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Two Earth-Like Exoplanets Don't Actually Exist 102

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the there-go-my-retirement-plans dept.
Two suspected exoplanets, Gliese 581g and 581d, have been shown to not exist, and are instead misinterpretations of data from starspot activity. From the article: "Gliese 581g doesn't exist," said lead author Paul Robertson of Penn State University in State College, Pennsylvania. Neither, he said, does another planet in the same solar system, known as Gliese 581d, announced in 2009—less clearly hospitable to life, but still once seen by some astronomers as a possible place to find aliens. ... What's happening, they say, is that magnetic disturbances on Gliese 581's surface — starspots — are altering the star's spectrum in such a way that it mimics the motion induced by a planet. The star itself rotates once every 130 days, carrying the starspots with it; the disputed planets appeared to have periods of almost exactly one half and one fourth of the 130-day period. When the scientists corrected for the starspot signal, both planets disappeared.
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Two Earth-Like Exoplanets Don't Actually Exist

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  • Get it right (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Nkwe (604125) on Saturday July 05, 2014 @08:35PM (#47390731)
    I certainly hope that before we send a generational ship on a one way mission to check out one of these "Earth like" planets that isn't there, we get this right... Of course it would be a good plot for a movie.
    • Before we sent a generation ship, we would need to know a hell of a lot more about what's going on than just a sneaking suspicion there may be a planet and it may be in the habitable zone. At a minimum, we would want to have directly imaged the planet and verified from its spectra that it has a decent atmosphere and hopefully already has life.
      • by MrP- (45616) <rob@elCOBOLitemrp.net minus language> on Saturday July 05, 2014 @09:40PM (#47390929) Homepage

        I say we only go once we've communicated with the life forms on the planet and made reservations.

        Would suck to go that far only to have to turn around because they don't have any spare beds.

        • Re:Get it right (Score:4, Insightful)

          by willaien (2494962) on Saturday July 05, 2014 @09:58PM (#47390983)

          You joke, but, there exists a problem with that idea.

          How do you even establish a communication protocol with an entirely alien (technologically) civilization?

          We can possibly work on showing a basic data format with numbers first, but after that, what then? Send Fibonacci sequences at each other ad nauseum?

          There's some interesting ideas, but, how would we even move beyond mere shouting math at each other? How would we establish even a more advanced data format capable of handling characters? And then, how would we develop an intermediary language?

          All of this with hundreds of years in gaps between sending and receiving communications, at that. It's not just hard, it's going to be effectively impossible within the lifespans of the people who sent the first message.

          • by AK Marc (707885)
            You send the entire works of Shakespeare. Let them figure it out. We've decoded harder from scraps of dead languages.
            • by msk (6205)

              This assumes that any thoughts more complex than mathematics will be mutually comprehensible or that the written language will use a recognizable grammar.

              We also still make a big assumption that meat-based life forms will develop similar enough brains that communication will be possible.

              • by AK Marc (707885)
                Every baby (with perhaps a tiny number of exceptions) on the planet learns language. Nearly every "higher" species has some language or communication. I'm making the assumption that they are able to teach their babies communication. You are assuming they have no linguistic capabilities at all. That seems absurdly improbable for a civilization capable of communicating with us.
                • by willaien (2494962)

                  But, we learn it from pure saturation and situational awareness. We had to have access to the Rosetta stone to make sense of Ancient Egyptian.

                  There has to be at least some sort of context to work with.

                  • You're talking to a species that understands math, chemistry, physics...
                    You share the same Universe. There's your context.

                    And simple 1+1=2 vs 1+1=3 (i.e. something like: .^.-.. .^.-...) is enough if you'd just want to match up two vocabularies of terms.
                    You got your TRUE and FALSE right there.
                    And then there are entire languages already constructed for just such a purpose.
                    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/C... [wikipedia.org]

                  • by AK Marc (707885)
                    Every language on Earth, including ones that evolved completely separately, have the concept of noun and verb. You would obviously use those as points of commonality for deciphering it. Even if looking at the Earth languages where nouns are optional, they are still implied.

                    I've seen sci fi that implied the foreign language was all adjectives, but that doesn't seem very practical.
                  • Fortunately, we have an abundance of data to send, including educational material.that exists explicitly for the purpose of educating people who don't know our language, and we have people that have studied language construction extensively, and have created systems for communicating with both the deaf and blind. Assuming there is overlap in our sensory ranges, this would be a peace of cake if the distance to cover is Ancient Egyptian.
                • by msk (6205)

                  It may be that placing babies with the aliens will be the only way to gain effective communication. For an exploration of this, see Suzette Haden Elgin's _Native Tongue_.

            • make sure to use IPv4 TCP frames, as those are universal...they are unlikely to have upgraded to IPv6 due to the additional cost, just like we haven't.

