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New Exoplanet Is Best Yet Candidate For Supporting Life 288

Posted by samzenpus
from the welcome-to-the-neighborhood dept.
First time accepted submitter uigrad_2000 writes "With all the new exoplanets discovered recently with Kepler, it seemed a sure thing that the first exoplanet in the habitable zone of a star would be found soon. The irony is that Kepler was not involved. GJ 667Cc is at least 4.5 times as massive as Earth, and lies in the habitable region of its host star, reports Scientific American. It was discovered by comparing public data from the ESO to recent observations from Hawaii and Chile. As opposed to the stars Kepler is watching, this is only 22 light-years away, making it even more interesting."
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New Exoplanet Is Best Yet Candidate For Supporting Life

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  • 22 light years (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday February 03, 2012 @01:36AM (#38912077)

    "this is only 22 light years away, making it even more interesting."

    It's like a price on an estate: as remarkable as this is, it's only 55.3 million! Still unreachable :P

    • Re:22 light years (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Friday February 03, 2012 @01:44AM (#38912119)

      Closer planets are much easier to observe than farther ones. We may not be able to go there in the foreseeable future, but being close means we can study it.

    • by Surt (22457)

      If you really want to feel bad, go figure out how many days work it is for Warren Buffett to buy that unreachable estate.

    • by grumbel (592662)

      22 light years is not all that far away, with nuclear propulsion you could get there in around 500 years. Not good for a weekend trip, but not really unreachable either.

  • by istartedi (132515) on Friday February 03, 2012 @01:39AM (#38912093) Journal

    The universe mocks us.

    Here's silver candy,
    It doesn't make you fat.
    It'll get you girls and all of that.
    It only sells for a modest fee.
    A quintillion dollars
    Or exceeding C.

    • by hantms (2527172)

      Hello, it's 22 light years. It may take up to 22 years to get there, but you don't need to exceed c.

      The biggest problem I see is that you fly away from Earth going close to c, you will never communicate with anyone back home.

      Or to put that in another way: you will never get any new TV shows. You'd launch mid-season of American Idol and 20 years later you still won't know who won it.

      Screw that.

      • by istartedi (132515)

        You're quite right that you don't need to exceed C. I decided to take the lazy way out [orionsarm.com] to analyze this problem. Please note, that site has a crappy interface. There are probably better relativistic trip calculators out there.

        What's interesting is that you can subject both the earth and the ship to a fairly long wait time (we're both in it together) or you can give the ship a reasonably short wait time if you can get to 0.99c. The aforementioned lack of sync with Earth is still a problem of course. Sing

        • The poetry is great! Your physics sucks. You neglect to address the amount of energy/mass it would take to accelerate someone to 0.99c. Hint: it's a fuckload.

      • by MrZilla (682337) on Friday February 03, 2012 @03:24AM (#38912493) Homepage

        May take up to 22 years?

        It will guaranteed never take less than 22 years. Never mind that even getting close to c is a wild dream at this time.

        But if you did manage to get close to the speed of light, the trip would take ~22 years from an earth point of view, but for the people on the ship/whatever, the trip will be quite short. If you actually hit c (never mind that it is physically impossible), the trip would be instantaneous from the point of view of the travelers.

        A more realistic scenario, if we pour a lot of money into propulsion research, might be to fly away at 10% c. That would lead to a trip take takes 220 years in earth-time, or 198 years in ship-time. Not exactly an easy trip to plan.

        • Thank you, MrZilla. Mod parent up.

        • by rve (4436)

          Don't underestimate the might of exponential growth. Accelerating at 1G for two years (ship time) gets you to over 95% of light speed. Five years (ship time) of constant acceleration at 1G gets you to over 99.99% of light speed. The real challenge is that it's a fire and forget mission: children born on earth at the time of the launch will have died of old age before the message that they arrived safely arrives back on earth.

      • by PwnzerDragoon (2014464) on Friday February 03, 2012 @04:06AM (#38912627)

        You'd launch mid-season of American Idol and 20 years later you still won't know who won it.

        I already do that. Am I an astronaut?

