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Space Science

Vega Older Than Thought: Mature Enough To Nurture Life 130

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the goa'uld-staging-center dept.
sciencehabit writes about new estimates of Vega's age giving hope that any planets it might have are old enough to harbor life. From the article: "Shining just 25 light-years from Earth in the constellation Lyra, Vega is the fifth brightest star in the night sky. In 1983, astronomers discovered dust orbiting the star, suggesting it had a solar system, and Carl Sagan chose to make Vega the source of a SETI signal in his 1985 novel Contact. At the time, Vega was thought to be only about a couple hundred million years old, probably too young for any planets to have spawned life. Since then, however, estimates of Vega's age have increased to between 625 million and 850 million years old. So suitable planets have probably had sufficient time to develop primitive life." With improvements in telescopes allowing detection of the rough atmospheric composition of exoplanets on the way, this could be pretty exciting.
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Vega Older Than Thought: Mature Enough To Nurture Life

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  • If not (Score:5, Funny)

    by Roachie (2180772) on Monday December 03, 2012 @08:49PM (#42174839)

    ... then its a great waste of space!

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Space is pretty big. I'm pretty sure some of it can be wasted.

    • *it's. How difficult it is?

      • by aliquis (678370)

        *it's. How difficult it is?

        Are you kidding?

        How difficult is it?

        • Re:If not (Score:5, Funny)

          by Roachie (2180772) on Monday December 03, 2012 @11:31PM (#42175849)

          Yea, there is some law of the cosmos that causes you to royally fuck up your grammar when criticizing spelling/typing of others.

          Never flails.

          • Re:If not (Score:5, Informative)

            by hutsell (1228828) on Tuesday December 04, 2012 @01:21AM (#42176313) Homepage

            Yea, there is some law of the cosmos that causes you to royally fuck up your grammar when criticizing spelling/typing of others.
            Never flails.

            Prevailing Consensus:

            "Skitt’s Law" (1999) "Any post correcting an error in another post will contain at least one error itself” or “the likelihood of an error in a post is directly proportional to the embarrassment it will cause the poster.”

            Contenders:

            "McKean’s Law" (2001) “Any correction of the speech or writing of others will contain at least one grammatical, spelling, or typographical error.”

            “Hartman’s Law of Precriptivist Retaliation.” (1999) "Any article or statement about correct grammar, punctuation, or spelling is bound to contain at least one error.”

            “Bell’s First Law of Usenet” (1990) "Flames of spelling and/or grammar will have spelling and/or grammatical errors.”

            ... and I thought I was going to read a sort of warm and fuzzy thread starting out with a reference to Carl Sagan's, Contact. Instead, the Nazism was about grammar; not Germany's bounced message returned from the Vega.

        • I was supposed to be FUNNY.
          A whoosh would be in order, but I suppose I was to witty even for that. Oh well :)

      • by Baloroth (2370816)
        s'it quite difficult sometimes.
  • by Daetrin (576516) on Monday December 03, 2012 @08:54PM (#42174883)
    At less than a billion years old, it seems unlikely any planets there will have much in the way of life. I'm not really expecting that much excitement.
    • It only took around a billion years for life to start on Earth. Took another few billion for it to get out of the ocean though.
    • by Daetrin (576516) on Monday December 03, 2012 @10:00PM (#42175337)
      So to follow up, according to wikipedia [wikipedia.org] (yes, i'm breaking all the rules by using it as my primary source) the earliest possible signs of life on earth found so far are from 3.8 billion years ago, 700 million years after the earth formed, but there are other processes that could account for those signs. The earliest "undisputed" signs of life are from 3 billion years ago, 1.5 billion years after the earth formed. And more importantly life didn't start significantly altering the atmosphere until 2.4 billion years ago [wikipedia.org]. At least i'm not aware of any significant effects until the production of oxygen started.

      So it's just barely possible that life might have started on the theoretical Vega planets, if we assume the earliest possible date for life on earth and assume that life on those planets follows a very similar path. (We only have one data point so far, so everything is an assumption.) But even if that's the case, we won't be able to detect that life using atmospheric analysis like the blurb says because, again assuming they follow the same timeline, they won't be evolved enough to have done anything to the atmosphere yet.

