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Space Science

Mysterious Planet May Be Cruising For a Bruising 104

Posted by Soulskill
from the mark-your-calendars dept.
sciencehabit writes "Something is orbiting the bright star Fomalhaut in the constellation known as the Southern Fish, but no one knows exactly what it is. New observations carried out last year with the Hubble Space Telescope confirm that the mysterious object, known as Fomalhaut b, is traveling on a highly elongated path, but they haven't convincingly nailed down its true nature. But if it is a planet, as one team of astronomers thinks, we may be in for some celestial fireworks in 2032, when Fomalhaut b starts to plough through a broad belt of debris that surrounds the star and icy comets within the belt smash into the planet's atmosphere." Meanwhile, astronomers recently announced the discovery of the most Earth-like exoplanet yet seen, which orbits a G-type star, has a radius 1.5 times that of Earth and a year of about 242 days.
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Mysterious Planet May Be Cruising For a Bruising

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  • by girlintraining (1395911) on Friday January 11, 2013 @12:46PM (#42558921)

    Terrible headline aside, I can only hope this time NASA doesn't dub in canned laughter and slapstick noises as it crashes through the front lawn. The soundtrack during the rover touchdown was just terrible, and the reward for watching a bunch of dudes in starch-white shirts with ties and unkept hair was a crappy over-pixelated image of a leg. I mean, hey, if that's what puts the lotion on all the power to you, but I've been underwhelmed so far.

    • by arisvega (1414195) on Friday January 11, 2013 @02:31PM (#42560057)

      Terrible headline aside

      Since there may be others that feel this way, in the case of exoplanets here is "the one", all-inclusive resource [exoplanets.org] that even the professionals in the field make use of and cite.

      (For the click-lazy:) "The Exoplanet Data Explorer is an interactive table and plotter for exploring and displaying data from the Exoplanet Orbit Database. The Exoplanet Orbit Database is a carefully constructed compilation of quality, spectroscopic orbital parameters of exoplanets orbiting normal stars from the peer-reviewed literature, and updates the Catalog of nearby exoplanets."

      Access is granted to all data, and I (hopefully along with other slashdotters) am willing to "translate" from the scientific jargon if something sounds too specialized.

  • 25 Ly away (Score:5, Informative)

    by richardoz (529837) on Friday January 11, 2013 @12:47PM (#42558925) Homepage
    For the observable time of 2032, this means it already happened.
    • Re:25 Ly away (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 11, 2013 @12:51PM (#42559001)

      _Everything_ has already happened by the time you've seen it. So what?

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Minkowski spacetime does not work that way. There is no "already" in relativity.

      • by Ol Biscuitbarrel (1859702) on Friday January 11, 2013 @01:03PM (#42559117)

        _Everything_ has already happened by the time you've seen it. So what?

        First post!

      • Re:25 Ly away (Score:5, Interesting)

        by arth1 (260657) on Friday January 11, 2013 @02:05PM (#42559801) Homepage Journal

        Minkowski spacetime does not work that way. There is no "already" in relativity.

        Correct. I find that most people have a very hard time grasping that time is a local phenomenon, and that there is no universal clock that ticks for both us and distant space. We observe time everywhere as linear, so we think it is both linear and universal.

        Words like "since" and "then" can only apply to our local time, and no time has passed "since" the light left the distant star - that "since" is only valid in our time frame, not outside our cone of causality.
        Words like "light year" and "light minute" add to the confusion, because in our Newtonian frame of mind we then think that "the" time actually ticks when light goes from A to B, but there is no "the" time.

        As Einstein said, "I came to realize that time itself is suspect".

        • by jxander (2605655) on Friday January 11, 2013 @02:11PM (#42559867)
          I haven't had nearly enough coffee for this discussion.
        • by swalve (1980968)

          Words like "since" and "then" can only apply to our local time, and no time has passed "since" the light left the distant star - that "since" is only valid in our time frame, not outside our cone of causality.

