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Space Science

Astronomers Find Planets Around Weird Binary Star 69

The Bad Astronomer writes "Exoplanets orbiting binary stars have been discovered before, but NN Serpentis is a weird system even in that category. One star is a red dwarf in an incredibly tight orbit around a white dwarf. The white dwarf used to be a star like the Sun but became a red giant as it died, engulfing the red dwarf. Now the two orbit each other almost as closely as the Moon orbits the Earth. Explaining how the two newly detected exoplanets survived such an event is very difficult, and astronomers think they may have actually formed from the material expelled by the star as it died."
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Astronomers Find Planets Around Weird Binary Star

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  • by JoshuaZ ( 1134087 ) on Friday October 22, 2010 @02:51PM (#33989578) Homepage
    The view from that planet must be nice. Unfortunately, given the orbit and the fact that the other star is a red giant, the planet isn't likely to be very habitable. But it isn't that far away, only about 1500 light years. I still find it really amazing that we're actually living in a time where we can map the planets in other star systems. And that we're able to do so from the comfort of Earth orbit is nothing short of amazing. And of course, all of this means that we are getting better estimates for the Drake equation as well. Everything used to be a complete unknown. But now the major room for variation are the biological variables not the astronomical ones.
  • by JoshuaZ ( 1134087 ) on Friday October 22, 2010 @03:02PM (#33989736) Homepage
    Yes, those ideas have been considered. The idea of having life based on other elements was proposed by chemists and biologists in the first place. Silicon is the only one of the ideas that is that plausible simply because it acts chemically similar to carbon. However, it doesn't have nearly as much flexibility in the sort of compounds it can form which makes it unlikely. Most metals don't have anything resembling the necessary chemistry (in general you want something that is on the staircase between metals and non-metals. Otherwise you can't get a large variety of chemistry). EMF is just stupid and seems to be the sort of thing that comes out simply from people thinking of "energy based lifeforms" in Star Trek and other scifi. This idea makes so little sense that it isn't clear where to start explaining what is wrong with it. There might be weird exotic forms of life that we haven't considered but there's not much we can do about it until we have a lot more ideas what is out there, so that doesn't amount to anything scientifically useful. But by all means, continue convincing yourself that your comments somehow buck some scientific establishment that hasn't thought about any of these issues.
  • by Kilrah_il ( 1692978 ) on Friday October 22, 2010 @03:34PM (#33990112)

    And of course, all of this means that we are getting better estimates for the Drake equation as well. Everything used to be a complete unknown. But now the major room for variation are the biological variables not the astronomical ones.

    OTOH, since the biological variables are such unknowns, the equation is still largely useless for any real-life calculation. I mean, Fi (the fraction that develop intelligent life) can range anywhere from almost 0 to almost 100% and L (the length of time such a civilization releases a signal to space) could be very long, but could also be extremely short, since we now see that on Earth most signals are not lost to space because the signals are focused to satellites and back to Earth.The time that we release signals to space was actually quite short and is almost over.

  • by element-o.p. ( 939033 ) on Friday October 22, 2010 @04:24PM (#33990790) Homepage
    I'm certain they have. However, considering that life forms based upon "weird alternatives" might be sufficiently exotic that we wouldn't even recognize them as life at first, it seems to make sense to *start* by looking for combinations that we already know work and for which we have established minimum requirements.

    Requisite /. car (keys) analogy: Think of it this way...when you lose your car keys, do start by looking in likely places you may have left them, or do you start by looking in weird, alternative locations? Likewise, if we have established that life is most likely to occur in conjunction with liquid water, it makes the most sense to took for extra-terrestrial life in areas where liquid water exists.
  • by linear a ( 584575 ) on Friday October 22, 2010 @04:28PM (#33990832)
    I think that any civilization on that planet would logically deduce that life and intelligence can only exist in solar systems with closely-orbiting binaries.
  • by gpronger ( 1142181 ) on Friday October 22, 2010 @04:44PM (#33990954) Journal
    What strikes me is that as we gain a better understanding space, the more bizarre we discover it to be. In this case, we have proposed theories on how what we are now seeing may have come into existence, but the author is clear that we are only choosing which is less implausible. With the same consideration, I've wondered if we will recognize life if we found it.
  • by Patch86 ( 1465427 ) on Saturday October 23, 2010 @07:39AM (#33995698)

    I think from an "extraterrestrial life" point of view, there wouldn't be a lot of difference between finding something like ants and finding something like us.

    I've always felt the "will it develop intelligence" thing is overstated. Most scientists expect that if we find life on Mars or wherever, it will be in the form of some simple single-celled bacteria-like creature, perhaps simple multi-celled plant slime at best. If we discover large, complex eukaryotic life, with limbs, internal organs, hunting, mating, building nests- that's massive.

    The leap from bacteria to ant is so unbelievably colossal as to be mind boggling, even in the context of life here on Earth. The leap from nests made of mud to nests made of brick, or tools made of twig scraps to tools powered by batteries, seems almost a trivial baby-step by comparison.

The other line moves faster.