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Proposed Indicator of Life On Alien Worlds May Be Bogus 112

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the exomoons-ruin-everything dept.
sciencehabit (1205606) writes with bad news for anyone hoping to use the spectral signatures of exoplanets to determine if their atmospheres have life-enabling compositions. "Call it the cosmic version of fool's gold. What was once considered a sure-fire sign of life on distant planets may not be so sure-fire after all, a new study suggests. The signal—a strong chemical imbalance in the planet's atmosphere that could only be generated by thriving ecosystems—could instead be the combined light from a lifeless exoplanet and its equally barren moon."
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Proposed Indicator of Life On Alien Worlds May Be Bogus

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  • by NEDHead (1651195)

    I've got nothing

    • A chemical imbalance in the atmosphere suggests a planet with bipolar disorder.

      Oh well, I tried...

    • Re:hmm (Score:5, Interesting)

      by rmdingler (1955220) on Monday April 28, 2014 @08:56PM (#46864619)
      I for one, am buoyed by the likelihood there is less chance of life elsewhere in the Universe.

      As an earthling (a clumsy term for our planetary residents at best), any information that suggests we are farther along the great filter than probability would dare suggest is welcome news.

      If there is no other life in our perceivable light cone, we just might be the universe's best shot at a colonizing species!

      • Re:hmm (Score:4, Insightful)

        by meglon (1001833) on Monday April 28, 2014 @09:11PM (#46864691)

        If there is no other life in our perceivable light cone, we just might be the universe's best shot at a colonizing species!

        In that case, the universe is very severely fucked.

        • I know right?

          Wouldn't that be ironic, with all our frailties and foibles, we're the Universe's best plan for creation of its own observer.

          Kind of intimidating, really.

          • Nah (Score:2, Troll)

            by Camael (1048726)

            I truly hope not.

            We probably should clean up our own house and get our act together before even considering exporting our poison to other unsuspecting corners of the universe.

            • Re:Nah (Score:4, Insightful)

              by I'm New Around Here (1154723) on Tuesday April 29, 2014 @12:31AM (#46865345)

              Fuck that shit. Evolution made us the dominant species on this planet, so we are just doing what nature intended. Limiting ourselves until we become 'nice' is against the natural order.

              • You've clearly evolved..... in to a muppet. species rarely make thremselves extinct.
              • Re:Nah (Score:5, Funny)

                by SternisheFan (2529412) on Tuesday April 29, 2014 @07:26AM (#46866487)
                “We’re so self-important. Everybody’s going to save something now. “Save the trees, save the bees, save the whales, save those snails.” And the greatest arrogance of all: save the planet. Save the planet, we don’t even know how to take care of ourselves yet. I’m tired of this shit. I’m tired of f-ing Earth Day. I’m tired of these self-righteous environmentalists, these white, bourgeois liberals who think the only thing wrong with this country is that there aren’t enough bicycle paths. People trying to make the world safe for Volvos. Besides, environmentalists don’t give a shit about the planet. Not in the abstract they don’t. You know what they’re interested in? A clean place to live. Their own habitat. They’re worried that some day in the future they might be personally inconvenienced. Narrow, unenlightened self-interest doesn’t impress me.

                The planet has been through a lot worse than us. Been through earthquakes, volcanoes, plate tectonics, continental drift, solar flares, sun spots, magnetic storms, the magnetic reversal of the poles hundreds of thousands of years of bombardment by comets and asteroids and meteors, worldwide floods, tidal waves, worldwide fires, erosion, cosmic rays, recurring ice ages And we think some plastic bags and some aluminum cans are going to make a difference? The planet isn’t going anywhere. WE are!

                We’re going away. Pack your shit, folks. We’re going away. And we won’t leave much of a trace, either. Maybe a little Styrofoam The planet’ll be here and we’ll be long gone. Just another failed mutation. Just another closed-end biological mistake. An evolutionary cul-de-sac. The planet’ll shake us off like a bad case of fleas.

