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Study Concludes "Planet" Was Just Stellar Spots 132

Posted by timothy
from the waste-of-missiles dept.
Kligat writes "Back in January, it was reported that the youngest planet ever to be discovered, about ten times the mass of Jupiter, was orbiting the eight- to ten-million-year-old star TW Hydrae. Now a Spanish research team has concluded that TW Hydrae b doesn't exist, and that cold spots on the star's surface actually produced the dip in brightness instead of a transiting planet. Not as cool as if a planet had actually been there, but refutations are science, too, right?"
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Study Concludes "Planet" Was Just Stellar Spots

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  • Damn! (Score:4, Funny)

    by Chlorus (1146335) on Sunday August 24, 2008 @11:02PM (#24732257)
    And I had just bought real estate there too! Think they'll give me my money back if I ask nicely?
  • It's Science! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Sir Holo (531007) on Sunday August 24, 2008 @11:08PM (#24732303)
    This is all part of the process of science.

    People are trying to figure out the unknown, and don't always get it right the first time.

    The popular press may spin it differently for the layman, but this is how science works.
    • Re:It's Science! (Score:5, Interesting)

      by evanbd (210358) on Sunday August 24, 2008 @11:14PM (#24732349)

      So, have extrasolar sunspots been observed before?

      I assume sunspots are far better understood than planetary formation, and that they're less interesting, but still... TFA gives no hint as to whether this is a first.

      If this is a first, that's quite cool in its own right, even if there isn't a planet.

      • Re:It's Science! (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward on Sunday August 24, 2008 @11:34PM (#24732469)

        You beat me to this point.

        It is very important to be able to see 'cool spots' on stars other than our sun. We don't even understand our solar cycle yet and seeing what goes on on other stars will help us understand our Sun and Earth.

        If this is the first time that this has been observed there should be more hype on this subject. There are many, many people on earth that will take notice and attempt to repeat.

        If this 'spot' is so huge that we can detect it - what would be the ramifications if our sun got the same sized spot?

        • by g0dsp33d (849253)

          If this 'spot' is so huge that we can detect it - what would be the ramifications if our sun got the same sized spot?

          It could be dark for up to half of the day!

        • If this 'spot' is so huge that we can detect it - what would be the ramifications if our sun got the same sized spot?

          TFA says the planet was calculated as "ten times the mass of Jupiter".

          Or did the author mean "size"?

      • Re:It's Science! (Score:4, Interesting)

        by neil.orourke (703459) on Sunday August 24, 2008 @11:42PM (#24732525)

        So, have extrasolar sunspots been observed before?

        I assume sunspots are far better understood than planetary formation

        Not necessarily so. The cause of sunspots is mostly understood, but this discovery is significant because it shows that starspots occur on stars with no known planets, thus providing the start of a refutation of the "Jupiter effect" in solar activity.

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by Americium (1343605)

          Too bad we can't detect if there are Jupiter like planets around this star.

          We can only detect Jupiter sized planets very close to the star, or something much bigger that is further away, nothing actually similar to Jupiter.

          So no, it doesn't start a refutation at all. And this technique only can find planets that are in the same plane as our line of sight to that star, which considering how far away we are is an almost insignificant percent of that solar system.

      • Re:It's Science! (Score:5, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward on Sunday August 24, 2008 @11:43PM (#24732535)

        If only there was a free online encyclopedia we could consult... we could go to the "sun spot" article and see if there is a section about "starspots on other stars [wikipedia.org]".

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Young stars are notorious for having star spots. They are much more active than the sun, having generally larger sunspots and flares. Stars younger than a few million years have large cold spots, similar to the sun but bigger, as well as hot spots. The hot spots come from material streaming in from the accretion disk that surrounds the star, gets trapped in the magnetic field lines of the star (like those of a dipole magnet) and fall onto the star. When this material hits the surface of this star it creates

    • by bishiraver (707931) on Sunday August 24, 2008 @11:15PM (#24732357) Homepage

      Science: it works, bitches.

      • Transcript (Score:4, Funny)

        by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 25, 2008 @01:38AM (#24733199)

        Scientist 1: "OMG! There's a tear in the cosmic fabric of space-time! It's swallowing galaxies, heading right for us, and we're all going to DIE!"

        Scientist 2: "Would you chill out? It was just a hair on the eyepiece. Look again."

        Scientist 1: "Oh. Right. Well, that's enough science for this morning. I think I'm going to break for lunch, now..."

      • What a coincidence. I wore that shirt this morning.
    • That's -LIFE-. People take their best shot at mastering the unknown, namely, the future, and if they get it right, they are heros, and if they get it wrong, they are goats. Baseball players, bankers, drillers, salesman, farmers, all either have to guess the future correctly, or, they pay the price... hell, we all have to, or we pay the price. Why should scientists be treated any differently?

