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NASA Space Science

Mega-Volcanoes Might Be Detectable On Exoplanets 67

Posted by Soulskill
from the already-planning-a-discovery-channel-series dept.
astroengine writes "Could we detect a huge volcanic eruption on an exoplanet 30 light-years from Earth? Possibly, say scientists from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. What's more, there may be an opportunity for us to spot the ashy pollution ejected into the exoplanetary atmosphere when NASA's James Webb Space Telescope is launched in 2014. According to Discovery News, this would be a huge discovery if an Earth-like world was found to have active volcanoes: 'A geologically active terrestrial planet may be more suitable for life. It recycles crust, unleashes greenhouse gasses, opens new environmental niches, and generally provides a dynamic environment for advantageous life forms.'" According to a related story at the BBC, we should soon be able to detect the presence of oceans on distant worlds as well. The JWST will be able to resolve the reflection of light off an ocean's surface from 20-30 light-years away.
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Mega-Volcanoes Might Be Detectable On Exoplanets

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  • if we could detect dinosaurs

  • by rwa2 (4391) * on Friday September 10, 2010 @01:23PM (#33536740) Homepage Journal

    Hmm, according to the map of the universe I have hanging on my cube ( http://www.astro.princeton.edu/universe/ [princeton.edu] ) there are just over a dozen stars closer than 30 light years (~9 parsecs). Yeah, that fact is noted in TFA as well.

    Oh, well, it's a start... there are quite a lot of stars in the 100parsec range if they can somehow refine their technique. Or maybe just move the JWST closer to the galactic center?! ;-)

    • by Shakrai (717556) *

      there are just over a dozen stars closer than 30 light years (~9 parsecs)

      Yeah, and everybody knows that Vulcan has no oceans, so I'm not entirely sure what the excitement is all about ;)

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Rolgar (556636)

      According to Wikipedia's, there are 65 stars in 50 systems within 5 parsecs: Link. [wikipedia.org]

      • by rwa2 (4391) *

        Ooh, thanks... that's a sweet map of the neighborhood!

        • by ChatHuant (801522)

          Ooh, thanks... that's a sweet map of the neighborhood!

          Try here [atlasoftheuniverse.com] for a really cool representation of the universe

  • by Ukab the Great (87152) on Friday September 10, 2010 @01:26PM (#33536788)

    That's she's detectable on exoplanets.

  • "unleashes greenhouse gasses"

    Why, those un-green astronomers! Obviously exoplanets are responsible for global warming!!!

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Shakrai (717556) *

      Don't worry, I'm sure the Exoplants have at least one ex-politician that flies around in a private jet lecturing everybody else about their carbon footprint ;)

    • Earth would have remained a frozen snowball 650 million years ago if not for volcanism busting the surface ice apart. Perhaps not coincidentally, the Cambrian Explosion of multi-celled life forms soon followed.

      If it weren't for greenhouse gases, earth would be frozen solid. But there have existed geologic periods when the concentration of greenhouse gases was so high that there was no ice anywhere on earth.

      That goes to show how delicate equilibrium we have, a little bit more or less of those gases is enough

  • how much energy is in a beam of light.
    Prot.
  • im a pretty scientifically minded person, but i think anything with more than one 'mega' or 'exo' needs to be reported exclusively by Carl Sagan...you know...for effect.
  • Seriously.

    "A geologically active terrestrial planet may be more suitable for life."

    There's just something mealy-mouthed and vaguely self-serving about that statement.

    And I think it's in the "terrestrial" part. Because if you have the other 9,499 other ecological characteristics of a "terrestrial" planet, then ceteris parabis may apply to geological activity. But maybe there are other ways to get the things that volcanoes give you, and maybe you don't really need the things that volcanoes give you. Thinki

    • by mcgrew (92797) *

      But maybe there are other ways to get the things that volcanoes give you

      You're looking at it backwards. It's not what volcanos cause, it's what causes volcanos -- plate techtonics.

      In other words, ceteris parabis.

      After this, therefore because of this, post hoc ergo propter hoc and ceteris parabis are completely unnecessary. There is nothing you can say in Latin that can't be said in English. Maybe next time you'll try to impress us with your fluency in Mandarin? Latin isn't going to impress many here at slas

    • by geekoid (135745)

      I had to read your post to figure out what you were trying to say, but then I realized you don't knwo what Terrestrial planet means:
      "Terrestrial planet , a planet that is primarily composed of silicate rocks"

      Oh and just for kicks:
      Jovian planets, not primarily composed of rock or other solid matter.

      I hope the helps prevent further nonsense from you regarding this matter.

      • by blair1q (305137)

        Gaseous planets are pretty much 100% active so there's no inactivity to differentiate from the "geological activity". And I bet their geological activity makes it more likely they'll have life as well.

        Which means there's no point to the "terrestrial" if all it means is "primarily rocky".

        But if the word is only meant to differentiate rocky planets from gaseous ones, then my answer is "well no duh." When you otherwise have no features likely to support life, the environmental randomness emanating from geolo

        • by geekoid (135745)

          Nice attempt to try and wiggle out of your stupidity, but ultimately it's a fail.

          the quote is:
          "A geologically active terrestrial planet may be more suitable for life."

          As opposed to a terrestrial planet that ISN'T geologically active. That's the distinction that is being made. It's a correct and accurate statement.

          Not the difference between all errestrial planet and Jovian planets.

          I added the definition of Jovian simply because I thought it would be needed for someone who doesn't seem to know what "geologica

    • by Sir_Lewk (967686)

      Thinking they're necessary

      Who is saying that?

      A geologically active terrestrial planet may be more suitable for life.

      In other words, that statement not only isn't saying they are necessary, it's not even saying that they would help! Just that they might help.

