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Space Science

'Most Earth-Like' Exoplanet Gets Major Demotion 206

Posted by Soulskill
from the science-works dept.
audiovideodisco writes "Last month, the team behind NASA's Kepler planet-finding mission announced the discovery of the most Earth-like planetary candidate ever spotted: KOI 326.01, an approximately Earth-sized planet orbiting in the habitable zone of its star. There was much excitement; one astrophysicist even calculated the value of the new planet as exactly $223,099.93. But when an innocent fact-checker's question sent one of the researchers back to look at some figures, she noticed that the star's brightness was listed incorrectly in a reference catalog, throwing the planet's properties into doubt. After jiggering the calculations, the Kepler team now says that KOI 326.01 is neither Earth-sized nor in the habitable zone, and may actually be orbiting a different star. The Kepler researcher says, 'We're seeing the scientific method playing out in real time.' While this news is a bit of a downer, Kepler is just getting going, and it's expected to find many, many more Earth-like planets."
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'Most Earth-Like' Exoplanet Gets Major Demotion

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  • by $RANDOMLUSER (804576) on Tuesday March 08, 2011 @01:26PM (#35421354)
    All great science starts with "hmmmmm, that's funny...".
    • by elrous0 (869638) *

      And these days the next step after hypothesis is to issue a press release touting your amazing discovery.

  • Really .. (Score:3, Funny)

    by bsquizzato (413710) on Tuesday March 08, 2011 @01:30PM (#35421412)

    After jiggering the calculations, the Kepler team now says that KOI 326.01 is neither Earth-sized nor in the habitable zone, and may actually be orbiting a different star

    "Sooo ... about everything we said, it's actually the complete opposite"

    Epic fail.

    • Re:Really .. (Score:4, Informative)

      by Nadaka (224565) on Tuesday March 08, 2011 @01:32PM (#35421450)

      Sounds more like an epic success for science to me.

      • by gstoddart (321705)

        Sounds more like an epic success for science to me.

        Well, for the scientific method at least.

        Being this wrong is seldom considered an 'epic success'.

      • "Hey! We've found this earth-like planet orbiting a particular star. Wait a minute . . . Wrong star. And it really isn't earth-like at all."

        Sound a lot like a Steven Wright.

        "A funny thing happened to me this morning. Wait a minute . . . That wasn't me."

    • by pinkj (521155)
      Welcome to science. I would deem this a big success!
      • by PPH (736903)
        Its success unless you've already put ten percent down on that $223,099.93. Then its just another Florida real estate swindle.
        • by gstoddart (321705)

          Its success unless you've already put ten percent down on that $223,099.93. Then its just another Florida real estate swindle.

          Which, arguably, it was to begin with anyway.

          You seriously expect people to be legitimately be selling a planet or part thereof?

          • by gstoddart (321705)

            Besides Earth, of course.

            I'm sure some cunning linguist will be all over the semantics of that if I don't qualify it.

      • by causality (777677)

        Welcome to science. I would deem this a big success!

        No, science would be "as a preliminary, tentative finding, the data seem to indicate that this is the case, but we need to double-check all sources of error, look for contradictory information, and even after all that, if we still cannot falsify it, we can say only that it is consistent with our current understanding, something that has changed before and will likely change again". Of course, that isn't as exciting in a press release, hence the problem.

        Many people want final ultimate answers on certain que

        • by N0Man74 (1620447)

          I always thought that a similar (and far less verbose) disclaimer was implied by the use of the word 'candidate'.

      • by idontgno (624372)

        This was a triumph. I'm making a note here: "HUGE SUCCESS".

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Kintanon (65528)

      Epic SCIENCE you noob.

      "Oh shit, if that number is wrong then this planet is in a whole different place! Let's check! IT IS! HUZZAH! We know more today than we did yesterday!"

      That's science. And you suck.

  • by Fractal Dice (696349) on Tuesday March 08, 2011 @01:33PM (#35421464) Journal
    At bleeding edge of knowledge/measurement the margin of error is often larger than the margin of excitement.
  • by blair1q (305137) on Tuesday March 08, 2011 @01:40PM (#35421530) Journal

    When your only criteria are size and distance, you're not doing much to prove "likeness" to the Earth. In fact, you're doing less than 2 parameters/N parameters, since size and distance may have nothing to do with how habitable the planet may be to humans or any life forms.

    Stoichiometry and temperature are far more significant. The existence of stabilizing processes in the atmospheric and geological systems are also more significant.

    And then there's the little matter of the precise history of Earth, which went through several specific, major eras of development before it had these stabilizing systemic features and could support the formation of the first structures of life and their evolution into the first cellular beings.

    And then it went through several more specific, major eras of development to result in large, complex, multicellular plant and animal forms of life, interacting as a (somewhat) stable ecosystem, capable of surviving events that nonetheless mass-extincted whole swathes of species.

    The part about guessing wrong about which star the planet is orbiting is just bad astronomy, and is way past where they should be shutting up about its being "Earthlike."

