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Space Science

Recently Discovered Habitable World May Not Exist 231

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the that's-not-so-hot dept.
sciencehabit better let Greg Dean know that "Two weeks ago, U.S.-based astronomers announced the discovery of the first Goldilocks planet circling another star: just the right size and just the right temperature to harbor alien life. But yesterday at an exoplanet meeting in Turin, Italy, Switzerland-based astronomers announced that they could find no trace of the prized planet in their observations of the same planetary system."
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Recently Discovered Habitable World May Not Exist

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  • sigh (Score:5, Insightful)

    by dtml-try MyNick (453562) <litheran@@@gmail...com> on Tuesday October 12, 2010 @06:08PM (#33877454)

    This is the third time a "habitable" planet was discovered in the Gliese system that turned out to be not so habitable, if it exists at all.

    Great going.

  • Data Sets (Score:5, Insightful)

    by BJ_Covert_Action (1499847) on Tuesday October 12, 2010 @06:09PM (#33877458) Homepage Journal
    Well it looks like the U.S. astronomers used two sets of data gathered from different time periods for their analysis. Meanwhile, the Swiss astronomers used a third set of data gathered over a different time period for their analysis. I would think the first thing that should be done would be to swap data sets. Have the U.S. astronomers run their analysis on the Swiss data set with their tools, and have the Swiss astronomers run their analysis on the U.S. data sets with their tools. After all is said and done, compare the results yielded by each data set. If only the U.S. astronomers are finding the gravitational wiggles, then it means that either their tools are inducing some kind of experimental error, or the Swiss tools are missing some critical component. At which point the tools and methods between the two groups should be compared and contrasted to observe differences.

    If, however, U.S. analysis of the Swiss data sets similarly yields a no planet result, and Swiss analysis of U.S. data sets yields a planet exists result, then you can conclude that the problem is in the data, and not the analysis being done. So, the moral of the story to both teams is to send their data to each other. For bonus points, both parties can publish all of their data so that a few third parties can conduct their own analysis. This is what science is all about after all folks!
  • Re:Uhh ohh (Score:2, Insightful)

    by notionalTenacity (1526919) on Tuesday October 12, 2010 @07:18PM (#33878058)
    The planet is light years away. They couldn't possibly have reacted to anything we've done in the last few weeks. Or indeed, the last 40 years.
  • by MyLongNickName (822545) on Tuesday October 12, 2010 @09:20PM (#33878850) Journal

    Get busy then.

  • Re:Uhh ohh (Score:5, Insightful)

    by md65536 (670240) on Tuesday October 12, 2010 @09:54PM (#33879052)

    You assume that what we take as hard rules of physical reality even remotely approximates how the universe actually functions.

    If ever there were a reasonable assumption, this is it.

  • I'm skeptical (Score:3, Insightful)

    by izomiac (815208) on Tuesday October 12, 2010 @10:14PM (#33879168) Homepage

    The American team used a combined set of observations: One 11-year-long set consisted of 122 measurements made by the team, while the other set was 4.3 years long and consisted of 119 measurements published by the consortium.

    [The Swiss group] used only their own observations, but they expanded their published data set from what the U.S. group included in its analysis to a length of 6.5 years and 180 measurements.

    So, the American study had 241 observations over at least 11 years and the data is peer reviewed and published. The Swiss apparently are refuting that by ignoring half the data and adding 61 data points from 2.2 years that haven't been peer reviewed. Obviously they're a reputable group, but I'll wait for them to look at *all* of the data available to them, preferably published data, before just taking them at their word. Doubly so for a negative finding since alpha (chance of a false positive) tends to be a lot smaller than beta (chance of a false negative).

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 13, 2010 @01:30AM (#33879862)

    A possibility not covered as I can see, so far. What if there's nothing wrong with either the data, or the methods applied? Perhaps there is something between us and the planet (which may or may not be there) that occludes it in a most peculiar manner, giving the -appearance- of it not existing. We already know that certain wavelengths of light can be "bent" around an object, thus giving the appearance of invisibility, is there a physical phenomenon that could explain this sort of an effect out in interstellar space?

    The first thing that comes to my mind would be a hyperdense gravity well....or more colloquially, a "black hole".

  • Re:Uhh ohh (Score:4, Insightful)

    by wrook (134116) on Wednesday October 13, 2010 @04:28AM (#33880530) Homepage

    This is not a reasonable assumption. Our models are at best simplifications of reality. Do atoms *really* exist the way we envision them? Is there such a thing as an electron as a real finite particle? it wasn't that long ago that we believed that atoms were indivisible, discrete particles of matter. Our new models make that look ridiculously naive. 100 years from now I think it is likely that our current models will look ridiculously naive.

    But older, naive models work fine for a lot of problems. We don't have to know how things *really* work at a low level as long as we can build a repeatable model that is useful for our tasks. The model can be (and almost certainly is) a black box with interfaces that we care about. Everything inside the box is up for grabs. Not knowing what is really going on inside doesn't affect our ability to solve our problem, so we ignore it (for now anyway).

    The question you have to ask yourself is if the Universe can have a description which is isomorphic to reality, but still different. I suspect that there are several such descriptions. There are probably even an infinite number of such descriptions. Which is the correct one? If the descriptions are isomorphic, then it doesn't matter for our purposes what reality is. But a model that is isomorphic to reality is not the same as reality.

    Why is this important? Because believing that science is true leads you into treating science as a religion. If you believe something is true, then you have a hard time changing it when it proves to be useful. Scientific models are meant to be useful. Assuming they are also true is very bad science.

Between infinite and short there is a big difference. -- G.H. Gonnet

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