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      I don't think you can pin the blame purely on the press. People working in this field can make it clear when their findings are based partly on assumptions rather than proven science. Getting overexcited and announcing discoveries that turn out to be false can have quite a serious impact on the scientific community's reputation.
      • by Jens Egon (947467)

        I don't think you can pin the blame purely on the press. People working in this field can make it clear when their findings are based partly on assumptions rather than proven science. Getting overexcited and announcing discoveries that turn out to be false can have quite a serious impact on the scientific community's reputation.

        Thus ruining all arguments along the line of "we know from science that ..."

        Is that really so bad?

        Who knows, Joe Public might even discover the scientific process.

        • It wouldn't stop any discussions if people simply made clear the extent to which their research is based on guesswork. Episodes like this tend to indicate that the researchers involved don't really have a great enough appreciation for their methods' limitations.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by NoobixCube (1133473)

      Exactly. Without debate and opposition, science is no better than religion.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by geekoid (135745)

        Yes, but a debate must include facts and observations, not just opinion.

        • by Kjella (173770)

          Well, it can contain substantial amounts of extrapolation, conjencture, unproven models and such ranging from fairly solid through opinion to complete guesswork. The difference is that scientists don't desperately try to hold on to ideas that contradict observation. Once you have a few experiments that confirms the behavior/existance of a phenomen, then is it is implicit that this is something the models have to account for or at least recognize as a discrepancy between the model and reality that is still w

    • Re:It's Science! (Score:4, Insightful)

      by urcreepyneighbor (1171755) on Monday August 25, 2008 @01:14AM (#24733083)

      The popular press may spin it differently for the layman, but this is how science works.

      It's best to ignore the popular press.

    • by oldhack (1037484)
      Yeah, yeah, science at work, and it's all preaching to the choir here, but it'd be good if the researchers actually be conservative in the reports of their finding, especially in those fields where evidence is so circumstantial like cosmology, medical research, etc., lest people think scientists and salespeople are all the same.
    • Evolution

      People are trying to figure out the unknown, and don't always get it right the first time.

      Unless, of course, the subject is evolution. Then its Gospel Truth(TM). Before you think this a troll, know that I could care less one way or another whether evolution is "true" or not. Personally, I don't believe it conflicts with my theist leanings.

      But there are people who believe evolution somehow proves God doesn't exist. For these people, any part of the scientific process which questions thei

  • Interesting that they should investigate this, I wonder whether this could implicate other planets discovered or if this was clearly questionable from the beginning.

    • by Tablizer (95088)

      Interesting that they should investigate this, I wonder whether this could implicate other planets discovered or if this was clearly questionable from the beginning.

      I could have sworn there was a case in the mid 70's when they thought they detected an extra-solar planet that turned out to be false. But I cannot find any reference to it.
           

    • by Zancarius (414244) on Sunday August 24, 2008 @11:46PM (#24732557) Homepage Journal

      Interesting that they should investigate this, I wonder whether this could implicate other planets discovered or if this was clearly questionable from the beginning.

      I doubt it, because most other measurements were based upon the apparent wobbling of the parent star, not direct observation. This one, AFAIK, was tied to an attempt to "see" the planet transition across the parent star. Actually, I was of the frame of mind to think this is almost as exciting (if not more so) than a planetary discovery. If we can detect "cold spots" on an alien star, there's all sorts of fascinating implications.

      From the article:

      Our model shows that a cold spot covering 7% of the stellar surface and located at a latitude of 54 deg can reproduce the reported RV variations.

      Impressive! There's a lot we may be able to learn about our own sun by monitoring the daily happenings of other stars. Things like the frequency of solar maximums, sunspots, and so forth on other stars comparing them with our own would be one such course of study.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday August 24, 2008 @11:18PM (#24732379)
    but could this mean that OUR planet is just a stellar spot?
    • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

      by poopdeville (841677)

      Very insightful. Also a little alarming -- if our planet is a stellar spot, global warming means it is disappearing.

      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        by Anonymous Coward

        But our planet is not disappearing, therefore either our planet is not a stellar spot, or there is no global warming.

  • There goes my vision of meeting a 3-breasted green space-babe who likes D&D. As Elton J. would say, it's just the clouds in my eyes.

  • ... the tour bus was not scheduled to start for some years, so I guess I am not too terribly upset.
  • WTF? (Score:5, Funny)

    by jav1231 (539129) on Sunday August 24, 2008 @11:38PM (#24732501)
    Frankly, I think the CS'ers (Cold Spotters) are just trying to debunk established scientific facts with fantastic claims that are based in conjecture. All of us Transitional Planetists need to make sure these clowns don't teach this shit in our schools!

