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Space Science

Nearby Solar System Looks Like Home 62

Posted by samzenpus
from the mirror-image dept.
sciencehabit writes "Gliese 581 is a red dwarf star just 21 light-years from Earth that boasts a number of planets. Now astronomers are reporting another feature that earthlings would find familiar: a ring of dust far from the star which resembles the Edgeworth-Kuiper belt, a zone of objects, each much smaller than Earth, that lies beyond Neptune's orbit and includes Pluto. The newfound debris disk is about as large as the Edgeworth-Kuiper belt, even though Gliese 581 is small and all of its known planets lie closer to their sun than Earth does to ours. The scientists speculate that the little red star harbors a more remote planet whose gravity stirs up the belt's small objects, causing them to collide and spew the dust that Herschel has discerned."
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Nearby Solar System Looks Like Home

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  • Spoiler: (Score:5, Informative)

    by Kotoku (1531373) on Friday December 07, 2012 @05:49AM (#42213853) Journal
    The summary is the whole article. Also, not that much like us.
  • by art6217 (757847) on Friday December 07, 2012 @05:49AM (#42213855)
    I wonder, if the inner planets of some other systems follow that hypothesis [wikipedia.org] as closely as in the case of the Solar System. Is there any data already about that?
    • by bojanb (162938)

      It's still controversial.

      • by art6217 (757847)
        In particular, is there some known planetary system, where the rule is expressed using low integers, like 4 + 3 * 2^m in the case of Solar System, and not just by any exponential fit?
      • by Coisiche (2000870)

        No wonder. They managed to fit a formula to a single number sequence of 6 values.

        I'm sure that with modern computation, a formula could be calculated for just about any arbitrary sequence of 6 values. If that is possible then that would be deserving of being titled "a law".

        • by Rockoon (1252108)
          Not all formulas are created equal.

          You can approximate any sequence of values with complex formulas.. but you can't do so with simple formulas. The Occam's razor of information theory, Kolmogorov Complexity.
        • by art6217 (757847)
          This is not only about fitting a random formula. A set of such formulas would give more information on the rule in question:
          • is this just an exponential fit?
          • or is this an exponential fit i_1 + i_2 * i_3^m, that tends to contain small integers i_j?
          • or does it tend to be exactly an exponential fit a = 4 + 3 * 2^m?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 07, 2012 @06:22AM (#42213963)

    The scientists speculate that the little red star harbors a more remote planet whose gravity stirs up the belt's small objects, causing them to collide and spew the dust that Herschel has discerned.

    This seems plausible if the frost line [wikipedia.org] hypothesis is correct. In that case you would always expect to have gas giants stirring up matter on the edge of a solar system. The problem is that many gas giants have been found very close to stars and inside the frost line (the Hot Jupiters [wikipedia.org]). Until there is a good explanation for the Hot Jupiters, I don't think we can just blindly expect to find gas giants beyond the frost lines stirring up asteroids.

    • by w0mprat (1317953)

      The scientists speculate that the little red star harbors a more remote planet whose gravity stirs up the belt's small objects, causing them to collide and spew the dust that Herschel has discerned.

      This seems plausible if the frost line [wikipedia.org] hypothesis is correct. In that case you would always expect to have gas giants stirring up matter on the edge of a solar system. The problem is that many gas giants have been found very close to stars and inside the frost line (the Hot Jupiters [wikipedia.org]). Until there is a good explanation for the Hot Jupiters, I don't think we can just blindly expect to find gas giants beyond the frost lines stirring up asteroids.

      This skewing of the stats is because "hot jupiters" are particularly easy to detect since they have such a strong influence on parent stars. It's just the limitations of our current ability to spot planets around other stars. There isn't enough data to suggest Hot Jupiters are unusually common. I'd guess they are more likely the result of a rogue body messing up a star system than any big mistake we've made in modelling planetary system formation.

  • How about "scientists" stick to what they're supposed to do, which is hypothesize, test, analyze, and conclude?

    I don't see speculation anywhere in the scientific method.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 07, 2012 @06:38AM (#42213999)

      I don't see speculation anywhere in the scientific method.

      You don't? Perhaps you should reflect on the meaning of the word "hypothesis."

      • by w0mprat (1317953)

        I don't see speculation anywhere in the scientific method.

        You don't? Perhaps you should reflect on the meaning of the word "hypothesis."

        A scientific hypothesis quite a different thing to the usual definition of speculation. Conjecture is a better fit to what you mean.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      How about "scientists" stick to what they're supposed to do, which is hypothesize, test, analyze, and conclude?

      I don't see speculation anywhere in the scientific method.

      You have obviously never met a real scientist then. Most scientists speculate and then go and check their data to see if it is plausible. If it is plausible, then they develop an experiment to rigorously confirm it or reject it. This is how real science is done. It isn't the scientific method taught in school because that method was written by philosophers. Real scientists want to discover things and are motivated to do so. They will almost always look at existing data and speculate before deciding to do an

    • by AlecC (512609)

      As others have pointed out, a hypothesis is just speculation that looks good enough to take seriously. My experience is that scientist speculate continuously and wildly. Of course, most such speculations get shot down before they get further than lunchtime gossip. It is when a speculation stands up to quite a lot of lunchtimes that scientists begin to take it seriously and start working on it as a hypothesis. But a speculation is just a baby hypothesis.