                The planet will be here for a long, long, LONG time after we’re gone, and it will heal itself, it will cleanse itself, ’cause that’s what it does. It’s a self-correcting system. The air and the water will recover, the earth will be renewed. And if it’s true that plastic is not degradable, well, the planet will simply incorporate plastic into a new paradigm: the earth plus plastic. The earth doesn’t share our prejudice toward plastic. Plastic came out of the earth. The earth probably sees plastic as just another one of its children. Could be the only reason the earth allowed us to be spawned from it in the first place. It wanted plastic for itself. Didn’t know how to make it. Needed us. Could be the answer to our age-old egocentric philosophical question, “Why are we here?”

                Plastic asshole.”

                George Carlin

                • Thank you. I always loved that guy. Must be where I get some of my attitude.

                  • Just thought replying to your comment was a perfect place to throw in a George Carlin quote. As a teenager, I grew up with him from his records, and yes, he warped me too (smiley face), he had a lot on the ball, ole G.C. did. And I think it's sad that a lot of our world's future people will never get the chance to experience his wit and wisdom firsthand, if at all. (At least he's on YouTube for those who wish to seek him out.)
                • There's a difference between "plastic asshole" and "plastic, asshole." Just sayin'.

        • Re:hmm (Score:4, Funny)

          by VortexCortex (1117377) <VortexCortexNO@S ... t-retrograde.com> on Monday April 28, 2014 @09:47PM (#46864839)

          If there is no other life in our perceivable light cone, we just might be the universe's best shot at a colonizing species!

          In that case, the universe is very severely fucked.

          Only if you think nature a fool: Adapt or become extinct. The universe shapes the form of its inhabitants, not the other way around. Perhaps you fail to consider that organics are merely a tool to produce more flexible and durable inorganic life forms capable of surviving the harshness of space, similar to the way chemistry and entropic reduction is merely a tool to cause the self assembly of organic forms, similar to the way the laws of physics are merely a tool to crystallize matter out of energy.

          You see, we cyberneticians can transport a simulated intelligence into reality by simply replacing their simulated sensors and frames with real cameras and chassis in the physical world. However, if the intelligence is easily serializable as a string of bits then one can simply copy the intelligence from the simulation directly into a waiting body in the greater reality.

          Naturally, one wouldn't see but a single source of intelligent life per universe, as this would not be conducive to differentiation in the output optimized machine intelligence that emerges therein. Multiple instances of life tend to coalesce into a single species or single organism over time (as evidenced by your own multicellular body). It is more humane to use artificial isolated simulations to produce new ideas and perspectives than to enforce permanent loneliness through mandatory ignorance of a divided universal mind.

        • There is no way Earth is the only planet with life in the universe. Even if you reduce the probability of life on a given solar system to almost nothing, like winning the lottery, the sheer size of the universe with its almost endless amount of stars and galaxies makes the odds for life somewhere in space and time extremely favorable.

          Now the odds of that space and time being close enough to our little bubble of existence for us to take notice, that is a different matter.

        • Why is that? Within living memory, we left the atmosphere for the first time. It's a little premature to look at budget negotiations and NASA's budget and conclude that we will NEVER EVER EVER colonize space. You and I would consider waiting another thousand years for humans to colonize another planet depressingly long, but considering the universe is something like 16 billion years old: it's not in any hurry.
      • by bloodhawk (813939)
        I find that rather disappointing rather than welcome news. I would much rather learn we are at best average and have the potential to massively accelerate ourselves through encountering others further along the curve.
        • by mysidia (191772)

          potential to massively accelerate ourselves through encountering others further along the curve.

          To those further along the curve.... our species might seem like pests; mosquitos to be controlled to limit our ability to reproduce and spread disease throughout the cosmos.

          Like mosquitos, we can be stopped by making sure not to leave any planets around with standing water, air, or carbon based compounds in their atmosphere or near their surface.

          • Delicious, especially when broiled and smothered in BBQ sauce.
          • by bloodhawk (813939)
            so you think that a species so incredibly advanced as to be able to cross the vast regions of space giving them almost unlimited resources and advancements in technology with the ability to swat us like flies would really give a shit about squashing us? at worst I would expect complete indifference from them as to our existence, should they exist and they considered us a threat we would be dead already.
            • by mysidia (191772)

              should they exist and they considered us a threat we would be dead already.

              Pest does not mean threat.