      If there's something obvious i'm missing, please let me know.
      • With more than twice the Sun's mass and around 40 times as much luminosity, the environment around Vega has much more available energy at a given distance than the Solar System's environment.

        I could guess this allows for the possible of faster evolution, assuming the most basic processes are not totally disrupted by the environment. Just as Vega's life sequence proceeds 10 times faster than the Sun's, perhaps their is a similar effect on life development around A class stars.

        • by Daetrin (576516) on Monday December 03, 2012 @10:36PM (#42175569)
          Hmmm, interesting theory, but only if we're speculating about a form of life totally different from the kind of life on earth. If we're talking about the kind of carbon based life that needs liquid water to survive, the planet will need to be in the Goldilocks zone [wikipedia.org], meaning that the planet will intercept about as much energy per square meter as the earth does. i.e. the hotter the star, the farther out the planet will be.

          As soon as we throw out the idea of carbon-based life forms that need liquid water we really have no idea what kind of habitat they'd need or how quickly they'd evolve and it's all just a guessing game.
        • by mog007 (677810)

          I doubt more energy would allow for faster evolution.

          If any planets are around Vega, it's entirely possible for them to house life. Life formed on Earth a few hundred million years after it formed. The tricky part would be detecting it.

          Life was all anaerobic bacteria on Earth for most of its history. It didn't start getting complex until there was a sizable amount of oxygen in the atmosphere. That's partly why detecting any life on Vega at all is going to be very difficult. Free oxygen in the atmosphe

      • by The Master Control P (655590) <ejkeever AT nerdshack DOT com> on Monday December 03, 2012 @10:46PM (#42175621)
        If the Vega system's evolution is similar to our own, the first signs of permanent life are likely originating there right now.

        The reason we have no evidence of life before 3.8 billion years ago on Earth is because the Late Heavy Bombardment, which ended around then, would've wiped out anything living on any planetary surface anywhere in the solar system. It's entirely possible that life began many times before then only be to be repeatedly annihalated.

        This provides an interesting constraint on life-supporting planets. The LHB was caused when the outer planets migrated into roughly their current orbital configuration and agitated various orbiting debris belts as their orbital resonances moved, them sending missiles flying every which way. This indicates that in a many planet system like ours, the planets must arrange themselves into stable orbits (preferably early on) for billions of years in order for advanced life to arise. Not only that, they have to do so in a manner that keeps them in the outer reaches of the solar system, as they will destroy or eject any rock worlds if they migrate too far sunwards (c.f. Hot Jupiters).

        To my knowledge it's an open question how likely this is to happen. The fact is we haven't found a single extrasolar system that remotely resembles ours. A lot of that is because the limits of transit observation and dopper velocimetry create a massive bias in favor of seeing large worlds in close orbits: You want large dips in brightness and large velocity shifts, and on average have to watch for at least 1-2 orbital periods to confirm. Meaning you'd have to watch our solar system nonstop for over 160 years to discover all the massive planets this way!
        • you've mentioned a number of good factors, but honestly, our knowledge of this subject matter is so sketchy, there's a couple dozen more factors we can think of, then there's the factors we don't even know about

          the only genuine intellectually honest answer is: "a long time, but no one really can say for sure how long"

      • It then took almost another 2Byrs for oxygen to build up to the point where colegen could be produced to stick cells together. In other words multicellular life didn't get going until ~ 0.5B years ago and is expected to last another 0.5Byrs. That's quite a narrow window for multicellular life when you consider the Sun is expected to burn and remain stable for at least 8Byrs in total.
  • by at least billions and billions of years.
  • Very cool development! I'm really interested to see what else comes about in my lifetime. I was born in '74 and just think about the huge advances in space knowledge that have been made since then. Exciting stuff to come!
  • by Mrs. Grundy (680212) on Monday December 03, 2012 @09:05PM (#42174983) Homepage

    In the entire history of the universe we have seen one example of life forming. It boggles the mind that from this one sample scientists think they know when, how, and where life can and can't form in the universe.