    This is where I sit back and watch the establishment piss themselves to mod me down first.
    • Re: (Score:1, Offtopic)

      I have no clue what you just said, but I like your sig... so I wish I had mod points. :)

    • by Sockatume (732728)
      Your post leaves open the question: which establishment are you expecting to mod you down? The religious, or the scientific? By doing so, you have created a joke for all men. Truly, a cut above the rest.
  • The exo-planet scientists are bumbling [quantumg.net] their way into obscurity. The public does not understand science. They don't understand small discoveries. They don't understand "backwards" discoveries like this one. Currently there is some interest in inferring that planets may exist around other stars, but it is quickly becoming a passing interest and the media attention is quickly turning from awe to skepticism (and not the good kind of skepticism required for science). It's like the 60s when inference of pla

    • by Kjella (173770)

      Apart from the science and all the religious/philsophical questions, what does it mean for the general public in practise? With technology that's at least something that might end up in practical use but the knowledge that there might be lumps of rock (or gas or whatever) around other stars doesn't have any more impact than there being stars in the sky. Show me that there are Earth-like planets out there. Not approximately maybe sorta like in some aspect but as in "we could live there". Show me that we have

  • Well, refutation *is* the foundation of science, after all.
  • Maybe the extraterrestrial Richter is lying to Cohagen again...

  • by Anonymous Coward

    If that's one thing I love about science, is that; you better be right, because there are 50 other people out there working on your project to prove its a fallacy.

    (Didn't Galileo about get put to death for proving some overbearing theology was wrong?) =(

    • 1. Actually, no, Galileo only got house arrest, and not as much for "proving some overbearing theology wrong" as for flaming an absolute monarch. There had been closed minded popes and cardinals, but Pope Urban VIII was not one of them. Before becoming a pope, he had actually defended Galileo and opposed other church officials like Bellarmine. And as a pope he actually encouraged Galileo to write his book, and only asked that he presents both models, both his new and his old one, and shows what his model ex

  • Inseparably so! You can't have science or Scientific Method without falsifiability; anything else would just be... a religion.

    I know, I know... the question was just rhetorical preaching to the choir, but the answer bears repeating nonetheless. There's still a few billion humans who haven't grokked it yet. 8-/

    • by gsslay (807818)

      Unfortunately those few billion humans think that is what's wrong with science and what makes religion so great. Seems that people prefer irrefutable certainties, even when they're wrong.

      • by macraig (621737)

        Yup... and Bill Engvall and I got signs for each and every one of 'em! We had to corner the market on tagboard and inkjet cartridges to do it, by gum.

        "Irrefutable certainties" are precisely what religion is all about because, as you alluded and a friend of mine said, religion is all about feeling good, not comprehending reality as it exists.

  • ...it's just a bunch of astros as obsessed with sensational headlines as everyone else.
    R.I.P.
    Science Reporting With Proper Perspective
    (i.e. "Dip in brightness that MAY have been caused by an orbiting planet, but more likely was caused by one of the following more common phenomenon:...")
    January, 2008

    In all seriousness, though, reporting true science to the masses...just doesn't work. The masses (myself included) simply cannot understand the complexity of the data/system/science well enough to receive
  • by Einer2 (665985) on Monday August 25, 2008 @01:58AM (#24733295)
    The original discovery was a radial velocity detection, not a transit detection. The "planet" wouldn't have transited because it was thought to have an almost face-on orbit, with an inclination close to that of the protoplanetary disk surrounding TW Hya. The star spots cause an apparent RV "wobble" because they reduce the flux from a single piece of the star's surface. As the star rotates, the missing flux shows up first in the blueshifted component (the side of the star coming toward us) and then in the redshifted component (the side of the star moving away). You can often identify this effect by measuring the time-dependent shape of the spectral line. Another good test (which these authors also used) is to measure radial velocities in the near-infrared, because spots have less contrast (and therefore lower RV variation) at redder wavelengths.

    Also, for whatever it's worth, there have been rumors floating around since the original announcement that several groups have photometric data showing the variations in stellar flux due to these spots. The period of this variability was supposed to be consistent to the "planet's" period, a very strong argument that it was a rotation/spot effect.

  • Popper-esque (Score:2, Insightful)

    by harley3k (1109381)
    Karl Popper would be proud...
  • All we are is dust in the wind.

  • ... that we can pick up the "sun spots" of stars that are lightyears away.
  • Refutations are one of the MOST important parts of science. Proving something incorrect is far more useful than suggesting that something might be correct.

  • Yes, they are. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by MoeDrippins (769977) on Monday August 25, 2008 @10:43AM (#24736895)

    > but refutations are science, too, right?

    Absolutely. And it is precisely that which distinguishes it from religion.

    Under what circumstances can ID be refuted?

    • by vux984 (928602)

      Under what circumstances can ID be refuted?

      Easy. God shows up and tells us he didn't do it.

  • R U sayin' that observation creates objects, or just artifacts in the data? Anyway, at that distance, how can one tell the difference between planetary bodies transiting their local solar discs, and the flicker caused by nearby cloaked Klingon warships?
  • A most effective way to describe science would be as the process in which the smartest people on the planet have been proven wrong.

    I see no reason to think thats going to change anytime soon.

  • Re: "Not as cool as if a planet had actually been there, but refutations are science, too, right?"

    Actually, refutations are MORE important than findings.
    The degree in which we can trust science from a particular field is directly coorilated to how freely one scientist can dispute the findings of another. The REAL value comes from propping up the refuters.

    Viva la scienctific-principal :Me

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