...to 4,568,000,000 years ago, within a range of about 2,080,000 years"

        Its easier to quickly compare the numbers against each other that way.
        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by RachaelB (920489)
          Very useful, thank you.

          I hadn't considered myself inumerate, but even I was bamboozled by the big numbers. Thanks for the clarification.

          Rachael
      • by gnuman99 (746007)
        Furthermore, someone that didn't pass his/her science class wrote the article.

        4,568 million years ago, within a range of about 2,080,000 years

        So, measure the age of the solar system to 1 million years, but then state the error to few orders of magnitude more precise! 2.08 million years. The real error was either 2 million years or some percentage of the original measurement. The real error must not be more accurate than the measurement, so,

        4568 +- 2 million years, or
        4568.0 +- 2

        • by gnuman99 (746007)
          Urgh! Just read the abstract and it is as sloppy as the the article!

              +0.91 to 1.17 Myr at 4568 Myr ago

          Sad. So, they either exaggerated their accuracy of their error measurement or someone removed the stuff after decimal for 4568. As stated, the relative errors are meaningless since the accuracy of the real value is *not* stated.

          • by rucs_hack (784150)
            Being charitable, they may have just donkeyed the abstract, and the article might be written by someone who made notes based on the abstract when they didn't change when they read the paper.

            You don't usually get to be a post-doc without having some experience in writing papers, and the peer reviewers must have thought it was ok. Abstracts are a bugger to write, and so very easy to screw up, especially if a word limit is strictly enforced, which is usually the case in my experience.

            I've read stuff that was i
        • I thought significant figures [wikipedia.org] were what mattered in science, not orders of magnitude. (In which case, compare 2.080 million years to 4568 million years).
      • by 4D6963 (933028)

        its really about 4 parts in 10000

        Is it me or did everyone mistake a period of time for an error margin? I seemed to understand that what it means is that 4,568 million years ago, microscopic interstellar dust started to coalesce into mountain-sized chunks of rock, and this during 2,080,000 years, and then these mountain-sized masses quickly grew into about 20 Mars-sized planets, and so on..

        That's really what what I'm reading seems to say, but then it implies that I must be right and anyone else is wrong.

  • by nebaz (453974) on Wednesday December 19, 2007 @09:32PM (#21759634)
    To think that the span of a human life is at best about 1/250 millionth of that cycle. Light from distant stars does eventually get here, it just happens on timescales that are beyond imagination.
    Such a shame that we occupy such a small blink in the process, and can't witness cosmic events on any larger a level.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday December 19, 2007 @09:44PM (#21759754)
      Nah, you have it backwards. It is not a shame that our lives are short. I find it inspiring that we have come so far despite this shortness, and we have built instruments that let us actually see all those cosmic events, and even put them in perspective ;)
      • Imagine what we may be capable of, what is just over the event horizon.

        Harumph, I mean science is serious business that can have no spiritual value whatsoever.
      • We might argue that we've come this far *because* our lives are short. If we lived a long, long time, I think we'd stagnate, set in our ways. New ideas would be almost always rejected or suppressed. (There's an old half-true joke that new theories aren't accepted, the resistance just dies -- and not figuratively.)

        Our lifespans mean that there's always a fresh crop of people with new ideas and wanting to find better ways to do things ready to replace us and it also makes sure we feel some healthy pressure
        • by rucs_hack (784150)
          If we lived a long, long time, I think we'd stagnate, set in our ways

          To be precise, we'd all end up with arthritis, well almost all of us. There has never been a way for evolution to remove that particuler flaw in our genes, because firstly, humans didn't live that long when our species first appeared, and secondly, in virtually all cases it occurs after child rearing age, making it irrellevent to survival, and thus not a factor in natural selection.

          Since there is no cure for arthritis at this time, I'll ta
    • Such a shame that we occupy such a small blink in the process, and can't witness cosmic events on any larger a level
      I dunno, the first few years sound pretty boring.
    • Beyond yours, perhaps. You want to witness the expansion of a dust cloud why?
    • Such a shame that we occupy such a small blink in the process

      In some sense the smaller the are the most likely we are to survive and the less resources we are going to need to maintain ourselves. So maybe small size is a virtue (and ants or small microorganisms have more evolutionary potential to survive from a supernova or asteroid, maybe).

    • "Such a shame that we occupy such a small blink in the process, and can't witness cosmic events on any larger a level."

      Patience grasshopper.

      Wait...fur?! Oh blast, what have you mortals gone and evolved yourselves into now?