    • Re:What do we know? (Score:4, Interesting)

      by p0p0 (1841106) on Monday December 03, 2012 @09:14PM (#42175039)
      No, but it is a scenario that is proven and works, so they seek out similar scenarios. With the vastness of the universe, it's bound to happen again.
    • people are getting paid real money to sit around in their underwear guessing which stars have planets and life. While eating Cheetos and drinking Dr. Pepper. I think I just found my next career.
    • by VortexCortex (1117377) <(VortexCortex) ( ... -retrograde.com)> on Monday December 03, 2012 @11:42PM (#42175919)

      It boggles the mind that from this one sample scientists think they know when, how, and where life can and can't form in the universe.

      It's elementary my dear Watson... That is to say, it's all about the elements we see, and their known properties, and energy levels at which reactions occur. Sure there may be outliers somewhere but they, by definition, are pretty far out there.

      Turns out that binary star systems are a lot more common than we once thought. In a binary star system, when a white dwarf eats another yellow star it starts producing lithium, and other heavier elements -- When it gets up to iron, it's game over. BLAM Type 1-A supernova. That's the most common supernova there is, and one of these is likely responsible for making all the elements floating around our sun. Furthermore, our sun seems to be pretty damn average. Additionally, rocky iron core planets are probably pretty damn common too. When you think of it like that, that tons of similar ovens are baking the same ingredients at around the same temperatures, then it's less of trying to find life exactly like our own, and more of looking for signs of the chemistry we know happens in a very common type of life baking oven -- Indeed, the kind that produced us. Our planet's not some really off the wall special place, so we're not special either. A puddle might think that its hole was perfectly designed just for it to fit in, but the reality is you make a divot, add water, you got a puddle... If we were looking for puddles we'd try to locate places where the temps are right to have liquid water. It's the same sort of thing for finding life.

      That doesn't mean that there's no metal based life with mercury for blood and live the most brutal places, but it's a hell of a lot more likely that it'll be Carbon, Hydrogen and Oxygen that run alien life. Also, when you ( bake / cool / repeat ) the basic ingredients plentifully found on our planet eventually you discover amino acids form. The first self replicating chain of which will quickly dominate the other randomly joined chains by tearing them up to make copies -- a few imperfect copies, and you've got competition and evolution. Hell, the exact same thing happens in my automata experiments where little dots can randomly attract or repel -- Run the sim for a few months and you get some forming chains, then replication, and competition and evolution -- "Life" starts happening in my RAM. The parameters for the attraction and repulsion and boding co-efficients have to be right or nothing happens though... It's chemistry 101. There's no reason to remain boggled at all; Read up.

  • Now we have to worry about the Vegan Tyranny. Also the interstellar empire [wikipedia.org] of the same name. Bloody vegans, always trying to take away our bacon!!!!

  • Suzanne Vega has a daughter. (is there any other Vega?)
  • According to http://wiki.answers.com/Q/How_fast_are_modern_space_probes [answers.com] modern probes can travel roughly 39000 miles per hour, or 341640000 (39000*24*365) miles per year. 1 light year = 5.87849981 × 10^2 miles, so it would take about 17206 years (5.87849981 × 10^12 / 341640000) for a probe to get there, and another 25 years for it to send a light signal pattern back to us for us to process. Assuming once at the solar system the probe would be able to determine atmospheric compositions o
    • by 0111 1110 (518466)

      You are forgetting that we have nukes. And that Vega is the last place we would want to go within a 25 ly radius.

    • by symbolset (646467) * on Monday December 03, 2012 @11:34PM (#42175873) Journal

      The probe in question is Voyager 1 [wikipedia.org] and was launched in 1977. Let's not call it modern. It was designed in an era when there was no such thing as a personal computer. A high end cellphone probably has more battery-powered computing power in your pocket now than all of the compute resources of NASA back then. Imagine what those engineers could achieve with this [top500.org]. Materials science has progressed also. But the biggest gift of days is in our understanding the rich resources available in the space around us. Water is abundant everywhere from Mercury to the edge of the solar system. We didn't know that back then. Almost all stars have planets in the habitable zone. We didn't know that either.

      It's unlikely a mission to Vega would launch any sooner than 2037, or 60 years after the launch of the first Voyager. We have learned a lot of things since Voyager 1 was launched, and will have learned more. That none have gone faster is an artifact of 30 years of neglect of space operations, but not space science. At the moment Vega is too far to a man to reach in his span of years with the science we have, though another star might be. There is no reason to expect that this will always be so.