      • by Tsingi (870990)

        Hello, it's 22 light years. It may take up to 22 years to get there, but you don't need to exceed c.

        You'll need to exceed it, or change the "up to" to "more than"

        The biggest problem I see is that you fly away from Earth going close to c, you will never communicate with anyone back home.

        Or to put that in another way: you will never get any new TV shows. You'd launch mid-season of American Idol and 20 years later you still won't know who won it.

        Screw that.

        I've never watched American Idol for more than a minute. I'll go, you stay here and stay current with what's important.

    • It's like flying cars: somebody's always building yet another Great Almost that gets on the cover of some publication to tease us, then runs away and hides in Flawland.

    • For all intents and purposes.

      Just thought you should know.
      • by MLease (652529)

        Why does that signature keep getting replies like this (you are not the first I've seen say exactly the same thing about it)? Isn't it obvious it's making a grammatical joke/troll?

  • What if we go there? 4.5 G?

    It woukld take some excersise and quite a few generation in low gravity space before we reach that high gravity Earth2...

    Just one of many practical issues.

    (No, I don't think we'll ever reach it; 22 light years)

    • by c0lo (1497653) on Friday February 03, 2012 @02:08AM (#38912215)

      What if we go there? 4.5 G?

      Probably less. TFA quote:

      The discovery of a planet around GJ 667C came as a surprise to the astronomers, because the entire star system has a different chemical makeup than our sun. The system has much lower abundances of heavy elements (elements heavier than hydrogen and helium), such as iron, carbon and silicon.

      Good news: the density/mass of the planet may be less, thus a lower gravitation.
      The bad news: the lack of carbon (which, BTW, is not that heavy) would make the planet unable to sustain life as we know it.

      Other than that, with around 20-something days/year of leave entitlement, living there should be nice, because:

      It takes roughly 28 days to make one orbital lap around its parent star

      "The planet is around one star in a triple-star system," Vogt explained. "The other stars are pretty far away, but they would look pretty nice in the sky."

      • So, TFS should read something like:

        "Located 22 light years from us, the best known candidate for supporting life is 4.5 times the mass of Earth, although that's probably wrong, and the chemical composition of the system does not support life as we know it."

        That about right?
      • Other than that, with around 20-something days/year of leave entitlement, living there should be nice, because:

        I'm sorry to be the one who has to tell you this, but the entire duration of the trip will be counted against your current and future vacation time. Plus, you'll have to pay for your own travel expenses. Welcome to the new world order.

    • by camperdave (969942) on Friday February 03, 2012 @02:15AM (#38912245) Journal

      (No, I don't think we'll ever reach it; 22 light years)

      We already HAVE reached it... in a sense. We've been broadcasting radio and television signals for all of recorded history (electronically recorded history, that is). Maybe they are mourning the death of The Skipper from Gilligan's Island (Alan Hale Jr.) who passed away 22 years ago. Maybe they're stunned by the loss of the shuttle Challenger, or dismayed by Chernobyl, or the Exxon Valdez. Maybe they're rocking out to Madonna and Michael "Mr Glove" Jackson. Perhaps they have had a Star Wars marathon, and are hoping beyond hope that George Lucas will make those long anticipated prequel movies. Too bad there's no way we can warn them.

      • by ArwynH (883499)

        You paint a dark picture my friend,
        For if what you say is true, the first thing we will do once we make first contact is to sue thier planet from under thier feet!

        How dare those pirating alien scum view our IP without a license!

  • by Brad1138 (590148) <brad1138@yahoo.com> on Friday February 03, 2012 @01:40AM (#38912103)
    in just the last few years (or so it seams) we can now identify "earth like" planets. A more advance race could probably do it much better. All the sudden the thought of ET's finding us isn't so far fetched.
    • by tiffany352 (2485630) on Friday February 03, 2012 @01:56AM (#38912157)

      We have a 75 light year radius sphere of expanding radio signals. If anyone is out there listening, we are the kid knocking over bookshelves in the library of the universe.

      • by segwonk (1064462) <jwinn@earthlink.net> on Friday February 03, 2012 @04:20AM (#38912685)

        Serious question though: What size antenna would some(thing) need to hear our radio signals at a distance of 22ly?