    • by shokk (187512)
      You mean to say it's a good thing we only occupy such a blink. God help the universe once we spread. What other lifeforms will we make endangered or extinct?
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by huckamania (533052)
        I don't know if it is a good thing or a bad thing or what the op means, but I don't think the universe will need any help if we ever spread. We've made and continue to make mistakes when it comes to the environment, but we're the only lifeform that can recognize mistakes and try to amend for them. It should also be mentioned that there are plenty of animals that have benefited from the Human Race and not just pets.

        We are both a part of nature and responsible for nature. No other lifeform on this planet
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      To think that the span of a human life is at best about 1/250 millionth of that cycle.

      On nth other hand, consider that by living well into old age, one can have lived through almost 2% of recorded human history. That's a lot, really. So if you chose correctly, it would only take about 50 people to have lived at the time that everything happened.

      Just shows in how short a time humans have become what we are.

  • by JustCallMeRich (1185429) on Wednesday December 19, 2007 @09:38PM (#21759704) Homepage
    Can we break those intermediate steps into seven phases or so and declare each of those a "day", get a copy to the Pope, and settle this whole religion versus science mess now? Or at least build some bridges for the Bible folks and the Science folks to agree to something that makes a little more sense?
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by SpaceLifeForm (228190)
      I doubt the Pope would like the news. It was a Wednesday.
      • by GrpA (691294)
        It depends on the timescale actually... If you assume God has a galactic presence, then the days are each about 210 million years (one trip around the Milky Way), so assuming those sort of timescales, we're about into the 22nd day (21.7 days).

        Of course, I'm assuming God uses non-union labour, or we'd still have a solar system that was full of rubble and dust...

        Ummm, then again...

        GrpA
    • by Rude Turnip (49495) <valuation@@@gmail...com> on Wednesday December 19, 2007 @09:56PM (#21759862)
      Psst...it's all the offshoots (I'm looking at you, Baptists) that are causing problems. The Catholic church is rather keen on astronomy an evolution nowadays. Not so much on the gays and condoms, but it's a start.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday December 19, 2007 @09:58PM (#21759872)
      One man says "it is right to protect the children." The other says "it is right to kill three a day." We should clearly compromise - no more then one child a day, two on weekends!

      But seriously. No, we can't. We don't compromise between a fiction and hard fact just because lots of people happen to believe the fiction.
      • by Empiric (675968)
        Yeah, especially the formally-invalid fiction of a false dichotomy.

        So, I'll call it "allegory" and...

        (waits 200 years)

        I win.

        No compromises, just facts, remember.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Colin Smith (2679)

      Or at least build some bridges for the Bible folks and the Science folks to agree to something that makes a little more sense?

      WTF?

      Bible thumpers: Big imaginary fairy created the world 4,000 years ago.
      Science folk: You're insane, it's all in your head, and I have proof.

      You think those two views can be reconciled?

      What I find bizarre is that religion is not considered a form of mental illness in the US. The thought of one such mentally ill leader having access to the largest stock of nuclear weapons in the world is... disturbing.

      • MAD is very scary. (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Ungrounded Lightning (62228) on Wednesday December 19, 2007 @10:52PM (#21760300) Journal
        The thought of one such mentally ill leader having access to the largest stock of nuclear weapons in the world is... disturbing.

        It's supposed to be.

        The MAD doctrine deters nuclear war by threatening a retaliation that would likely bring down civilization and possibly end the human race and much of life on Earth.

        For it to work, US presidents have to put on a show, looking crazy enough that they'd actually do it - but sane enough that the won't shoot first and can be reasoned with on issues that otherwise would have been "solved" by the outcome of a war. (IMHO it's likely the term "Mutually Assured Destruction" was chosen at least partly for the acronym, to help put on this show. Psych warfare was pretty well developed by the start of the Cold War.)

        MAD is pretty terrifying. But it reversed the ongoing escalation of wars right after the bombs were proven to work under battle conditions (and two fried cities were substituted for the years of war that had been expected to be necessary to end the Japan part of WWII). It's been over half a century and no nukes have been used in war since those two.
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          two fried cities were substituted for the years of war that had been expected to be necessary to end the Japan part of WWII

          Except that the myth of a protracted war with Japan if Hiroshima and Nagasaki hadn't been bombed is only a myth.

      • by RuBLed (995686)

        What I find bizarre is that religion is not considered a form of mental illness in the US. The thought of one such mentally ill leader having access to the largest stock of nuclear weapons in the world is... disturbing.


