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Hubble Finds Sign That Habitable Planets Could Exist Beyond Solar System 57

Posted by timothy
from the depends-on-the-population dept.
cold fjord writes with this excerpt from the BBC: "Astronomers have detected the tell-tale signs of a shattered asteroid being eaten by a dead star, or white dwarf. The Hubble telescope spotted the event some 150 light-years from Earth. The researchers tell Science Magazine that the chemical signatures in the star's atmosphere indicate the asteroid must contain a lot of water. This makes it the first time both water and a rocky surface — key components for habitable planets — have been found together beyond our Solar System. ... Of the 1,000 planets so far identified beyond our Solar System, none has been definitively associated with the presence of water." More at Smithsonian Magazine.
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Hubble Finds Sign That Habitable Planets Could Exist Beyond Solar System

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  • by Covalent (1001277) on Saturday October 12, 2013 @02:24PM (#45109659)
    It seems that nearly every week there is an example of a new solar system with somewhat similar characteristics to our own. We've seen large planets, rocky planets, and now asteroids with high water content.

    In 1995 my physics teacher told me we'd never have direct evidence of extrasolar worlds. Now I tell my physics students that I wouldn't be surprised if we found evidence of extrasolar life (probably in the form of a planet with a high concentration of oxygen in its atmosphere).

    It's a great time to be alive and to be a scientist!
    • by noh8rz10 (2716597)

      is it a class M planet?

    • Why all the excitement about finding water in another star system? Sure, it seems to be the first time it was actually detected, but only after the water fell onto a white dwarf. This detection method will not work for systems that might actually harbor life.. And it's only one data point, so doesn't generate any useful statistics on the water content of other star systems. As far as answering the question "is there water in other star systems?" I don't think anyone ever thought the answer might be "no."
      • Because a set of statistics for rocky worlds outside of this solar system with water now has a 1 in the column where it used to have a zero. We now have a data point where we used to have nothing, and that is a beginning. It's really the entire point of the Kepler mission when you think about it, to gather data so that we can better generate state statistics. We need data and in any number of critical fields the slot has a 0 in it.

        Science starts somewhere and this is an indicator that were not wasting our r

        • When I was in school the idea that we would ever actually take a physical picture of a planet around another solar system was science fiction. Decades later and we have pictures of many planets around other solar systems and even planets that do not orbit a solar system at all.

          I like the sentiment of your post, but we currently don't even have a 1 pixel picture of a planet around another star than our sun. The current methods, at least until we get James-Webb [wikipedia.org] and better telescopes out there, are using the wobble effect from the gravitational effect of the planet on the star, spectral analysis, and such indirect methods of observation.

          Still it is pretty cool to look at the current list of habitable exoplanets [wikipedia.org] and think of the types of worlds there are out there. The discovery in t

          • by onyxruby (118189)

            You are quite right about the wobble effect used to help find candidates. It's extremely difficult to get direct pictures, however we have done it. Since it sounds like you have some interest in the subject I'll provide some links for you to read on. Interestingly enough the planet first planet we directly pictured had been captured by Hubble and overlooked for years as we didn't have the technique for combing through the data at the time!

            http://www.universetoday.com/26353/new-technique-allows-astronomers-t [universetoday.com]

            • Thanks for sharing the links. I'm very happy to be wrong on this, and it's interesting to see the progress made in the last couple of years on exoplanet discovery.

    • In 1995 my physics teacher told me we'd never have direct evidence of extrasolar worlds.

      This is a confirmation of the first of Clarke's Three Laws [wikipedia.org]. They are:
      1. When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.
      2. The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible.
      3. Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    I don't get whats so special about water. Water has a pretty limited temperature range where its liquid, which is the form in which people consider it special. Water is a decent solvent, and thus rips apart lots of interesting structures (Thats a bad thing for life right?). Its shape is bad for building things. If its just that somehow hydrogen bonds + liquid = magic life juice, then there are lots of other choices (and that makes little sense).

    Also, why are rocks key components? Even life here had little t

    • Neither is required as they don't preclude other possibilities, of course. But our one data point shows life happens on a rocky world with lots of water, so we suppose it is one configuration likely to yield life elsewhere as well in lieu of knowledge about whether it is actually all that helpful or not, which requires further examples.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Water is a decent solvent, and thus rips apart lots of interesting structures (Thats a bad thing for life right?).

      It's an amazing solvent, and a universal solvent. You in fact consist of mostly water, you bag of meat. Excuse me, I need to go swallow some more... water. (Okay, beer....)

      Also, why are rocks key components? Even life here had little to do with rocks initially

      In space things tend to be rocky or gaseous. If it's gaseous, it's hard to hang together.

    • by ntropia (939502)
      Nothing absolutely special about the two, but definitely special in combination.
      Let's say that water and rocks are very good ingredients on their own, assuming we're interested in variations of 'chemically based' life:

      - water has interesting physical properties (you mentioned most of them), but one of them is its dielectric constant, very important for facilitating catalytic conditions (self-replicating molecules?)

      - these physical properties allows it to solubilize minerals and a fair range of
  • by l0ungeb0y (442022) on Saturday October 12, 2013 @02:29PM (#45109683) Homepage Journal

    The White Dwarf in question had this to say on Science Magazine's Twitter Feed: "I made you a watery body with rocky surface, but then I ated it"

  • So satisfying that Hubble was the telescope to grab this honor as it enters its twilight years.
  • by Maeric (636941) on Saturday October 12, 2013 @03:00PM (#45109837)

    Sounds familiar. While this is an intriguing find it does not mean that life outside our solar system is anymore possible than it was before.

    This is similar to the buzz around finding possible water on Saturn's moon:
    Saturn's Moon--Does Water Equal Life? [icr.org]

    • Well, since we've run experiments where applying high voltage arcs (lightning simulations) to the basic chemicals like water, carbon, nitrogen, etc, produced amino acids... I think evidence of water and rocks is just about all I need to believe life is possible outside our solar system.

    • by Randwulf (997659)
      It means that when they get there, astronauts will be able to make Tang.
  • chemical signatures in the star's atmosphere indicate the asteroid must contain a lot of water.

    Or rather, it used to before it totally & tidally got the shit kicked out of it.

    Isn't it a bit of a jump from "asteroid with rocks and water in it" to "rocky planet with liquid water on it"?

    Not that I don't think they're out there. The aliens have to come from som
    W&6 ';@ ...' baling near line 23 ..

    c a r r i e r . l o s t

  • If by "habitable planets" you mean "one habitable asteroid" and by "could exist" you mean "could have existed"...

"An open mind has but one disadvantage: it collects dirt." -- a saying at RPI

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