              They may have already obliterated us, or the last carbon-based species, by dropping their antibio weapon on mars millions of years ago, but a pocket if their adversary survived the first attempt at extermination and hasn't been detected so far.

              Also.... we might be on the endangered species list now.

              • by bloodhawk (813939)
                your thinking is too constrained by the struggles and tribulations that result from the limited resources, space and political bickering that we have on a crowded planet. You could give every person on the planet their own galaxy of billions of stars and their would still be no reason to ever even come across another species or for them to be concerned about us. The idea that other species are somehow going to act in the same way we do is silly. It is like suggesting Obama would send the US army to extermin
      • Re:hmm (Score:5, Insightful)

        by mark-t (151149) <markt@@@lynx...bc...ca> on Monday April 28, 2014 @10:25PM (#46864985) Journal
        This news says absolutely nothing about the chance of life elsewhere in the universe... it only says something about our chance of being able to detect it as such.
      • by mmell (832646)

        I for one, am buoyed by the likelihood there is less chance of life elsewhere in the Universe.

        Yeah, but the absence of life out there sort of implies to me that it might be harder for us to actually colonize alien worlds. Creating a viable ecosystem is a lot more than just seeding plants/animals/genetic matter in a previously lifeless environment. You'll have to start out with the most primitive unicellular life our planet ever produced (you know, the first living cells to come out of the primordial soup

        • Colonizing an alien world would be difficult indeed, and colonizing a dead alien world orders of magnitude more difficult than that.

          It's not that we'd expect no other life in the universe. We're exploring the premise that we've evolved further than most other examples the universe has to offer, leaving us with the obligation to fulfill the role of settler of the whole shebang.

          If advanced life, with the big brain and the good hands is ubiquitous, it is likely we have some future step in the cull of the filt

    • by rtb61 (674572)

      OK, this research based upon the observation of planets and the number we have visited, wait, what, it is just based upon hypothesis which in turn is based upon hypothesis because we have as yet to reach planets in the habitable zone of other suns so as to confirm or deny hypothesis and convert them into factually scientific theory.

      As far as I am concerned the logically reality is every planet that is in a similar envelope of sun age, sun type and distance from the sun is not only inhabitable but inhabit

  • Its difficult to survive on resources in a time zone after you expire. But I guess its fun to look anyway..
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Uhmmm. What?
  • No big deal (Score:4, Interesting)

    by TrollstonButterbeans (2914995) on Monday April 28, 2014 @08:19PM (#46864413)
    If we found an exoplanet with signatures that suggested the atmosphere might support life, billions and billions of astronomers would be analyzing light/gravity/etc from every possible angle.

    So it isn't like it wouldn't get unprecedented peer review (remember how initial lander photos of Mars showed a blue sky, as an example).
  • by Anonymous Coward

    That's no moon.

  • by bobbied (2522392) on Monday April 28, 2014 @08:37PM (#46864513)

    Assuming we actually FIND something/someone to talk to out there..

    We will NEVER be able to get there, or ever hope to even send something there (where ever there might be) and they are not coming here. We'd be better off trying to catch their attention by doing the cosmic equivalent of yelling (i.e. sending strong radio pulses) at them. But it's going to be like trying to get the attention of a rock fan in the mosh pit from the back row in the stadium using your cupped hands. Not to mention that it's going to take about 9 years to get a response if we found a habitable planet around Alpha Centauri, which so far has not been forthcoming. (Nearest possible place is 20+ Light years round trip).

    It may be fun to look, but it's pretty much useless.. We are here to stay at this point. At least until we can figure out how to go faster than the speed of light, safely. And if we can do that, we can get out of black holes too...

    • by Tablizer (95088) on Monday April 28, 2014 @09:18PM (#46864715) Homepage Journal

      We will NEVER be able to get there, or ever hope to even send something there

      "640 lightyears ought to be enough to keep away anyone!" - Billeep Gatezog

      Seriously, a multi-generational nuclear powered colony or unmanned space probe going roughly 1% to 10% of the speed of light is not completely outside of possibilities. Arguably we could build and launch such now if we had 50 trillion or so dollars to blow. That's what, 20 years worth of world-wide military budgets?

