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Space Science

Recently Discovered Habitable World May Not Exist 231

sciencehabit better let Greg Dean know that "Two weeks ago, U.S.-based astronomers announced the discovery of the first Goldilocks planet circling another star: just the right size and just the right temperature to harbor alien life. But yesterday at an exoplanet meeting in Turin, Italy, Switzerland-based astronomers announced that they could find no trace of the prized planet in their observations of the same planetary system."
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Recently Discovered Habitable World May Not Exist

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  • fitting (Score:2, Funny)

    by Tablizer ( 95088 )

    Neither did Goldilocks, the kid.

  • Theory... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Aliens stole the planet because they noticed us eyeing it and that we're already wrecking the one we have...

  • by Trip6 ( 1184883 ) on Tuesday October 12, 2010 @06:55PM (#33877304)

    New scientific term

    • by syousef ( 465911 )

      New scientific term

      Wasn't that a Startrek film? Startrek VI - The Recently Undiscovered Country. (I wonder what recently undiscovered translates to in the original Klingon)

      Alternative new terms: never-will-be-discovered, goldi-no-locks, goldi-unlocks, goldi-not-there, goldi-byebye, goldi-cried-wolf.

      Or perhaps we could just add a new zone: The imaginary zone (Pity Superman's already taken The Phantom Zone)

    • by Kilrah_il ( 1692978 ) on Wednesday October 13, 2010 @02:12AM (#33879770)

      With a little more hype it would have been vaporplanet.

    • by srussia ( 884021 )

      New scientific term

      They're just softening us up for the forthcoming AGW retraction.

  • Uhh ohh (Score:4, Funny)

    by ArsonSmith ( 13997 ) on Tuesday October 12, 2010 @06:57PM (#33877332) Journal

    Uhh ohh, I think the earthlings are looking our way, quick hide!!

    Crap they saw us. Keep hiding maybe they'll go away.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      The planet is light years away. They couldn't possibly have reacted to anything we've done in the last few weeks. Or indeed, the last 40 years.
      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        by Anonymous Coward
        I bet you're a real hit at parties.
      • You assume that what we take as hard rules of physical reality even remotely approximates how the universe actually functions.
        • Re:Uhh ohh (Score:5, Insightful)

          by md65536 ( 670240 ) on Tuesday October 12, 2010 @10:54PM (#33879052)

          You assume that what we take as hard rules of physical reality even remotely approximates how the universe actually functions.

          If ever there were a reasonable assumption, this is it.

          • Re:Uhh ohh (Score:4, Insightful)

            by wrook ( 134116 ) on Wednesday October 13, 2010 @05:28AM (#33880530) Homepage

            This is not a reasonable assumption. Our models are at best simplifications of reality. Do atoms *really* exist the way we envision them? Is there such a thing as an electron as a real finite particle? it wasn't that long ago that we believed that atoms were indivisible, discrete particles of matter. Our new models make that look ridiculously naive. 100 years from now I think it is likely that our current models will look ridiculously naive.

            But older, naive models work fine for a lot of problems. We don't have to know how things *really* work at a low level as long as we can build a repeatable model that is useful for our tasks. The model can be (and almost certainly is) a black box with interfaces that we care about. Everything inside the box is up for grabs. Not knowing what is really going on inside doesn't affect our ability to solve our problem, so we ignore it (for now anyway).

            The question you have to ask yourself is if the Universe can have a description which is isomorphic to reality, but still different. I suspect that there are several such descriptions. There are probably even an infinite number of such descriptions. Which is the correct one? If the descriptions are isomorphic, then it doesn't matter for our purposes what reality is. But a model that is isomorphic to reality is not the same as reality.

            Why is this important? Because believing that science is true leads you into treating science as a religion. If you believe something is true, then you have a hard time changing it when it proves to be useful. Scientific models are meant to be useful. Assuming they are also true is very bad science.