        I seem to recall from reading somewhere (Physics of Star Trek?) about this. The gist is that this is a non-trivial problem, requiring an antenna unfathomably wide to catch such a weak signal.

        Maybe there's an occasional super neat hack, like galaxy/gravitational lensing. But there's no aiming that.

        Anyway, maybe we'll catch someone knowledgable about this... Chime in!
        • by Kjella (173770) on Friday February 03, 2012 @05:19AM (#38912865) Homepage

          According to this [vectorsite.net]:

          Project Phoenix, under the direction of Dr. Jill Tarter, who had worked on MOP when she was at NASA, was a continuation of the Targeted Search program, studying 710 Sunlike stars within 150 light-years of the Earth. Phoenix used the 64-meter Parkes radio telescope in Australia, the 43-meter telescope at Green Banks, and the Arecibo dish, searching 70 million channels across a bandwidth of 1,800 MHz. The search was said to be capable of picking up any transmitter about as powerful as an airport radar within 200 light-years. Phoenix was completed in March 2004, with negative results.

          It gets better if you assume we have a dedicated facility on both ends, two Arecibo radio telescopes (305m each) should be able to communicate halfway to the center of the galaxy. But if you're taking about a low-power radio broadcast, then that would take a huge, huge antenna. Then again, they've done some crazy things with arrays of antennas, so who knows. Certainly we're not so silent that we can't get noticed.

          • If I'm not mistaken, airport radars are just about the most powerful transmissions we create, so they'd be the easiest to detect.

            And setting up an antenna is the easy part. How are you going to decode the transmissions by an alien civilization?

            • by Kjella (173770) on Friday February 03, 2012 @07:51AM (#38913425) Homepage

              And setting up an antenna is the easy part. How are you going to decode the transmissions by an alien civilization?

              2x beep
              3x beep
              5x beep
              7x beep
              11x beep
              13x beep
              17x beep
              19x beep
              *pause*
              5x beep
              *pause*
              7x beep
              *pause*
              35x beep/no beep
              *pause* ...and start over.

              This should be a fairly straight forward way of encoding a pictogram, though it's unclear if they'll interpret 5 and 7 as the horizontal and vertical or opposite. Replace 5, 7 and 5*7 with arbitrary large primes to make detailed pictures. From there you can start sending maps of the galaxy, periodic table with illustration of the elements, everything we'd have in common. Show math with illustrations like you'd do to a preschooler, here's 2+3 = 5 with boxes of 2, 3 and 5 items. Once they understand our number system, show them distances they too probably know like size of galaxy, size of hydrogen atom etc.

              Text and language, yes you'd get to that eventually. Send them them the alphabet then start over again, naming everything like the milky way, the sun, earth, all the elements and so on. For that matter, just teach them like you would a young child, the is s table and chair and book and flower and bird and whatnot. Illustration and text. Somehow I don't see this as a problem, put a US and Japanese kid in the same room and they'll find a way to communicate even though they got no words in common. Hell, we teach sign language to monkeys. How hard can it be to get a conversation going?

    • by afabbro (33948) on Friday February 03, 2012 @01:58AM (#38912169) Homepage

      ETs "finding" us has never been far-fetched. Assume we're not the first sentient species to evolve, most species evolve technologically in a similar way, we're not by some bad luck in an incredibly underpopulated galaxy, etc. These are all reasonable assumptions.

      However, it's the contacting us and/or visiting us that is a lot harder to fetch.

      I'm certainly not an expert, but my understanding is that to listen to our own spacecraft at the edge of our solar system (Voyager) requires a giant dish here. Granted, Voyager is a pretty weak transmitter, but it's also a very close one and one we built and understand. A giant transmitter 22LY away...could the signal reach us? Further away? I don't know. So likewise, what about our signals (which are pretty weak at this point, even when we try) to them? My understanding is that it's more about the signal decay over vast distances than about sophistication in listening equipment. Identifying Earth as a high-likelihood life-sustaining planet by some ETs - sure. Listening in on us or contacting us...much tougher.