      With VASMR 200KW [wikipedia.org] thrusters entering service on the ISS in a few years, and the development of suitable power plants [wired.com] ongoing, we still would need fuel - LOTS of fuel - on orbit or somewhere near zero-G to make a go of it. Fortunately in 26 months the NASA Dawn mission [nasa.gov] will arrive at Ceres [wikipedia.org] and find there a practically unlimited supply of Xenon, Argon, Hydrogen and Oxygen ready for mining as well as a surface amenable to easily building human habitats on. You may schedule two years from now for the space Gold Rush to begin.

      Ceres is not only the perfect source for interstellar fuels: it's also the perfect launchpad as it should be possible to build a railgun there 1000KM long capable of launching interstellar probes with solar system escape velocity that don't require any fuel at all. It's also the only minor planet so situated within easy reach.

      Planetary Resources [planetaryresources.com], SpaceX [spacex.org], Virgin Galactic [virgingalactic.com] and others are all over this. The people behind these efforts are some of the brightest, most successful minds the world has ever known. Elon Musk. Sergey Brin. Larry Page. Eric Schmidt. Richard Branson. These are but a few. They know something you don't know.

  • Carl Sagan chose to make Vega the source of a SETI signal in his novel....[The star system is] between 625 million and 850 million years old. So suitable planets have probably had sufficient time to develop primitive life."

    SETI got a reply:

    "glub glub glub, bwuurrrrp, glub glub."

  • Life timeline on earth (in millions of years ago): Earth formation - 4,600; First life (simple cells) - 3,600; Dinosaurs ~ 300; Humans ~ 2.5; If we use that for comparison, and best case scenario of Vega having something very similar to earth, it is highly unlikely that it can host even the most basic of life forms..
    • by khallow (566160)
      I found a problem in your calculation. You use the word, "if".
    • by rts008 (812749)

      ... it is highly unlikely that it can host even the most basic of life forms..

      Maybe that is true, but plenty of time to evolve politicians and lawyers.
      Give them time though, and they may evolve to basic life forms after a few trillion eons....Nah, who am I kidding. ;-)

  • by Dunbal (464142) *
    "Just" 25 light years away! Hey that's virtually next door. Let's go for the week-end. Sigh.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    I, for one, would hate to find out that the Vogons were really Vegans. I hate poetry.

    • by MrP- (45616)

      I'd prefer Vogons over Vegans actually.

      Just as long as they don't join forces and write poems about tofu!

  • Articles like this drive me crazy. We have no idea how life starts in a solar system. We only have the most remote clue regarding how it arose here on earth. We have absolutely no idea if life exists on other planets in this solar system, there may even be intelligent life here, trapped under ice, or perhaps not caring to talk to us... To suggest any of the ridiculously scant data we have on even the nearest of our neighbor stars is any clue we can use to determine if life is possible there is idiotic. Thes

    • by aNonnyMouseCowered (2693969) on Monday December 03, 2012 @11:00PM (#42175695)
      If we grant the reasonable assumption that the laws of physics are the same across the galaxy, then we can combine our "ridiculously scant data" on exoplanets with the information and knowledge we already have about life on Earth and the conditions on Mars and other planets visited by space probes. This is the same as in any crime investigation. By itself, a blood stain would be meaningless. You have to compare it to an existing database of DNA samples and corroborate it with other evidence.
  • So when life is found there, those wheat germ sucking, soy loving vegans will have to give up their appellation and let it go back to the real Vegans -- the the freindly neighborhood aliens from Vega.

  • So are we hopeful for a chance of a playdate with some frisky Vegans, is that it? I guess we'd better be hopeful for more than just that, then, like hope that they have an FTL drive?

  • In 1983, astronomers discovered dust orbiting [Vega], suggesting it had a solar system

    Am I the only one who thought that quote a little off? Isn't "solar system" the one with the Sun (our star) and 8 specific planets (sorry Pluto, I've finally let you go off the list. I miss you though!).

    It would have been better to say "suggesting it had a planetary system".

  • Vegans have been on planet Earth for decades.

  • Vegas is old enough to have much immature life.

  • by whitroth (9367)

    Now, we *knew* there was life in Vegas, though not necessarily the kind you want to associate with.

    On the other hand, I though Vegans were from Vega, since they don't seem to be from this planet, and apparently think they're above, or better, than the rest of us mammals....

                    mark

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