            • This aspect of science is not taught enough. Science is only a model, but it is a fantastic and useful model and is constantly being made better. It seems to me that some people feel that using the word model to describe science is some sort of pejorative like the way the uneducated use the word "theory".
            • As a bonus it has a built in car analogy:

              Seeds, Micheal. "Foundations of Astronomy". 4th ed. Page 15:

              A scientific model is a mental conception of how something works. We all use models. For example, we might have a model in our minds of how a car works and use this model to make practical decisions about how to start the car on a cold morning. Our model doesn't have to be right to be useful. We may be totally wrong about how the engine works, but our model will probably be useful as long as we don't extend it too far. Of course, if we decide to rebuild our own carburetor, we might discover that our model is no longer adequate for our needs.

              A scientific model need not be right, but it must be useful. That is, it must allow us to make useful predictions about how nature works. Scientists use models as mental crutches to help them think about nature. A chemist, for example, thinks of a molecule as little balls linked together with rods. Real molecules are much more complex than this model, but it is almost impossible to think about chemistry without using such a model to visualize molecular structure.

              The astronomer's model of the celestial sphere is very helpful, and we can use it to think about the sun rising in the east and setting in the west. We can imagine the way the stars move across the sky, and we can predict the motion of the sky as a whole. Of course, the model is wrong, but as a mental aid to visualizing the motions in the sky, it is very useful within its limitations.

              Some scientific models can be systems of mathematical equations expressed in computer programs that mimic the behavior of complex processes-an exploding star, for example. Our imaginations are not capable of numerical precision; such models act as mathematical crutches to help us "imagine" complicated processes with numerical precision.

              Scientific models can range from general aids to visualization to mathematical equations that mimic the behaviors of complex systems. In every case, the model helps us think about nature. It doesn't have to be true, but as long as we don't press a model beyond its limitations, it can be tremendously useful. In a sense, scientists are not so much searching for ultimate truths as they are trying to build better and better models of how nature works.

          • Indeed this is quite right. Also, another thing we've learned from this is that it probably isn't a good idea to do science by press release.
          • Kind of arrogant, don't you think? That we humans, who just happen to be a bit smarter than chimps and capable of speech and writing, have somehow made a great leap that no other known creature has ever made: from modelling the world around us according to our abilities, to truly comprehending its fundamental nature in an absolute sense?

          • by mcgrew ( 92797 ) *

            True, but he does have a point -- there are really no "hard rules of physical reality". A thousand years ago there was no such thing as electricity. A hundred years ago there were no such things as black holes. Before Einstein, the hard rule of physical reality was that time never changed, but now we know that speed changes time. We can have no idea what the "hard rules of physical reality" will be in a thousand years; science constantly discovers new rules of physical reality.

      • Sure they could-
        Assumption: They have the ability to cloak an entire planet.
        *Secondary assumption: With that level of technology, they likely have FTL communications and FTL travel.
        Therefore: They have spies here who passed our discovery of them to their home, thus causing their leaders to hide the planet.

        *It is true, of course, that the secondary assumption does not necessarily follow from the first assumption, but we're guessing here anyway and it's a pretty reasonable assumption.

        • by md65536 ( 670240 )

          Maybe they have technology that's twice as advanced as the most advanced of their own technology.

          And uh, can travel faster than the maximum possible speed too, like you said.

        • >*Secondary assumption: With that level of technology, they likely have FTL communications and FTL travel.

          There is no reason why you need both. FTL travel is potentially a lot harder than FTL communications. At this stage we believe both to be probably impossible but we also have theories on how it may be possible to do both (the same theories applying to time travel actually). The thing is all the theories require energy and technologies which we are by no means certain are feasible. The one thing we ca

      • Re:Uhh ohh (Score:4, Funny)

        by The_mad_linguist ( 1019680 ) on Tuesday October 12, 2010 @11:13PM (#33879158)

        So to find what set them off, we have to find out what happened October 10th, 1970.