      I think you are trying way to hard to be argumentative.

      • by blair1q (305137)

        Well, that's the thing. They're not really saying anything. Not that it is or isn't more suitable, but that it may be. That's not science, it's just making conversation.

        • by Sir_Lewk (967686)

          It's called "making a hypothesis". Coming up with new ideas, and trying to figure out ways of testing them is exactly what science is about.

          As I said earlier, you're trying to hard. You're making a fool of nobody but yourself.

          • by blair1q (305137)

            Well, then, here's how you test it:

            Determine the number of planets you'd need to find life on before you know that it's the geologic activity that determines whether the planet is or isn't more suitable, given that there are 9,499* other ecological characteristics that could be involved.

            They might as well be hypothesizing whether it's the wand, the scar, the half-blood inferiority complex, or the receipt of constant hero-worship that gives Harry Potter his extra magical strength.

            * - go ahead. Make fun of hy

            • by Sir_Lewk (967686)

              As others have pointed out, the hypothesis states that the presence of volcanoes indicates geological activity. Geological activity can easily be shown to cause uncountable other phenomenon that can be shown to be essential to how life developed on earth. Earth is the only planet with life that we are able to study at this point. It is entirely reasonable to hypothesis that planets like earth are also able to sustain life.

              Stop being wilfully dense, nobody finds it cute.

              • by blair1q (305137)

                Again, post hoc ergo propter hoc, and a fat helping of the weak anthropic principle.

                It is entirely reasonable to hypothesis that planets like earth are also able to sustain life.

                Wait. Did you just change "more suitable" to "capable"?

                Here's the thing. We know that most of the planets and major moons in this solar system are geologically active.

                How many of them harbor life?

                And we get back to my statement that there are 9,499 other things involved.

                Stop being wilfully dense, nobody finds it cute.

                I'll take that as a childish non sequitur, because the premise is false, the conclusion is unfounded, and the purpose is to substitute pointless insult for

                • by Sir_Lewk (967686)

                  Did you just change "more suitable" to "capable"?

                  No, I didn't. We know the Earth is capable of sustaining life. The moon does not sustain life and there is a good chance Mars doesn't either. Certainly not to the levels that earth does. Both of these bodies are more or less geologically dead. We have absolutely no indication that life can form on geologically inactive planets.

                  It doesn't take a genius to figure out that it's not a terribly unreasonable assertion that being geologically active might have

    • by damburger (981828)

      Translation into plain English: Even if life-bearing planets need to be volcanically active, volcanically active planets are not necessarily life-bearing because there are other factors required.

      You made a good enough point, but did you have to labour it so much? This is science, not postmodernism.

      • by blair1q (305137)

        It was a critical deconstruction. I'm just not feeling pithy today.

        Or maybe I am...

    • by Chris Burke (6130)

      Thinking they're necessary is overstating the butterfly effect of volcanoes on the suitability of planets to develop biospheres.

      Well good thing they didn't say volcanoes are necessary, then, isn't it? What they said is that they may make a planet more suitable, and more importantly they're saying we have a chance of actually being able to see them with the JWST.

      There are many things that may make planets more suitable for life. Not many of them do we have a chance of seeing any time soon. Volcanoes are o

      • by blair1q (305137)

        Why bring them up if you're not making them a necessity for the existence or suitability or prevalence or preference or low, low mortgage rates for life?

        Why not say it this way:

        If we can observe the incidental evidence of a major volcanic eruption on another planet, that suggests a methodology for finding the incidental evidence of a major biomass on another planet.

        Why put in a causal relationship that may or may not be relevant, just to invoke the "we're not just looking at volcanoes (though as astrogeolog

        • by Chris Burke (6130)

          Why bring them up if you're not making them a necessity for the existence or suitability or prevalence or preference or low, low mortgage rates for life?

          In real life situations, observing indicator A can mean X is more likely, without implying "X only if A". Even if indicators B, C, and D are more important, if you can't observe them then they can't tell you anything. This is called "conditional probability", and it's means "conditional" based on knowledge. For example, there's a given probability that y

  • by OzPeter (195038) on Friday September 10, 2010 @01:58PM (#33537230)
    If they find this evidence of volcanoes it will be another nail in the coffin for AGW supporters - unless we can get Al Gore out there to prove that it really is AGW - Alienpomorphic Galactic Warming!!!
  • Mega-Volcanoes Might Be Detectable On Exoplanets

    And, a politicians might be honest. What kind of useless message is this title? Can't we get something that gives a more positive possibility? How about "maybe we can, and maybe we can't, detect mega-volcanoes on exopanets"

  • Planet-sized...
    Billboards: "Your ad here." "Save money on your spacecraft insurance by switching to..."
    Bumper Sticker: "My other moon is a Death Star."
    Solace: "We apologize for any inconvenience..."
    Wraparound error: The back end of the JWST.

  • It would be cooler to find a mega-shark in a mega-volcano on an exoplanet.
  • by rev_sanchez (691443) on Friday September 10, 2010 @02:08PM (#33537372)
    the evil galactic emperor Xenu could be dropping nuclear weapons into normal exoplanet volcanoes in an attempt to destroy the souls of brain-washed alien dissidents thereby creating exo-Thetans that will torment the future residents of said exoplanet.

    Teach the controversy!
  • Discovery "News" scoops the field with this exercise in weasel words. No science was harmed in the making of this story. And besides, the pig might learn to fly.

    > and generally provides a dynamic environment
    > for advantageous life forms.

    Well of course. It's well known that following any global scale catastrophe there's a surge in speciation. Turns out this happens because the environment is dynamic, rather than the old scientists' wives tale about a few survivors taking over the available niches since

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