          If no time passed since it left the star, why did it take so long to get here?

          • No time has passed for the light since it left the star. Time has passed for the star since the light left it.
            • by arth1 (260657)

              No time has passed for the light since it left the star. Time has passed for the star since the light left it.

              (A) is true. (B) is true if you can define a time on the remote star after the light left the star. From here, we can't. What if a wandering black hole eats/ate the star or flings/flung it at near relativistic speeds? That would change their local time rate.

              • I can define a time on that remote star easily. A black hole eating the star or flinging it at near relativistic speeds doesn't really cause a problem with the existence of time progressing, only of the rate of progression of time. I cannot tell how much time has passed for that star, only that it has.
          • by arth1 (260657)

            If no time passed since it left the star, why did it take so long to get here?

            You're begging the question by presupposing "so long".

            In what time frame "did it take so long"?
            We know nothing about the remote time frame (and they know nothing about ours - the two are not linked).
            In our time frame, the light just arrived.
            In the light's time frame, no time passed, because it moved at the speed of light, i.e. with infinite time dilation.

            A light year is a distance - how far something would hypothetically travel by Newtonian physics going at 299,792.458 km/s for a year. However, Newtonian

        • by Anonymous Coward
          No time may have passed for the light. However that doesn't mean that the poor planet is still waiting to get hit by all those comets just because we haven't observed it yet.
          • by arth1 (260657)

            No time may have passed for the light. However that doesn't mean that the poor planet is still waiting to get hit by all those comets just because we haven't observed it yet.

            The word "still" applies to us, not them. We don't know anything about their time progression.

          • However that doesn't mean that the poor planet is still waiting to get hit by all those comets just because we haven't observed it yet.

            I may have this wrong, but my understanding is:

            "Still" and "yet" are very flexible terms here. In our reference frame, we can define a fairly fixed "now" in which we can be fairly sure that the event happened before "now" - but for another observer in the same position as us but moving at a (vastly) different speed, they may not be so sure. Only when we see it can we be certain that there are no reference frames at our position for which the event is yet to happen.

            I forget the details, but I read somethin

        • by ceoyoyo (59147)

          If you choose a frame of reference you can certainly say that things have happened "already," one thing happens "then" another does, and time has passed "since" an event. Relativity certainly does have an ordering of events (which we like to call causality). The preservation of causality was one of the motivations for relativity.

          The OP is correct in stating that this event has "already" happened. It has (or probably has, if nothing intervened), from our particular point of view. His mistake was the smar

        • by Yoda222 (943886)
          We can solve that by using UTC instead of local time.
        • by Sigg3.net (886486)

          Or as the Buddha said: "Time? Don't' think about time."

    • by Anonymous Coward

      I've often thought this would be an interesting part of a civilization developing FTL travel. Their knowledge of their galaxy/nearby stars could be hundreds or thousands of years old, then they can suddenly see those things "now." Of course, not a whole lot will generally change with a star or planet in just a couple hundred years, but still, it will happen from time to time.

    • by icebike (68054)

      For the observable time of 2032, this means it already happened.

      Further, it seems likely that Everything has already happened BEFORE, when we weren't paying attention.

      After all, what is the likelihood what we happen to point our telescope at a planet that FOR THE FIRST TIME "starts to plough through a broad belt of debris that surrounds the star"?

      (Yes, they did say, after just discovering this planet last week, that it will "for the first time" plough through an belt of debris. Such brilliant timing. Such Masterful scheduling to get that planet discovered Just in the n

  • Its a trap! (Score:5, Funny)

    by gmuslera (3436) on Friday January 11, 2013 @12:49PM (#42558961) Homepage Journal

    Thats no planet.

    At least now we know around which star is Alderaan.

  • "Maybe there's no land life, but perhaps very clever dolphins," Livio joked.

    Except dolphins are descended from land life. Fish are thick as quite thick shit. Most likely due to the lack of sufficient oxygen to run big brains. I hadn't actually considered that before.