  • Anyone free this weekend for a trip?

  • our technology enabled us to leave it behind. We are stupid and doomed to die on this rock.

  • by Covalent (1001277) on Friday December 07, 2012 @07:45AM (#42214225)
    ...this is a statistically important discovery. This is a nearby solar system that is remarkably similar to our own. Find a few more like these (and we're well on our way in that department) and you'll have compelling evidence that solar systems like ours are very common. And this, in turn, suggests that habitable worlds are common.

    This would leave the Fermi paradox without one of its better possible explanations: that habitable worlds are exceedingly rare.

    It also means that human colonies in other solar systems may be more plausible than it currently seems.
    • by AlecC (512609) <aleccawley@gmail.com> on Friday December 07, 2012 @07:57AM (#42214269)

      I agree. When I considered the Drake Equation, I always used to put a much lower value than most on the term expressing the probability of planets in a solar system. I was wrong: it looks as if planets are plentiful, and therefore habitable planets more plentiful than I had thought,

      The best replacement I have to solve the Fermi paradox is the possibility that the step from prokaryotic to eukaryotic life is very hard, as some biologist suggest,

      • by Covalent (1001277)
        That's an interesting hypothesis, and personally I hope it's right. I've always worried that the Fermi Paradox results from the enormous costs of traveling interstellar distances. Societies that could attempt it simply don't because it is prohibitive to do so. I'd much rather our species travel to another planet only to find it covered in algae than to have our species bottled up here for eternity.

        Reminds me very much of "The Mote in God's Eye". http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Mote_in_God's_Eye [wikipedia.org] The hu
        • That's an interesting hypothesis, and personally I hope it's right. I've always worried that the Fermi Paradox results from the enormous costs of traveling interstellar distances. Societies that could attempt it simply don't because it is prohibitive to do so. I'd much rather our species travel to another planet only to find it covered in algae than to have our species bottled up here for eternity.

          Reminds me very much of "The Mote in God's Eye". http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Mote_in_God's_Eye [wikipedia.org] The humans discover faster-than-light travel and encounter an intelligent species that never discovered the secret. They have degenerated into a civilization / crash / rebuild cycle.

          I hope the same doesn't happen to us, as I don't think faster-than-light travel is possible.

          I'll never forget, as a child, having my respect for Carl Sagan completely destroyed when I heard him say that, since the distances involved in interstellar travel were so huge it was impossible that any alien species would ever make such journeys. Even at as a child I could conceive of aliens for whom a journey of 1000 years would be acceptable. Why couldn't Carl Sagan conceive of it?

          • by Rockoon (1252108)
            ..because species with 1000 years lives dont evolve all that quickly.
            • You don't need to evolve physically, just build up a volume of knowledge and the means to record it. In fact this process may very well lead to a species living on average 1000 years all by itself, even if it didn't before, by biological self improvement. Sentience is the ultimate evolution.

            • ..because species with 1000 years lives dont evolve all that quickly.

              The problem I had was that he COMPLETELY discounted the possibility. For him it was inconceivable. Carl FUCKING Sagan. I mean WTF was he smoking?

          • by smaddox (928261)

            When did Carl Sagan say that? In the Cosmos series, episode 8, he says, "... if we do not destroy ourselves, I believe that we will one day venture to the stars."

            As for Fermi's Paradox, I think that one solution that is oft overlooked is that we simply haven't spent enough time looking. We've only had radio telescopes advanced enough to really detect extraterrestrial intelligence for about 50 years. It's almost comical that we would expect it to be so easy.

            • When did Carl Sagan say that? In the Cosmos series, episode 8, he says, "... if we do not destroy ourselves, I believe that we will one day venture to the stars."

              As for Fermi's Paradox, I think that one solution that is oft overlooked is that we simply haven't spent enough time looking. We've only had radio telescopes advanced enough to really detect extraterrestrial intelligence for about 50 years. It's almost comical that we would expect it to be so easy.

              I'm not sure. There was a series on TV that I was addicted to, I watched every episode, I think it was aimed at kids. It wasn't specifically about space and I'm not sure that it was a 'Carl Sagan' series. But what he said is burned into my mind.

              Actually I guess its one of the things that really started me believing in myself and my thinking since here was some famous scientist saying something that, to me, was just obviously false. So if I can *see* that, well I must be smart. :)

              Anyhow I'm prompted to downl

            • Ok wasn't Cosmos; Cosmos was 1980. I was still at school when I saw this on TV and I'm very very old :P

      • The best replacement I have to solve the Fermi paradox is the possibility that the step from prokaryotic to eukaryotic life is very hard, as some biologist suggest,

        We still don't know how prokaryotic life appeared, we have no idea how hard it is. Also, there are lots of other things that look like hard steps before this one, like the 3 times we added a base into your protein expressing codons, or how we started to use DNA. There are also still the oxygenation of our athmosphere the apearance of multicelular

      • I am of the opinion that there are less than a dozen other planets with advanced life on them in this "portion" of the galaxy. I am not entirely convinced that life was possible any earlier in this portion and that is why we do not see any other space faring civilizations yet. We, meaning all of the planets with life forms, are in a massive race to see who will be the dominant life form in this portion of the galaxy and we seem to be doing fairly well in advancing so far.