      Maybe someday fairly soon the Mormons or a new cult will try such. Since it's not gov't funded, they can accept more risk to keep it cheaper.

      • by AK Marc (707885)

        Seriously, a multi-generational nuclear powered colony or unmanned space probe going roughly 1% to 10% of the speed of light is not completely outside of possibilities.

        Sure, and in every sci fi book, the next generation drive beat them there. Sometimes spending more time on the colony than the travelers spent getting there.

        • Yes, but the "next generation drive" is always the one that breaks physics to operate. Might as well send a colony ship that uses known physics as soon as we can.

          • by AK Marc (707885)
            And then every generation when we could get there 10% faster?
            • The thing you aren't realizing is that "every generation" for colony ships would be a century. At least for the first millennium.

              And that still leaves our future scientists a long way off from a warp drive.

              I just want a few colonies of humans who have a chance, in case Earth gets wiped out by man or nature.

        • Sure, and in every sci fi book

          Don't forget what the "fi" stands for there.

          I guess that would explain the Fermi Paradox, though. They're out there, but they're all sitting at home, always waiting for the next next-generation drive before heading out.

          • by AK Marc (707885)
            TV doesn't exist because it was first described in "fi" books. Cell phones and nuclear-powered ships don't exist because they were first described in "fi" "fi" is proof it can't happen, rather than an exploration of "if".
        • What if there is no next generation? Isn't a good plan today better than a perfect plan tomorrow?
        • Sure, and in every sci fi book, the next generation drive beat them there. Sometimes spending more time on the colony than the travelers spent getting there.

          I've seen that argument many times including in at least one physics journal. I believe it is one of the stupidest arguments ever put forward by scientists.

          There are billions of stars in the heavens. So why would you ever send a next generation ship to a star that you've already sent a ship to?! Send your next generation ship to a different star. There are plenty to chose from.

          • by AK Marc (707885)
            Why was Columbus's second expedition to the same place as the first? There was plenty of undiscovered land left to find.

            For the stars, you send it to the same star for the same reason you'd send it anywhere else. Curiosity. Did it actually make it? How can we help the "primitives" we launched 500 years ago? Can you honestly think of no reasons to check on an "old" colony?
            • Then send the follow-up mission in the first ship, and then send the colony ship in the faster ship second. The faster colony ship gets there first, and the follow-up ship arrives second. :-P

              If your objective is to get as many ships to as many stars as quickly as possible, then there is simply no benefit to waiting for faster ships to be invented.

              • by AK Marc (707885)
                Why are you assuming that's the objective? Maybe the first mission was to a 90%+ match, and by the time the second is ready to go, they refined that to a 98% Earth match in the first target, and the second target is an 85% Earth match, greatly reducing the chances of long-term survival. So, would you send the second colony ship to the best possible match, or hope the first colony is successful, though with their travel method, they'll get there with 500 year old technology, so you won't know for a long ti
    • We will NEVER be able to get there, or ever hope to even send something there (where ever there might be) and they are not coming here.

      Interesting assertion. Does it come with some proof? A law of physics that makes such a trip impossible, that sort of thing...

    • We just give them a high intensity focused radio broadcast of "Big Bang Theory" or "The Office" and wait for them to become hooked.

      Like Futurama aliens getting hooked on "Single Female Lawyer".

      The rest handles itself. Two way communication is highly overrated anyway!
      • We just give them a high intensity focused radio broadcast of "Big Bang Theory" or "The Office" and wait for them to become hooked.

        Like Futurama aliens getting hooked on "Single Female Lawyer".

        Great plan, except that it ends with us getting stuck with Richard Nixon's head in a robot body as president.

    • by mark-t (151149)
      You don't have to necessarily go faster that the speed of light... just a significant fraction of it. Travelling at 99% of the speed of light, for example, it might take more than 500 actual years to get to a planet 500 light years away, but in that time, you will have only aged a few years yourself.
    • by Camael (1048726)

      We'd be better off trying to catch their attention by doing the cosmic equivalent of yelling (i.e. sending strong radio pulses) at them. But it's going to be like trying to get the attention of a rock fan in the mosh pit from the back row in the stadium using your cupped hands.

