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Space Science

Weird Exoplanet Orbits Could Screw Up Alien Life 161

astroengine writes "Life is good in the Solar System. We have Jupiter to thank for that. However, if the gas giant's orbit were a little more elliptical, there's every chance that Earth would become rather uncomfortable very quickly. Researchers looking at the zoo of exoplanets orbiting distant stars have simulated several scenarios of differing exoplanet orbits and find that many don't resemble our cozy Solar System. In fact, weird exoplanet orbits may be the deciding factor as to whether extraterrestrial life can form or not."
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Weird Exoplanet Orbits Could Screw Up Alien Life

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  • "Weird"? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by sznupi ( 719324 ) on Thursday May 27, 2010 @09:49AM (#32361374) Homepage

    If anything, all of this could be mean that our system is quite weird; at least on average.

    And probably still wouldn't be a problem for "life" in general, considering there are several places suspected of harboring life in our own system, all of them quite "hostile" at first sight.

    Complex life is another thing, of course... (or - we're frakked, because the aliens will turn out to be total badasses; due to evolving in very harsh conditions ;p )

  • Life adapts (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Fractal Dice ( 696349 ) on Thursday May 27, 2010 @09:52AM (#32361404) Journal
    If you lived on tropical shore where the climate was practically unchanging from day to day throughout the year, it would probably be hard to imagine life could exist in Canada.
  • Re:"Weird"? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Thanshin ( 1188877 ) on Thursday May 27, 2010 @09:56AM (#32361442)

    Complex life is another thing, of course... (or - we're frakked, because the aliens will turn out to be total badasses; due to evolving in very harsh conditions)

    Or the opposite. Maybe they feel dizzy in stable orbits, like pirates in firm land.

    Maybe their ships wobble on crazy trajectories, to keep them calm and at ease.

  • Re:Save the aliens! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by siloko ( 1133863 ) on Thursday May 27, 2010 @10:05AM (#32361528)

    In fact, weird exoplanet orbits may be the deciding factor as to whether extraterrestrial life can form or not.

    Not sure the word 'fact' belongs in that sentence with the rest of the wild speculation. I do however want to donate to your fund but only when facts become the endpoint of extra-terrestrial flavoured cosmology and not the spark for futurology []!

  • Re:Um yeah. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by confused one ( 671304 ) on Thursday May 27, 2010 @10:11AM (#32361604)

    You've hit the nail on the head. We're seeing these systems because either the gas giant is so close to the star that it obviously occludes the light and affects the radial acceleration of the star, or because their orbit extends far enough out from the star that it intersects with and modifies the surrounding debris cloud (think Oort).

    Kepler and COROT are starting to return results. They'll need a decade or two to identify Jupiters and Kepler will need 4 or 5 years to identify an Earth or Mars.

  • Re:Life adapts (Score:5, Interesting)

    by TheRaven64 ( 641858 ) on Thursday May 27, 2010 @10:14AM (#32361658) Journal
    The problem is expecting life to continue to adapt if it lives on a tropical shore for millions of years, then the next year the sea freezes. A lot of factors have contributed to the evolution of life on Earth. Jupiter is large enough that it captures most large chunks of rock that could cause mass extinctions. A few have it Earth, but not nearly as many as without a large gas giant. If these happen too frequently, it's hard for the ecosystem to recover. We needed one thought to split off the moon. Without the tidal forces, the surface radioactivity would be much lower and mutation rates would be very low, meaning that evolutionary changes would take longer. Intelligent life might still have evolved, but it would have taken a lot longer.
  • Re:"Weird"? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by sznupi ( 719324 ) on Thursday May 27, 2010 @10:18AM (#32361706) Homepage

    However, don't forget that the tools are also influenced by different circumstances.

    If they, by using your example, would be naturally more armored (plus what's stopping them from also adding artificial armor, even to the point of modifying bone exoskeleton into a kind of composite armor that our modern tanks use?) - there could be pressure present to develop more effective weapons. If they would evolve in a place with 2g, they would be able to effortlessly carry a cargo equal to their mass when on Earth (that would be actually required for them to move comfortably - look at footage from the Moon ;p ). Who knows if their LEO figthers wouldn't tend to outclass ours in such case, meant to routinelly "fight" much deeper gravity well...

    (all of this of course assuming we're on roughly equal footing, discarding the required huge technological advancement to get to us)

  • Re:"Weird"? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Wiarumas ( 919682 ) on Thursday May 27, 2010 @10:21AM (#32361754)
    But perhaps a badass exoskeleton life form wouldn't be that smart. Think of the Alien movies... they were highly evolved, but not really intelligent. Probably because they became such efficient killers that they never had to outsmart other animals. Which, as a result, would mean that unless we had to conquer a planet, we would never encounter such beasts. And if we did, I would hope that science would have had made enough advances allow us to effectively kill them seeing that we were able to overcome intergalactic travel.
  • Re:Weird Exoplanets (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Conspiracy_Of_Doves ( 236787 ) on Thursday May 27, 2010 @10:37AM (#32361976)

    I would pay good money to see a scene from the Enterprise's security lounge. Everyone huddled, quivering in their chairs in a sort of vertical fetal position, waiting for the dreaded PA to sound:

    "Ensigns Smith and Jones, report to the transporter room for away team duty"

    There would be wails of anguish and much gnashing of teeth.

    And probably posters on the wall reminding people to make sure their Last Will and Testament is in order.

  • Re:Save the aliens! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by mcgrew ( 92797 ) * on Thursday May 27, 2010 @10:57AM (#32362220) Homepage Journal

    Has anyone considered that to them, we are the aliens? [] The link is a story about how our own solar system is uninhabited, and why.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 27, 2010 @11:03AM (#32362310)

    Vernor Vinge - a Deepness in the Sky

    On a planet whose atmosphere freezes on a 500-year cycle. Nice read.

  • Re:"Weird"? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by cowscows ( 103644 ) on Thursday May 27, 2010 @12:40PM (#32363868) Journal

    I'm curious as to why you've referred to the dinosaur population pre-extinction as stagnant. I'm not suggesting that you're wrong, just interested in what that might mean.

  • Re:"Weird"? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Danse ( 1026 ) on Thursday May 27, 2010 @04:51PM (#32368104)

    Here's the situation as I understand it (someone correct me if I get some of this wrong):

    The line of organisms that we're descended from has changed quite a bit over time. Other lines have not changed much because they were sufficiently well-suited to their environment already. The theory of common ancestry says that we're all descended originally from one, or a small handful of the earliest forms of life. As life became more distributed, evolutionary forces shaped the populations in each environment into organisms suited to those environments. In cases where life wasn't suited to survive, it simply didn't.

    So all life has been evolving for the same amount of time, but some exhibit more dramatic changes over time, while others continue to thrive in forms rather similar to their ancestors from a a couple billion years ago. Evolution has no ultimate goal, so their is no notion of "more" or "less" evolved. There's that which survives and that which does not. We're not "more evolved", we're just different, and adapted to our own environments.

"I shall expect a chemical cure for psychopathic behavior by 10 A.M. tomorrow, or I'll have your guts for spaghetti." -- a comic panel by Cotham