        It could very well be that religion is part of human nature (in one way or another) and not a mental illness as you percieve. Otherwise we would not have most of our written/recorded history full of it.
        • by Belial6 (794905)
          I don't think it's the "The best guess I can make with the information I have is that the bright object in the sky is a fiery chariot" when there was very little information about the make up of the sun, that is the problem. It's the, "even though all evidence points to dinosaurs having existed on earth, I'm going to assume that it is a giant hoax, the likes of which has never before been seen on the planet earth", that makes someone sound crazy.
      • by wikinerd (809585)

        Big imaginary fairy created the world 4,000 years ago.

        Come on, we all know everything was created by a flying spaghetti monster [venganza.org], not a freaking fairy!

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by 4D6963 (933028)

        What I find bizarre is that religion is not considered a form of mental illness in the US.

        Yeah, me too. I wish anyone who thinks or acts differently from me in a way I disapprove would be considered mentally ill, just like the homosexuals back in the day [wikipedia.org].

        Tolerance? What the fuck is that?! I brainwash a Jesus-freak and go get a six-pack. On an unrelated note, why do some many people in this country don't like atheists like me? I don't get it..

      • There are plenty of examples of mainstream religious doctrine changing to accommodate scientific discovery. It doesn't happen fast but it is more or less inevitable.

        Unfortunately it isn't all progress because there are people making up new religious bullshit all the time.
      • by turing_m (1030530)
        "The thought of one such mentally ill leader having access to the largest stock of nuclear weapons in the world is... disturbing."

        Do you really think that Bush (or Clinton, for that matter, or any president) actually believes in God (as opposed to just saying so), particularly a God as specified in the Bible?
    • Hey, could we declare the current 600something million years a Sunday? Should enable me to finally sleep in sensibly.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by wizardforce (1005805)
      they've [fundamentalists] already decided it was 7 literal days and nothing will convince them otherwise. The belief in biblical "days" being symolic of being "eras" of several hundred million year spans doesn't fit in with their literal reading of their holy books. Once that literal context disappears the entire framework of their belief system collapses.
    • The Catholic church has already apologized to Galileo [wikipedia.org] ('bout 400 years too late) and declared that Darwinism doesn't clash with Genesis [city-data.com] (which should be looked at as more of a parable than written history).

      There are, however other religious nuts who insist on ignoring both science and the pope.

      Can we break those intermediate steps into seven phases or so and declare each of those a "day", get a copy to the Pope, and ....?

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by khallow (566160)
      Wouldn't work. As I see it, the whole point of having a belief like that is so that you disagree with "Science" and other commonly held beliefs of society. The myth is that you are right and the society is blind in some way to this truth.Ultimately, the point is to disagree. What you disagree about isn't so important.
  • by FauxReal (653820) on Wednesday December 19, 2007 @09:43PM (#21759746) Homepage
    I need to know the calendar date so I can convince my boss it's a holiday. In fact, why don't we make it an international paid holiday?
  • by Dr_Banzai (111657) on Wednesday December 19, 2007 @09:46PM (#21759776) Homepage
    Have you ever wondered why we haven't encountered intelligent life forms other than ourselves? An advanced race with regular slower-than-light starships would be able to colonize an entire galaxy within a few million years (barely an instant on a geological timescale). One possible explanation for our apparent solitude in the universe is that the number of planets with the proper conditions for developing life is vanishingly small. (Read about the http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fermi_paradox [wikipedia.org] for other possibilities)

    For example Earth's moon creates tides (and tide pools) and stabilizes the earth's seasons and axial tilt. According to the http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Giant_impact_hypothesis [wikipedia.org] the Moon was created as a result of a chance collision between the proto-earth and a Mars-sized object. Without the presence of the Moon the conditions might have been too harsh to support life.

    As we learn more about how the solar system formed we will be better able to predict which stars might have life-bearing planets, so we can begin our own colonization of the galaxy (assuming humans can survive long enough to overcome war, disease and ecological destruction).
    • by QuantumG (50515)
      The the vast majority of our galaxy (let alone the rest of the universe) our planet appears empty.

    • Have you ever wondered why we haven't encountered intelligent life forms other than ourselves? An advanced race with regular slower-than-light starships would be able to colonize an entire galaxy within a few million years (barely an instant on a geological timescale).

      My preferred answer to the Fermi paradox is a corollary of that:

      Somebody had to be first. Looks like it's us.