        I do wonder about other "portions" o

    • by JWSmythe (446288)

      It also means that human colonies in other solar systems may be more plausible than it currently seems.

      I wouldn't hold your breath on that one. We haven't even done the baby steps of having a human walk on the next planet. We stopped all that with the "we walked on our satellite", which hasn't even been repeated for decades. The idea of doing that again is met by a resounding "Meh..." and is buried under an avalanche of tweets and Facebook posts about arbitrary pseudo-celebrities. More

      • by Bucc5062 (856482)

        ...I'm so sorry...

        Honey Boo Boo, Lim, and Snooki can walk on my moon anytime they want

        [it's the media, they made me think that, blame them, not me for the loss of brain function]

        • by fyngyrz (762201)

          You are responsible for your own actions and choices, including paying attention to the pap the media spews.

        • by JWSmythe (446288)

          I'm afraid to ask what a Lim is... On second thought, I don't want to know. I've been lucky enough to not have it forced at me in pseudo news stories.

          Letting them all go for a leisurely stroll on the moon doesn't sound like a half bad idea.

          Atmospheric pressure of 10^-7 Pa. Day/Night temperature range of 107C to -153C. They'd survive for ... well ... NASA estimates up to 15 seconds of consciousness with no chance of recovery after about 1.5 minutes.

          It'd make for a very short reality show. Of course, the

    • by medv4380 (1604309)
      You think that a Red Dwarf solar system is statistically important? It's funny that the article would even consider this solar system to be anything like our own given one of the important parts is radically different. It's nice we're getting to the point where we can see details like the article is pointing out, but we're still a ways away from having anything that would sway the Fermi Paradox to one conclusion or the other.
    • by argStyopa (232550)

      You may already be aware, but it's worth mentioning to the gallery: Our current planet-finding tech is ONLY successful at finding planets whose ecliptic is in line with us.

      Imagine solar systems are disks.

      The ONLY ones we have a chance of (currently) detecting are the ones that happen to be 'edge-on' to us.

      So, what proportion of systems do we even have a chance of detecting? 1%?

      I'm not an astronomer, there's obviously a Milky Way ecliptic, but as I recall our solar system ecliptic is pretty far off this (45

    • by Kethinov (636034)

      It's not a nearby "solar system." The term Solar System is a proper noun, not a generic term. It's a nearby planetary system. I wish people (especially journalists) would stop getting this wrong.

    • by 0111 1110 (518466)

      We still haven't confirmed a single habitable planet. I don't think this suggests that habitable worlds are at all common. Besides, when it comes to Fermi's paradox remember that,with all of our technology, we still have no idea how to make life from some sort of primitive chemical soup. It is still like magic to us that these dumb simple molecules can arrange themselves into complex machines by chance alone. It could still be such a rare event that only a handful of life forms exist in each galaxy and only

  • by msk (6205)

    A red dwarf star boasts . . . about its longevity?

    Wouldn't the habitable zone be so close that an otherwise-habitable planet would likely be tidally locked?

    • Does tidal lock preclude habitability? i know this means one side of the planet would be much hotter than the other, but given the right conditions, I don't know that this precludes life. I would imagine there would be some very interesting weather patterns, but if the hot side is within a reasonable range, it would simply mean that only half the planet would be inhabitable, I would think.

      • by deimtee (762122)
        I think the usual argument is that all the volatiles condense out on the dark side. However, I just had a thought, this only applies to solid planets.
        What if there was a lot more water in the planets makeup, so that the surface was an ocean a couple of hundred km deep?
        I think you would end up with a hot sea facing the star, massive rainfall starting near the terminator line, and suficient glaciation to balance whatever water made it all the way into the dark side.
        Also, one hell of an ice cap on the dar
    • by deimtee (762122)
      Larry Niven pointed out that a binary pair would be tidally locked to each other, rather than the star. While probably a lot rarer than single planets they would likely be a lot more comfortable too.
    • by wierd_w (1375923)

      Hot jupiter on outer edge of habitable zone with small rocky moons resolves this problem.

      Specifially for the moons.

      The moons will tidelock with the gas giant, not the star. This gives the moons a defined day/night, and seasonal eclipses. Day and night would be long, depending on the orbit of the moon around the giant, but well defined.

      Needs to be on the far outer edge of the habitable zone because of tidal heating.

  • cue awful movie with talentless hack wannabe singer and desperate-for-work-since-getting-bisected-by-darth-maul in 5... 4... 3...

  • Good lord people are pathetic sometimes, perhaps mom should have given them more attention? "Looks like home" in terms of space is a sad joke at best, and absolutely false at worse. We receive light from far out places, we don't actually "see" far away solar systems. Based on wobbles in the light we can guess on how many planets there are and what we think their sizes would be, but it's all hypothesis which could be found to be wrong on every account. Then based on those speculations, we guess at things

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