    • by bahstid (927038)
      What is Stoichiometry? [wikipedia.org]
    • by Nadaka (224565)

      Size of a planet, distance from its star and the magnitude of that star are the 3 most easily measurable parameters that affect atmospheric chemistry and temperature.

    • by Chris Burke (6130)

      When your only criteria are size and distance, you're not doing much to prove "likeness" to the Earth. In fact, you're doing less than 2 parameters/N parameters, since size and distance may have nothing to do with how habitable the planet may be to humans or any life forms.

      They both certainly have something to do with it, but yes, those two aspects alone are hardly sufficient to prove habitability.

      Nevertheless, size (actually composition) and distance (actually temperature in the range for liquid water) are the two criterion astronomers use when talking about "earth-like" planets. That's all it means -- like earth in these two aspects.

      For reference, both Venus and Mars are "earth-like". Probably not what you were expecting it to mean, but so it goes. :)

  • by Anonymous Coward

    'We're seeing the scientific method playing out in real time', eh? How about letting that scientific method play itself out before you release your findings to the popular media? Or was it getting near the end of your fiscal year?

  • by sourcerror (1718066) on Tuesday March 08, 2011 @01:44PM (#35421588)

    Real estate crisis IN OUTER SPACE

    • by PPH (736903)
      I say we just leave the keys for the bank and walk away.
    • Real estate crisis IN OUTER SPACE

      Can we here perhaps see the next step for patent trolls when they're done adding ON THE INTERNET to every old inventions?

  • So someone cataloged a bunch of data on stars and now one is rechecked because it was interesting. Turns out the data was wrong. How much more bad data is out there that nobody double checked because nobody cared until now?
  • Or rather, many more mistakenly, earth-like planets

  • When had this project found even one?

    By earth-like, I mean a rocky planet, at a distance from its parent star where liquid water could exist, and having a gravitational pull between 0.6g and 2.0g.

    I'm not saying that they aren't out there, but I'm pretty sure that none have yet been found, so talking about finding "more" of them is sort of... well... misleading about what's actually been accomplished so far.

    • kepler isn't really a project to sit there and find specific examples. i don't even know why they released this one except i guess they thought it of great interest (and wanted publicity, no doubt - which might not even have been the project's idea, the same as the entire cold fusion debacle came from a press release the researchers didn't want to go out but were forced into by the university who were grubbing for publicity). it's a project to collect vast numbers of planets so that we can say that we expec

  • by makubesu (1910402) on Tuesday March 08, 2011 @02:35PM (#35422218)
    Here they had built up this poor young planet to be something of worth. They were promising all kinds of fame and fortune, telling her to leave behind her friends and family and devote herself to being the next Earth. The crazy parties, the celebrities endorsing her, they built up her dreams of fame, and gave up any other kind of success. Now they dump her dry because they ended up making some mistakes in their data analysis. All she's got left now is a lingering coke addiction. Don't you see they used her up and rang her dry? She had so much potential to be special in some other way, but now she'll just be remembered as another failure, probably turning tricks in the dark corners of the galaxy. We need to keep these hype monsters away from our planets.
  • 'We're seeing the scientific method playing out in real time.'

    What the hell is that supposed to mean? In what other time frame does the scientific method normally play out? Dealing with computers, we watch the scientific method play out in real time right before our eyes every day. We can watch the scientific method play out every time someone buys a remote control and goes through the process of setting it up. Hypothesis of which brand/model and entry code match up, test the hypothesis, record the resu

  • I hope that the Kepler observing team is not automatically discarding observations that don't fit expected profiles.

    For example: if a (slighty more) advanced civilization wanted to be detectable by something like Kepler, all they would have to do is put up some (very) large but (presumably) low mass "screens" in orbit around the star. By putting up several of these with the proper spacing; a coded "signal" code could be seen, just like morse code (I'd time it so the intervals would correspond to some prime

    • knock yourself out, someone already posted the currently-public data

      http://science.slashdot.org/comments.pl?sid=2028214&cid=35422006 [slashdot.org]

      i doubt you're being entirely serious but i'm going to vent spleen anyway :) despite what people think every large astronomical survey that i've ever heard of makes its data fully public -- sometimes with a year's delay to allow project members to work on the data (which is reasonable; these are the universities that paid to run the damned thing in the first place so they s

  • How embarrassing. How embarrassing.

  • It's only worth a quarter of a million dollars!? It's a freaking planet! It has to be worth over a million bucks, right?
  • Kepler proposed 1200 planet candidates from its first four months of data collection. Approximately 58 are in the habitable zone and 6 may be smaller than two Earth masses. 19 of the 1200 have been confirmed as planets. As the study progresses, they'll see longer-orbit candidates and more habitable zone possibilities. And more of the 1200 will be confirmed as planets.
  • Just wait until Kepler begins finding and identifying alien Kepler-like telescopes. Then the confusion will really begin.

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