          • And even after all of that, how do we know that, once we send a generational ship, their civilization will even be standing by the time we get there. Or since the generation that invited us will (possibly) be long dead, will their descendants still be keen on the idea of a bunch of ship born ape descendants arriving on a one way trip to consume resources? Since those on a generational ship will be more or less technology stagnant and isolated, who knows what kind of superstitions they may develop, or how pr
          • by dbIII (701233)

            How do you even establish a communication protocol with an entirely alien (technologically) civilization?

            Greg Egan had one in a novel that relied on being able to copy and modify human minds then run them as software. You make a copy, tweak it so it has some understanding of the alien and is human enough to communicate with the mind upstream, then another and so on until you have a chain of a dozen or more intelligences that pass a message from the human to the alien.

            For a less optimistic view there's Lem

            • by ultranova (717540)

              Spend a century+ studying an alien and end up with just a vast amount of paper listing weird shit it's done with still no idea why.

              But that's not really credible. The basic motivations for all living things on Earth are reasonable simple to understand, once you know their environment and evolutionary/personal history. And while an alien planet is alien, it still exist in the same universe under the same basic principles of existence. Thus, an alien would still experience the same archetypes - conflict, bir

              • by dbIII (701233)

                Thus, an alien would still experience the same archetypes - conflict, birth, death, success, failure, discovery, hunger, etc

                Not necessarily. Lem's lone planet sized alien in Solaris seems to avoid at least a few of those and for the rest nobody can work it out at the time of the story.

                it can't produce incomprehensible ones.

                Irrelevant since easily comprehensible and incomprehensible are not the only choices. Lem's example is a century+ of almost no progress but that doesn't mean forever. In reality we've

                • by ultranova (717540)

                  Lem's lone planet sized alien in Solaris seems to avoid at least a few of those and for the rest nobody can work it out at the time of the story.

                  Lem's planet and its inhabitant exist in the land of make-believe, and doesn't have any actual history, but actual planets existing in actual spacetime are still subject to be guided by actual archetypes over actual time.

                  Irrelevant since easily comprehensible and incomprehensible are not the only choices. Lem's example is a century+ of almost no progress but that

                  • by dbIII (701233)

                    exist in the land of make-believe

                    Nice put down if we were not speculating about something nobody has observed. Of course we are using examples from the land of make-believe.

                    • by ultranova (717540)

                      Nice put down if we were not speculating about something nobody has observed. Of course we are using examples from the land of make-believe.

                      I once read a story about an alien who didn't have to eat because it was powered by a perpetual motion engine. Does such an alien make a good example of something we might actually encounter? No, because it's at odds with reality as we know it.

                      Just because we are using imaginary examples doesn't mean all such examples are equally credible.

                    • Viruses and prions don't fit everything in your list either, as do other things that reproduce without sex. Aliens could be alien enough to be scaled up things on those lines - which of course is also from the land of make-believe but so is all speculation about aliens when you get down to it.
                      Solaris is deliberately a bit of an extreme but the important question it asks is this: "What if aliens were truly alien?". The more different from us something is the more difficult it is likely to be to communicate
          • by FalcDot (1224920)

            We have managed to establish a basic form of communication with some chimpanzees, well within human liftetimes, because they are able to see us (visual sensors in the right frequancy band) and they are able to make delicate motions that we can see.

            If we make contact with aliens of approximately that level of sophistication, we should be fine.

            Add to that the possibility of them hearing us (again, sensors in the right range) and hopefully vice-versa, and we should not have too much problems that cannot be ove

            • by willaien (2494962)

              To be able to visually see, and audibly hear each other, we would have to figure out how to even communicate with each other to begin with - video and audio file formats.

          • by Ihlosi (895663)
            How do you even establish a communication protocol with an entirely alien (technologically) civilization?

            You don't. You use the parts of your own protocol that aren't too compressed (think .bmp instead of .jpg, .wav instead of .mp3), and hope the other side can figure it out. Since the messages will be travelling for tens or even hundreds of years, a few decades for understand the other side's protocol shouldn't delay things too much.

            Once you think you have figured out the other side's protocol, you sen

            • by geekoid (135745)

              No. You use basic universal truths to start.

              http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/V... [wikipedia.org]

              • by Ihlosi (895663)
                No. You use basic universal truths to start.

                "Truth" is a heavily cultural thing. If anything, you use facts.

                And the Voyager record does basically exactly what I mentioned. It uses a subset of our own communication protocols with very low compression.

          • You might want to check out Stanislaw Lem's "His master's voice". He writes about the futile attempts of humanity in decoding an alien signal sent to earth, not only because of the difficulty of the encoding itself, but also due to the chasm between the two civilizations, mindsets etc. It is very dark and pessimistic, but definitely a good read.

        • by C0R1D4N (970153)
          Maybe there's room in the manger =p
        • by Tablizer (95088)

          Isn't that how Jesus was born?

        • by Dabido (802599)
          Alien Reply: Sure, come. We'd love to serve man.
    • by kamapuaa (555446)

      Right, well the generational ship is going to be sent any day now so I'm glad the scientists at least put the brakes on this one.