  • It's the DEATH STAR!!!
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 11, 2013 @01:05PM (#42559163)

    With it's unprecedented ability to plow a path the planetary debris belt without losing suction, it must be a Dyson.... sphere.

  • It's not a planet (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 11, 2013 @01:35PM (#42559471)

    By definition, a planet has cleared its orbit of material. If it's colliding with a belt of debris, it obviously hasn't done so.

    Have I mentioned yet how unnatural I think this new definition of a planet is? Its primary purpose seems to be to exclude Pluto and other Kuiper Belt objects from planetary status. Size, mass, and composition are all irrelevant and it's now the orbit of the object (and other objects!) that matter. As this article demonstrates, this new definition conflicts with common understanding of the term. The astronomers should have invented a new term to describe this orbital requirement instead of perverting an existing one.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      By definition, a planet has cleared its orbit of material. If it's colliding with a belt of debris, it obviously hasn't done so.

      Have I mentioned yet how unnatural I think this new definition of a planet is? Its primary purpose seems to be to exclude Pluto and other Kuiper Belt objects from planetary status. Size, mass, and composition are all irrelevant and it's now the orbit of the object (and other objects!) that matter. As this article demonstrates, this new definition conflicts with common understanding of the term. The astronomers should have invented a new term to describe this orbital requirement instead of perverting an existing one.

      You don't want "planet" to include all the crap that it would have to include in order to be self consistent and include Pluto. And frankly Pluto is obviously the "odd one out" when looking at the "9 planets". It's got by far the most eccentric orbit, is the smallest, and has very little to distinguish it from a big asteroid/comet. The only reason Pluto was considered a planet for so long was that it was discovered early enough that it was not yet apparent how many similar sized objects existed in the vario

      • Re:It's not a planet (Score:5, Interesting)

        by wierd_w (1375923) on Friday January 11, 2013 @02:55PM (#42560339)

        *devil's advocate (lame attempt)

        Ok, so basically what you are saying is:

        "One of these things is not like the others, but rather than actually give due dilligence to a truly thoughtful definition of what a planet is (and thus, what it isn't) that would apply amid the growing dataset of observed orbiting non-stellar objects, we will just pull something out of our asses because we don't want to let pluto into our arbitrarilly segregated "so definately a planet" club, because we don't want to admit such a dinky object, because if we did, then all that rabble would have to be entered too!"

        Here's a better definition for planet.

        A substellar mass that has achieved a stable, non-random orbit with a stellar mass, and engages in stable harmonic relationships with other orbiting substellar masses.

        That would include pluto, due to its harmonic relationship with neptune, and its orderly orbit, even if that orbit is highly eccentric. It also enables objects like extrasolar hot jupiters to be planets, where arbitrary requirements for the shape of the orderly orbit would cause exclusion; many hot jupiters race in toward their parent stars and get roasted regularly due to highly eccentric orbits. Eccentricity is therefor not a quality to cause exclusion, since eccentric orbits are far more prevelent than nearly circular ones. This drives home the point about stable harmonic relationships with other orbiting masses. Crossing eccentric orbits can be harmonically stable.

        So, basically, the GP's post about the definition being made specifically to exclude pluto for nebulous and arbitrary reasons is absolutely true, given that eccentrically orbiting extrasolar masses that cross each other's orbits at intervals are abundantly prevelent in the observed galaxy?

        • by Sigg3.net (886486)

          Functional definition:

          Planet. Place to beam the away-team. (Related: phasers, red shirts, Scotty)

      • by mark-t (151149)

        The only reason Pluto was considered a planet for so long was that it was discovered early enough that it was not yet apparent how many similar sized objects existed in the various debris fields in the solar system.

        Exactly! Just like how we discovered these really tiny particles a couple of centuries back and called them "atoms" because we thought they were indivisible, and when it turned out that they weren't, we.... Oh... Wait a minute, we still *DO* call them atoms.

        So... What was I saying?