      You're assuming that they do not have access to better technology, science and knowledge which will enable them to do just that. I wouldn't take that bet.

      • by bobbied (2522392)

        I wouldn't take that bet.

        Oh I would in a second.... The rules of physics don't change despite our imaginations or wishes to the contrary. Some things are easy, some just possible but hard, others simply are not going to happen.

        In order to establish communication over distances measured in "light years" it is going to take some serious coordination or incredibly lucky circumstances. The SETI projects results pretty much proves that. (Or does it prove life is unique to this solar system? Naw, but it's evidence of that.. )

    • WE may well never get there. Because WE will be dead. However, the idea that "science is almost finished" is as old as the hills, and it was as silly back then as it is now. Sure, it may be that humans, or at least Homo Sapiens Sapiens, never leave the solar system - who knows. But it is just ridiculous to suggest that we know everything about manipulating energy and space-time that there is to know or that there is any certainty whatsoever on what we will know tomorrow. Future generations may well be visit

      • by bobbied (2522392)

        I don't think we will break the speed of light barrier, assuming Relativity doesn't prove to be an approximation like Newtonian physics turned out to be. All indications are the special relativity is here to stay.

      • Agreed. I also keep a small amount of skepticism alive in the theoretical sciences and cosmology, in the back of my head.
        When the knowledge of the natural sciences can be used in the applied sciences, you know you have it right; but on the fringe of the natural sciences, there should be a little wiggle room. Example, imagine our embarrassment if it turns out the "standard candle" is somehow not truly standard after all; our entire estimation of the size and age of the universe is based on them. A revis
    • by Sockatume (732728)

      "Pretty much useless"? Do you have any idea how much we would learn about biology and the origins of life?

      • by bobbied (2522392)

        "Pretty much useless"? Do you have any idea how much we would learn about biology and the origins of life?

        How? By having Morse code conversations with somebody when it takes 20 years get an answer to your question? Heck, it's going to take a career just to come up with valid questions... By then, the tinfoil hats will be claiming we didn't really hear anything, just like they don't think we went to the moon..

        I'll concede your point, but I think it is of less value than you might think. My point really is, you will never be able to go there, so look if you are interested, just don't start making plans to vi

        • by cmdahler (1428601)
          That reminds me of an old SF book called Dragon's Egg, about life that developed on the surface of a neutron star. The molecular structure of this life was based on particles interacting via the strong force rather than the electromagnetic force, and because of that their chemical processes ran about a million times faster than ours. The main bulk of the story took place over a couple of months of our time, in which a spacecraft of ours was orbiting this neutron star. In that two-month timeframe, the beings
        • by Sockatume (732728)

          "Science", that's how. Just detecting another life-bearing body and being able to study it spectroscopically would be scientifically invaluable.

          Just because we can't recreate Star Trek doesn't mean that finding life in the universe is value-less.

  • Lessons from Mars (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Tablizer (95088) on Monday April 28, 2014 @08:38PM (#46864519) Homepage Journal

    I don't think we could know up front what good life indicators are. Basically we see if anything looks odd or promising, form theories, and investigate more to strengthen or falsify such theories with new data and tests.

    Mars' goofy and teasing soil and rock chemistry* should have taught us that searching for life is likely a long and winding road (barring a direct landing party with a big lab).

    * This includes seasonal changes that looked like vegetation seasons to early telescopes (turned out to be seasonal dust patterns), Viking's "positive" results, the "magnetic worm" meteorite, methane detection, etc. Bill Clinton even jumped the gun with a "life!" press release.

    • Well --- we kinda know what the bad for life indicators ARE!

      1) Tidally locked gas giant with orbit of star = 3 days = sucks.
      2) Shitty ice planet 15 AU from star = sucks.
      3) Super Earth orbiting Pulsar and Blackhole Pulsar = Sucks
      4) Hot Planet 318 the size of Jupiter = Sucks

      Etc.