        Well, first link on google says there was a solar flare. []

        Either that, or they really disliked it when Fiji declared independence.

  • by gumbi west ( 610122 ) on Tuesday October 12, 2010 @06:57PM (#33877342) Journal

    Glad this story came up before we launched a probe for a 400,000 year flight. Wow would that have been a letdown.

    • Re:that was close... (Score:5, Interesting)

      by arth1 ( 260657 ) on Tuesday October 12, 2010 @10:47PM (#33879014) Homepage Journal

      Glad this story came up before we launched a probe for a 400,000 year flight. Wow would that have been a letdown.

      It wouldn't take a probe 400 000 years. Gliese 581 is in our own back yard, a "mere" 20 light years away. A probe can accelerate all the way, and then radio its findings back as it flies past. Using pulsed plasma propulsion, it can probably be done in 3-4 centuries.

      But, when something sounds to good to be true, it probably is. Whether it's a Nigerian president's widow wanting to share her fortune with you, a car that runs on water, or a Goldilocks planet in our own neighbourhood.
      Exceptional claims require exceptional evidence.

      • by elrous0 ( 869638 ) *
        Yeah, now all you have to do is build a pulse plasma engine that can accelerate for several hundred years in deep space without malfunctioning and with little solar power available. As soon as you finish designing that, we'll get right on launching that probe.
      • Wait. So that Nigerian president's widow wasn't going to give me $10 million? Oh well, luckily I won the Internet Lottery! Five times, already. I'm just *that* lucky!

      • I understand your point here, but I'm not sure this claim is exceptional. I think one of the points was that although this is the first (assuming it's true), this sort of thing is probably pretty common in the context of the size of the universe.

      • I got the estimate from a slashdot article [], though, I was off by a factor of about 2 (it is only 180,000 years). It was really just a reference to that article. But maybe you know how to build a ship that is 99.9% fuel and can do this. BTW, that 0.1% has to include the anti-mater fuel tank, the mater fuel tank, the thrusters, and the payload. Oh, and the fuel tanks can't consume any energy or require repair for 180,000 years.

        • by arth1 ( 260657 )

          You only need matter for the initial acceleration. Space isn't 100% vacuum, and going at high speeds, the problem is going to be too much matter.
          And of course the fuel tanks can consume energy. Why do you say they can't? Getting rid of energy is likely a bigger problem.

          As for repairs, redundancy works well too. A high fault tolerance RAID (in this case, Redundant Array of Independent Drives), perhaps?

          All in all, there are plenty of technical problems, but nothing that makes a speedy probe impossible. T

  • They were just using the star as a place to build it.
    now that they are done, they are going to move it to a new location.

    call it a mobile home.

  • by MarkRose ( 820682 ) on Tuesday October 12, 2010 @07:03PM (#33877404) Homepage

    Their planet was cleared to make way for an interstellar highway. They should have visited the local planning office!

  • Sounds like a clever ruse to hoard Unobtainium if I've ever heard one.
  • sigh (Score:5, Insightful)

    by dtml-try MyNick ( 453562 ) <litheran@g[ ] ['mai' in gap]> on Tuesday October 12, 2010 @07:08PM (#33877454)

    This is the third time a "habitable" planet was discovered in the Gliese system that turned out to be not so habitable, if it exists at all.

    Great going.

    • by Cylix ( 55374 ) *

      It's obvious they keep moving their planet after it has been discovered.

      We need a global echelon network to find the interstellar spies hiding among us.

      Once we can plug the leak we can finally launch a ship to take all the oxygen from their planet.

    • Re:sigh (Score:5, Interesting)

      by siddesu ( 698447 ) on Tuesday October 12, 2010 @08:16PM (#33878036)

      Don't be too depressed.

      Considering the distances and the sizes involved, I'd say it is a huge improvement that we can even try to attempt detecting planets at light year distances.

      It was only 120 something years ago when Schiappareli "discovered" the Martian canals, and stirred the great debate about civilization there.