    • Plunk-it?

    • On consideration, I dislike the definition, although this planet simply cannot have existed very long in its current orbit if it is regularly smashing through a belt of debris. Each transit would wreak havoc on this belt and after a few billion years, it should have been scattered to the wind.

      So, either this object was recently (last million years) shifted its orbit has a very unusual orbit, or it is not solid.

      The researcher does point out it could be inclined vs the cloud's orbit, which would make it unli

    • By definition, a planet has cleared its orbit of other bodies of similar or larger size other than its own satellites.

      With your definition Earth would not be a planet, because there are more than 8000 near-Earth asteroids.

    • by ceoyoyo (59147)

      It this thing regularly plows through a ring of protoplanetary material then it is correctly labelled a protoplanet, not a planet. If it has cleared it's orbit, which it may have, and is no longer accumulating lots of material, then it is correctly called a planet.

      The definition seems to work very well in this case.

    • ...exclude Pluto, other Kuiper Belt Objects, AND asteroids. Remember asteroids? They were "planets" too, for about a century, until there were too many to take seriously. Which is what was going to happen with the KBOs. Pluto had to go, or there had to be over 10,000 "planets." I'd hate to see the mnemonic to memorize them all...
  • by backslashdot (95548) on Friday January 11, 2013 @01:40PM (#42559533)

    I realize the thing is 25 light years away, but surely a large number of people can be tricked into thinking we'll be affected by this somehow. I mean what if there is debris hurtling towards us at near the speed of light the probability of impact is may well be in the one in a googolplexibazillion range but it's still non zero. How many people can understand large numbers? Not many. I say a religion can be formed and money can be made off this.

    • by ehiris (214677)

      The Star is actually the sun's mirror image seen through curved space and the orbiting object is earth.
      I read something along those lines on a Mayan wall so it must be true.

  • by koan (80826)

    Deathstar.

  • So instead of its usual four pixels, it will be up to, what, six or seven?
  • by sl4shd0rk (755837) on Friday January 11, 2013 @03:25PM (#42560699)

    K'Breel, speaker for the Council, released a statement:

    "Gentle Citizens, today I stand before you proud as a gerlsh in the first heivtning, positively quirlly to bring you the news that our collection device near the Eye of Hoarfrost has nearly completed it's mission. Soon, very soon, we will have amassed the largest collection of Dihydrogen Monoxide in Matter state 3 since the dawn of T'zolar. Rest well Citizens knowing this operation marks the age of time we will finally rid Sector 42-Gamma of the evil blue planet"

    A media operative, who asked K'breel for comment about several previous attempts, specifically the notorious Jupitorial 9-stone bungle, was tazed in the gelsac and evaporated. The J9S mission, nearly 20 ages old, is apparently still a sore spot with the council.

  • It's great to keep finding these earth-like planets, but wouldn't it make more sense to first focus our searches on:

    1) Star systems of the right elemental makeup where planets could have iron cores
    2) Star systems of the right age, where the earth-like planets with iron cores would likely still have a molten core capable of producing a magnetosphere

    I think we've all but proven that finding planets of the right size, within the right distance of their star, are perhaps abundant enough (see mars). That's
  • FTA:

    With a radius that is just 1.5 times that of Earth, the potential planet is what a so-called "super-Earth," meaning it is just slightly larger than the Earth.

    Assuming it has a similar density to Earth, wouldn't it have considerably more gravitational force? Like, maybe 3x?

    Earth's volume: 4/3 * pi * r^3 = 4/3 * 3.14159 * 1^3 = 4.1888
    KOI 172.02's volume: 4/3 * 3.14159 * 1.5^3 = 14.137

    People seem to forget that a small difference in radius produces a much larger difference in volume thanks to that

    • Volume, hence mass if density is similar, hence gravity, is proportional with the cube of the radius. But gravity is also proportional with the inverse square of the distance from the center. Therefore gravity on a planet surface is proportional with its radius: R^3/R^2 = R.

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