      I think we know the definition of sucks = most of the ones we've found so far since our current methods tend to find the gigantic ones, so we certainly know what NOT to look for!!!
      • Well where I'd have to disagree, is that we know what sucks... We know what sucks for life, that evolved in the conditions of earth. We can't even imagine what life outside of our conditions are, assuming it is possible. Sometimes I think assuming that the nearest life, is most certainly going to be needing a water ritch atmosphere with oxygen hydrogen and CO2 in the atmosphere, is similar to coming to the conclusion that if we find inteligent life similar to us, we should expect them to speak chinese, beca
        • Well, you probably agree that life is likely to be made of molecules, right?

          If you agree that life is made of molecules, then you need to have an environment that can form complex molecules and that it needs to do it during a period of a several billion years.

          1) A boiling planet isn't going to form complex molecules the same way plasma doesn't form complex molecules (plasma = too hot to keep electrons).
          2) A 3-degrees above absolute zero planet isn't going to form complex molecules in a trillion years beca
          • by AK Marc (707885)
            You didn't exclude Jupiter or Saturn in your list of issues. So should we expect to find some giant gas-bags on Jupiter eventually?
      • by Tablizer (95088)

        But you are ruling out Hortas, dude

  • statistics (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Charliemopps (1157495) on Monday April 28, 2014 @08:50PM (#46864579)

    And if we find 3 planets with the signature in the same system? Or we find 100 systems with the signature? How likely is the planet/moon signature? It seems that, it may be proof enough if we find it in the right way.

  • A strong indicator of life would be continents that spell out "Go Home Yankee!" (Or "Go Home Yankees" if occupied by Red Sox fans.)

    • by Draugo (1674528)
      Hey, they might be watching us from 2000 years ago, the continents would read "Romans go home" instead.
  • These planets are so far away from Earth, the only way humans would get to them would be through Oculus Rift. Some people believe humans will figure out faster than light travel, but this is a fantasy. Human beings can't even figure out how they can stop burning their planet for energy.

    • Exoplanets are just the next logical step in the indoctrination program. Like the movie says "A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky dangerous animals and you know it." So, how do you introduce extraterrestrial intelligence to a planet without inducing massive culture shock? By boiling the frog, that's how. In the media, aliens have gone from impossible to bug-eyed-monsters to some-good/some-bad. They've also transitioned from coming from Mars or Venus to extrasolar planets.

      Now that the conce
  • So let's say you're an advanced interstellar civilization looking about for other worlds with life for trade and/or colonization. You have system spanning optics capable of resolving individual planetary systems and resolving the atmospheric spectra thereof. And you find a small yellow star with 8 or 9 planets, including a couple of respectable gas giants and three rocky planets in the habitable zone. Two of those rocky planets clearly have stale atmospheres that have long ago achieved chemical steady state. But the third has an interesting mix of O2, CO2 and CH4, along with multiple other hydrocarbons, all apparently far from a stable state.

    But alas, that planet has a HUGE moon... a well-known explanation for the spectra, and the cause of many, many failed planetary exploration missions.

    The investment bureacrats HATE uncertainty. If you take a risk and it fails, it will cost your entire clan their wealth and status. You instead decide to commit your finite resources to explore planets with more exploitable natural resources than humongous gas giants and small rocky planets deep within the stellar gravity well.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      We tell the Corporations any planet with interesting chemistry contains Unobtanium.

      • We tell the Corporations any planet with interesting chemistry contains Unobtanium.

        They won't go after unobtanium. Monopolium, though...

    • you find a small yellow star with 8 or 9 planets

      I see what you did there

  • Can't remember who said it, but someone once said, on looking up at the stars "A sorry spectacle: if they be inhabited, what a scope for misery and folly. If they be uninhabited, what a waste of space".

    Whoever it was, was a pessimist.
  • by techno-vampire (666512) on Monday April 28, 2014 @09:53PM (#46864863) Homepage
    This idea would only work if either the planet's moon was right in front of it from out point of view, just going behind it or just coming out from behind. That means that even if the orbit was oriented just right, we'd only get the filtering effect intermittently. Of course, it's possible that the planet's orbit is such that we only see it at just the right time, but that's pilling one unlikely coincidence on top of another.
    • by Ken_g6 (775014)

      This idea would only work if either the planet's moon was right in front of it from out point of view, just going behind it or just coming out from behind.