    • Third time? Are you sure you didn't just read the same story on three different sites?

    • The only people who are calling it "habitable" are journalists who don't read what the scientists actually wrote.

      It was supposed to be in the region where liquid water is capable of existing - that does NOT under any circumstances, immediately mean that it's "habitable". It means that there's a possibility of water being liquid - nothing more, nothing less. You can have a lot of situations where there's the possibility of there being liquid water, that are still completely not habitable.

      First, just beca

  • Data Sets (Score:5, Insightful)

    by BJ_Covert_Action ( 1499847 ) on Tuesday October 12, 2010 @07:09PM (#33877458) Homepage Journal
    Well it looks like the U.S. astronomers used two sets of data gathered from different time periods for their analysis. Meanwhile, the Swiss astronomers used a third set of data gathered over a different time period for their analysis. I would think the first thing that should be done would be to swap data sets. Have the U.S. astronomers run their analysis on the Swiss data set with their tools, and have the Swiss astronomers run their analysis on the U.S. data sets with their tools. After all is said and done, compare the results yielded by each data set. If only the U.S. astronomers are finding the gravitational wiggles, then it means that either their tools are inducing some kind of experimental error, or the Swiss tools are missing some critical component. At which point the tools and methods between the two groups should be compared and contrasted to observe differences.

    If, however, U.S. analysis of the Swiss data sets similarly yields a no planet result, and Swiss analysis of U.S. data sets yields a planet exists result, then you can conclude that the problem is in the data, and not the analysis being done. So, the moral of the story to both teams is to send their data to each other. For bonus points, both parties can publish all of their data so that a few third parties can conduct their own analysis. This is what science is all about after all folks!
    • Re:Data Sets (Score:5, Informative)

      by dasdrewid ( 653176 ) on Tuesday October 12, 2010 @07:38PM (#33877734)
      US astronomers used their published data (henceforth called 'A') and the Swiss published data (henceforth called 'B'). The Swiss used their published data B and their unpublished data (henceforth called 'C'). So we've tested A+B and B+C. We'll see what the deal is when we can do A+B+C...
      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        by Anonymous Coward

        A+B+C, its easy as 1-2-3...

        • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

          by syousef ( 465911 )

          A+B+C, its easy as 1-2-3...

          If they've got it wrong it'll put the Doh! in Doe-Rae-Me!

    • by jbssm ( 961115 )
      And how will that help? We are talking about a planet on a orbit here. It's something constant. The woobling in the starts will be something periodic, and ALL THE TIME we are having a doppler shift of the radiation one way or another.
      • It will help because you can't claim that you've debunked another scientist's analysis until both analyses are appropriately filtered for possible human error, which, if I recall correctly, is the single most common cause if false conclusions in the scientific world.
  • using only there own unpublished data set can't fin'd the planet.

    OK. Nothing really changed here. They needed to do more research to confirm the data. They still need t do that.

  • "It's not on the charts... what's going on?"
    "Our position is correct, except... no Goldilocks..."
    "What do you mean? Where is it?"
    "That's what I'm trying to tell you, kid. It ain't there."

  • by geekmux ( 1040042 ) on Tuesday October 12, 2010 @08:45PM (#33878236)

    Discovering new habitable planets while seemingly not researching ways to get us there is kind of like going to a whorehouse with no money. You usually end up very pissed off that all you could do is look.

    Prioritization usually has value. This would be no exception.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      Get busy then.

    • Depending on what you see, just looking can be quite exciting. In both situations.
    • is kind of like going to a whorehouse with no money

      Haha. Quote of the week.

    • by qmaqdk ( 522323 )

      Discovering new habitable planets while seemingly not researching ways to get us there is kind of like going to a whorehouse with no money. ...

      By your logic stone age people shouldn't be looking at the moon because they weren't researching rocketry.