      (For this galaxy at least.)
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by ZeroPly (881915)
      Let's examine the first sentence of your post in detail:

      Have you ever wondered why we haven't

      encountered

      You are assuming you would recognize another "intelligent" being if you saw one. More further down.

      intelligent

      What do you mean by intelligent? Would developing an elaborate system of tunneling through rock be considered that? Please - no "I understand undergrad math" tangents - just because you understand prime numbers doesn't necessarily mean you're going to transmit them via radio.

      life forms

      what do you mean by life? Are crystalline structures alive? Do you believe i

      • by Urkki (668283)

        Colonization is not even a concept understood or appreciated by YOUR whole planet, not to mention a totally alien one. Us Xenians like to stay close to home. Why would we want to go to a marginally hospitable planet?

        You are propagating a false stereotype of us Xenians. There are some of us who will colonize the galaxy! You evolutionarily doomed rejects will be left behind, or annihilated if you try to stop us! We'll have to rule the galaxy before the still puny humans can do it, or they will surely make us go the way of the dodo.

    • If that civilisation is anything like ours (and I see no good reason why it should not be), there will be no global endeavour like generation seed ships if there is no compelling need. Such things are VERY tough on the resources of a planet, and, well, I mean, look around, we currently don't even want to "waste" the resources necessary to keep our planet in halfway decent shape. Nothing like that would be done unless there is no other option than to leave the planet.

      Now, there are only two reasons why somet
  • creationism (Score:2, Interesting)

    by bcrowell (177657)

    It's been amusing over the past 10 years to see young-earth creationists squirm about the fact that cosmology has become a high-precision science, with the age of the universe going from having 50% error bars to 1.5% error bars. Now these folks have apparently measured the age of the solar system to within .05%. For a long time, young-earth creationists (YECs) were trying to say that the science was all very uncertain, so you couldn't trust the science. Hmm...now it appears that Archbishop Ussher's date for

    • As a California taxpayer, is it too unreasonable of me to expect research funded by my tax money to be available freely?

      What are you, some kind of communist?

      Seriously though, I find it fascinating that they can be so sure the age of the solar system is within such a small (relatively speaking) margin of error. But I'm still a bit sceptical that at some point the theories they've based this on will be disproven. OTOH, IANAA and have no idea how they came up with this age, but even if it seems sound now every so often we discover we didn't actually know something we were sure we knew.

  • Genesis 2:2 (Score:4, Funny)

    by 4D6963 (933028) on Wednesday December 19, 2007 @10:12PM (#21759996)

    to 4,568 million years ago, within a range of about 2,080,000 years

    And on the seven hundred fifty-nine million seven hundred three thousand seven hundred seventy-third day God ended his work which he had made; and he rested on the seven hundred fifty-nine million seven hundred three thousand seven hundred seventy-third day from all his work which he had made.

  • It's written in the stars...

    Maybe "slippery when wet"?
  • by DavidD_CA (750156) on Wednesday December 19, 2007 @10:54PM (#21760324) Homepage
    This is good news! The Solar System has been bummed out lately 'cause it couldn't prove it's birthday to anyone. All of the other solar systems could get into the cool clubs, but not ours.

    Now it's PARTY TIME and the drinks are on Sol!
  • if you know the exact date' we can have a public holiday!
  • ± 2,080,000 years? I thought they'd say something like "March 12, 4,568,422,12 BC"...
  • 20-into-9 (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Tablizer (95088)
    mountain-sized masses grew quickly into about 20 Mars-sized planets and, in the third and final stage, these small planets smashed into each other in a series of giant collisions that left the planets we know today.

    Another slashdot article about a month ago suggested that the type of collisions needed to create our moon were relatively rare, based on dust analysis of new systems. However, 20 Mars-sized proto-planets seems like it would create pretty good chances for moon-creating collisions. (Although gas
  • "Get off my lawn!"
  • 01-01-1980 (Score:3, Funny)

    by qcs-rf.com (952717) on Thursday December 20, 2007 @02:22AM (#21761776) Homepage
    You mean the universe didn't start on 01-01-1980?
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by ianezz (31449)
      You mean the universe didn't start on 01-01-1980?

      No.

      $ perl -MPOSIX -e 'print ctime(0)'
      Thu Jan 1 01:00:00 1970
      $
  • Whatever happened to just using billions of years? If they are attempting to keep the years and tolerance in equivalent units they could have just said, 4.568 billion years within a range [tolerance] of 0.00208 billion years and let people do the math.
  • It's a shame they can't give us an exact date. That would be one hell of a birthday cake :-)
  • by argStyopa (232550) on Thursday December 20, 2007 @09:54AM (#21763806) Journal
    ....isn't that far off then?

    4568 million years vs. somewhere around 6000 yrs. That's only 6 orders of magnitude, I mean, really they're just ZEROES.

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