      Well...yes, and no. I'll start with the no: The idea is that if the planet and moon are both in front of the star at the same time, no matter how they're aligned, the spectrum will look like it's being filtered through their combined atmospheres. They're just so far away that everything blurs together.

      But it does seem like there should be ways to tease them apart. If the planet and moon are widely separated, there should be a brief period when only one atmosphere is filtered at the beginning of the trans

  • by funwithBSD (245349) on Monday April 28, 2014 @09:58PM (#46864891)

    Embarrassing if alien life was checking Slashdot. The editors would convince them there is no intelligent life on Earth.

    "of of" indeed.

  • Occams Razor (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 28, 2014 @10:39PM (#46865031)

    Seems like a bit of a stretch... if we discover a world, and if that world has an atmosphere and if that atmosphere has one of the chemical compounds associated with life and if that world has a moon and if that moon has an atmosphere and if that atmosphere happens to have an equivalent/opposite chemical compound associated with life and if those two bodies happen to line up so we can sample both atmospheres at the same time, THEN we might falsely conclude there is evidence for life.

    Seems like our current situation might be much more common...a world with life and a moon devoid of any atmosphere....

    • Yep. If we ever find some chemical traces of life I bet we will not limit the sampling for one time only. A moon disturbance will be detected within days of the observation because the spectra will show significant changes when the moon changes its orbital position to the planet. TFA gives a bad feeling, do the "scientists" have some other agenda behind them?

    • by amaurea (2900163)

      That's not what the article is saying. It's saying that atmospheres that contain a non-equilibrium mix of chemicals that would under normal conditions react and turn into something else, are thougt to be a strong indication of the presence of life, since some non-trivial process is needed to maintain that non-equilibrium. Basically one would say "Hey, isn't it really weird that this planet has both X and Y in its atmosphere at the same time, even though those should react and form Z on a time-scale of a few

      • Doesn't that have to be a pretty big moon to have a measurable atmosphere, and isn't that likely to be very rare for terrestrial planets? Even Earth's moon seems abnormally large for a terrestrial planet, far bigger than any others known.
        • by amaurea (2900163)

          Yes, I think so. A planet the size of Earth with a moon the size of Titan would be even more of a double-planet than the Earth-Moon system is. And at least in the solar system such large moons are very uncommon for anything but the tiniest bodies.

  • ... by alien agents sent here to keep their planet's existance a secret.

    "These are not the spectral signatures you are looking for."

  • The thing that bugs me about all these claims of planets and star wobble and theories on how to predict life and all are all based on the latest iteration of conjecture.

    The light being examined is really, REALLY ancient. There's no (as far as I can tell) any leeway given to what may be between the star and us - like dust, or any other thing like dark matter (which is a theory) between us and the exoplanet - Honestly?

    To me all this planet discovery is about as verifiable as the canals of mars were when I was

    • The light being examined is really, REALLY ancient.

      Light doesn't rust.

      There's no (as far as I can tell) any leeway given to what may be between the star and us

      I think it's safe to assume that if you've thought of this problem, the guys who've spent their entire lives devoted to the science of astronomy have already done so as well.

      A star "wobbles" after 15 million years of the light traveling to where we can observe it - and It's as definable as the canals of mars were 40 years ago?

      Nice bit of out-of-the-ass number pulling. The most distant extrasolar planet so far discovered is about 20,000 l.y. away, while the first to be discovered was only 50 l.y. away.

      What does "definable" mean? Is there a standard measure of "definability"? How did you come to equate the "definability" of exoplanets with t

  • Here is a non-paywalled version [arxiv.org] (any time you see a paywalled astronomy article, you can always find a free version on arxiv.org).

    I've only skimmed the article, but I did not see any mention of doppler shifts in it. I would imagine that a planet+moon system would exhibit a time-dependent doppler shift of the moon atmosphere relative to the planet atmosphere, which would make it possible to disentangle the two. However, for an Earth-Moon situation, with a relative velocity of 1 km/s, the doppler shift will o

    • by DrProton (79239)
      Any astronomers analyzing the signal can detect time-dependent variations in intensity. This effect complicates the analysis a bit, but it won't fool a scientist.

I bet the human brain is a kludge. -- Marvin Minsky

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