      ETs visiting us requires a jump from physics we speculate about to science fiction. At this point, faster than light travel may, for all we know, be forever impossible.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by hantms (2527172)

        At 22 lightyears, you don't NEED to go faster than light to reach it. Just somewhere close-ish to light-speed will do. So turning physicis on its head is not a requirement. What you do need is a really big jump in technology. ;) But that's still a lot more feesible than changing reality as Einstein penned it up.

        Before setting off however you would want to make real sure that it's worth it, and the place actually inhabitable. The 4.5 x gravity will likely be the least of your concerns. And it'll take

        • by Surt (22457)

          It better hope it doesn't eat you on the spot. The odds of our biologies not being cross-poisonous are low.

    • by pjr.cc (760528)

      ...All the sudden the thought of ET's finding us isn't so far fetched.

      I personally wouldn't jump to that conclusion. Considering the sheer volume of stars just in our galaxy even 10000 exoplanets would be an astronomically small figure besides those we're yet to discover.

      But just discovering an exoplanet doesn't simply mean "finding life". Who knows one of the planets we've already seen might have some form of life on it. ET's (assuming they're anything like us) may "find" our planet but have no idea whats on it.

      All of that also assumes that ET's are behaving something like

    • we can now identify "earth like" planets

      For sufficiently small values of "like"

  • "It's basically glowing cinders, or a well-lit charcoal," Vogt said. "We know about a lot of these, but they're thousands of degrees and not places where you could live."

    Yeah, except for the Zerg. That planet is called Char.

  • A rocky planet 4.5 times the mass of Earth would probably be quite volcanic because it has yet to "cool down" inside, and because more gravitational pressure would be cooking the core hotter.

  • Ha ha 22 lightyears, or 208,131,625,000,000 kilometers

  • by Jarnin (925269)
    It orbits the star in 28 days. That means it's probably tidally locked. One side of the planet would be boiling, the other side would be freezing. The only habitable area on the planet would be yet another habitable zone near the planets terminator.
    Weather on this planet would be pretty crazy, if it has an atmosphere at all, and life? I doubt it. Any life on this planet would have no day/night cycle, which seems kind of important for life as we know it.

    And that's why I'm really getting tired of all thes
  • Even if the probe takes 200 years to return, it will be a mjor acomplishment for the human race, and it would provide extremely important scientific data.

    Now that I mention it, how come there are no plans to send probes to nearby solar systems? for example, Alpha Centauri is just 4 light years away. If we send a probe now, and the probe could get to up 10% of light speed, in 40 years it will reach that solar system and in 80 years it will be back on Earth.

    • If we send a probe now, and the probe could get to up 10% of light speed, in 40 years it will reach that solar system and in 80 years it will be back on Earth.

      You do realise that the fuel requirements of sending a probe to Mars and back have prevented that from happening so far, let alone sending a probe a bazillion times further? If we do ever send a probe to Alpha Centauri, then I'd strongly suspect that it wouldn't be slowing down when it got there, let alone coming home again. A flyby is probably the best we can hope to expect, and even then, you'll be talking centuries to get there, in all probability. 0.1 C isn't exactly a trivial velocity to achieve.

  • by Rogerborg (306625) on Friday February 03, 2012 @06:21AM (#38913073) Homepage

    "Statistics tell us we shouldn't have found something this quickly this soon unless there's a lot of them out there," [Steven Vogt, an astronomer at the University of California, Santa Cruz] said. "This tells us there must be an awful lot of these planets out there."

    I don't know what's worse, his grasp of statistics, or... no, wait, that's about as bad as it gets.

    Please tell me that Vogt is some kind of PR Scientician, not an actual, real, bona fide astronomer.

    • I think its more a question of what probability you'd accept "must" as an appropriate synonym for. 0.999? 0.99999999999?
  • and only 100 stars ? One star, on average, per 55 cubic lightyears ? That is 2..37 lightyears on average between two neighbouring stars... That says something about the challenges awaiting interstellar travel.
  • TFA:

    The system has much lower abu The aliens over there have prolly gone back to sleeping in trees and dragging their knuckles on the ground, as they saw that inventing computers was going to be impossible.

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