    • by rossdee (243626)

      We could still send the B-Arc

    • Standard astronomical procedure now is to confirm detection of an expoplanet using toe or more detection methods before trumpeting the existence of MyWorld.

  • Yeahhh (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday July 05, 2014 @08:52PM (#47390783)

    I love physics, but I've really felt like the exoplanet thing has been irresponsibly laid on pretty thick for the common man (mostly by scientific media and then mainstream media, in order to sell copies/ads, of course).

    There's a lot of zeal in announcing newly found planets, pontificating on their atmospheres and doing up artists impressions and whatnot. It's just not good to take back that type of information and say "ah shit, it was actually just a sunspot". It's really the only true vector of doubt in the religious mind - when science corrects itself. This type of stuff does not help.

    But then again, it's mostly the mainstream media who create such a house of cards.

    • Re:Yeahhh (Score:4, Informative)

      by kenwd0elq (985465) <kenwd0elq@gmail.com> on Saturday July 05, 2014 @10:06PM (#47390999)

      Ditto here. The "New planet may support life!!!! meme is so COMPLETELY overblown based on a telescope that detects occultations, and doesn't generate any images. The "artist's renderings" were way off in fantasyland, entirely unsupported by the data.

    • It's just not good to take back that type of information and say "ah shit, it was actually just a sunspot".

      You are wrong, exactly this is the power of science, that it can correct itself. In fact, this is always exciting because you found something new, you can use this in future to recheck data and thus improve findings. In science you can challenge findings, learn and improve. Religion just stays as it is.

  • Or maybe (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday July 05, 2014 @08:57PM (#47390791)

    Some aliens came along and vaporized them with a futuristic weapon?

  • "my sysop types all this in."

  • by Anonymous Coward

    When the scientists corrected for the starspot signal, both planets disappeared.

    So they possibly just committed genocide on two planets?

  • They're in good company - there's an infinite number of earth-like exoplanets that don't exist.
  • nothing Ex-O here.
    • by dltaylor (7510)

      Don't know about the god/animated characters' love lives, but get over the "Pluto is a planet" nonsense. Just because there are ossified grooves in your brain doesn't make it true.

      There are still people around from BEFORE Pluto was discovered (named in 1930), and there was plenty of time when some of the larger asteroids, such as Ceres in the 1800s, were considered "planets", and if we have to end up counting all of the Kuiper Belt Objects (KBOs) as planets, why not comets (at least the ones with millenial

      • You STILL don't get nine. You either settle for the current eight, or you will, eventually, have hundreds, at least.

        Not necessarily. If you make the definition of "planet" as wide as possible, you can then create (non-exclusive, overlapping) sub-categories for different classes. Terrestrial, gas-giant, dwarfs, KBOs, super-Jupiter, hot-Jupters, hot-Earths, super-Earths, rogue (or free flying) planets, etc.

        And, of course, then you can have "Traditional Planets", which is the nine.

        Everyone gets a toy, everyone goes home happy.

        [Except I'd make the definition wide enough to include large moons (eg, "non-stellar bodies over 50

        • by geekoid (135745)

          Yes, lets butcher science so the ignorant plebes can be happy. What could go wrong?
          Plane was ill-defined. So now it has a more specific definition. That is all.

          You know what? we will probably find more data and cause it to become even more specific.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    So many Republicans don't believe in the existence of space, and this sort of conspiracy just makes them more bold.

  • Damn (Score:3, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday July 05, 2014 @10:59PM (#47391121)

    Before you 3D print your FTL private colony ship, better check twice.

  • by Biff Stu (654099) on Sunday July 06, 2014 @12:19AM (#47391405)

    as if millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced. I fear something terrible has happened.

  • it's Lois Lerner's fault for deleting planets.

  • M dwarfs [wikipedia.org] are very interesting because they are the most common kind of star, and they have a very high potential of hosting planets able to support DNA-based life as we know it. M dwarfs are also expected to exhibit strong magnetic activity (star spots are magnetic features) as they are highly convective. Star spots appear darker in the optical wavelength, and can easily be mistaken for planets.

    There is active research going on that tries to filter out this interference caused by the magnetic effects, and

  • Don't tell the Gliesians....
  • Can't we call them sunspots instead of starspots? It's the same phenomenon. It seems needlessly ambiguous to call them one thing when they're on one star, but another thing when they're on any other star.

    Neither, he said, does another planet in the same solar system

    Aha! It's a star system. Nyah.

    • by geekoid (135745)

      IT's another step away form we are special and towards accuracy.

      The 'sun' gets its name from when we thought it was not the same as stars.

      I am getting pretty old, and I am very grateful I'm not the 'it'was this way when I was a kid and it should stay that way!' type of old person.

  • http://apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap14... [nasa.gov]

    Gleise 832C is another "planet" with a remarkably Earthlike "artist's rendering" of an exoplanet in a very close orbit around a smallish star. Is this a real planet candidate, or another case of "sunspot confusion"?

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