    • Well you see the "getting us there" is just an aim that you picked out of the blue which bears no relationship to any objectively positive outcome, a generally accepted purpose, or a feasible construct. It makes just as much sense to say:

      "Discovering new habitable planets while seemingly not researching ways to get me a ham sandwich is kind of like going to a whorehouse with no money. You usually end up very pissed off if you blood sugar gets too low.

      Prioritization usually has value. This would be no

  • Sounds like the plot of Peter F. Hamilton's novel Pandora's Star. Basically a Star being observed by an astronomer goes goes out suddenly, it turns out it was enveloped in a solar-system sized impenetrable black barrier. Some alien entity did so to wall-in a potentially dangerous civilization intent on expanding to other systems. In this case the planet may have been sealed off.

    Now given this star system is 20 light years aware they must not have liked something they saw in our leaked radio or TV from 19
    • by XanC ( 644172 )

      If it's 20 light years away, and this is a reaction to us, then it would have to be from 1970. Not sure where you're getting 1980. 1990 would have been the easy error.

    • Wall off a solar system and the inhabitants can live. Wall off a planet and everybody on it dies from the lack of sunlight so you might as well just blow them up.
  • Coverup! (Score:5, Funny)

    by Sloppy ( 14984 ) on Tuesday October 12, 2010 @09:33PM (#33878572) Homepage Journal

    "Sir, about that planet, we've detected a flash of light []."
    "Captain, are you telling me they're testing nucular bombs?"
    "No sir, just a flash of l--"
    "Do you have any idea what the public will do when they discover the aliens are testing WMDs and we have no plan for dealing with them?"
    "Sir, I was mistaken. There was no flash of light."
    "Not good enough, captain."
    "Sir, I was mistaken. There was no planet."
    "That's more like it."

    • by elrous0 ( 869638 ) *
      "Quick, Kif, transmit a picture of my medal!" "But they're 20 light years away and wouldn't even know what the medal-" "No time for semantics, Kif, just do it!" "Yes sir."
  • I'm skeptical (Score:3, Insightful)

    by izomiac ( 815208 ) on Tuesday October 12, 2010 @11:14PM (#33879168) Homepage

    The American team used a combined set of observations: One 11-year-long set consisted of 122 measurements made by the team, while the other set was 4.3 years long and consisted of 119 measurements published by the consortium.

    [The Swiss group] used only their own observations, but they expanded their published data set from what the U.S. group included in its analysis to a length of 6.5 years and 180 measurements.

    So, the American study had 241 observations over at least 11 years and the data is peer reviewed and published. The Swiss apparently are refuting that by ignoring half the data and adding 61 data points from 2.2 years that haven't been peer reviewed. Obviously they're a reputable group, but I'll wait for them to look at *all* of the data available to them, preferably published data, before just taking them at their word. Doubly so for a negative finding since alpha (chance of a false positive) tends to be a lot smaller than beta (chance of a false negative).

    • Consider the Swiss study to be a `peer review' of the American one. Peer review doesn't guarantee correctness in any case, it just guarantees the paper is in agreement with the views of a group of carefully selected others.
  • Of course there was no planet there! The first set of astronomers changed the outcome by observing it!

  • Shame too, because I was hoping to go on vacation there.

  • Alderaan (Score:2, Funny)

    by r0kk3rz ( 825106 )
    I swear it was there a minute ago.
  • That's a Space Station!

    Greetings Earthlings,

    We are the Transcendors. We assume our ambassador Stanley Fulham has prepared you for our arrival.

  • as all the "psychics" who "remote viewed" this new Earth-like planet, and regaled their little corners of the internet with tales of really tall humanoid shaped tree dwellers (yeah, go figure) will now have to back-pedal like mad.

    And still, their fans will continue to believe this nonsense.


  • In a shocking media release from his Mom's basement some other scientist has used this data as proof that the DeathStar does indeed exist and that the Empire is all too real.

Sigmund Freud is alleged to have said that in the last analysis the entire field of psychology may reduce to biological electrochemistry.