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Space Science

Gliese 581d Confirmed as 'Habitable' Exoplanet 451

An anonymous reader writes "A rocky world orbiting a nearby star was confirmed (PDF) as the first planet outside our Solar System to meet key requirements for sustaining life." The "key requirement" was actually a Starbucks — astronomers were pretty surprised to find out that they like their coffee burnt on Gliese 581d too.
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Gliese 581d Confirmed as 'Habitable' Exoplanet

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  • by cruff ( 171569 ) on Tuesday May 17, 2011 @11:30AM (#36154170) Homepage

    From TFA:

    However, humanity has already tried to make contact with the new planet. During Australia's National Science Week in August 2009, Cosmos magazine partnered with the Australian government, NASA and the CSIRO to run a 13-day campaign to collect goodwill messages from the public to be sent to Gliese 581d.

    The initiative, known as Hello From Earth, collected 26,000 messages, which were transmitted by NASA's Tidbinbilla facility. The signal is not due to arrive until January 2030.

    At which time it will be returned because we failed to include sufficient postage.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday May 17, 2011 @11:48AM (#36154414)

      "Hello from Earth?" They should have called it "Hello World!"

    • by LWATCDR ( 28044 ) on Tuesday May 17, 2011 @12:11PM (#36154704) Homepage Journal

      I guess I find it really odd that we would do that. First thing I would do is turn our Radio Telescopes to it and see if we can hear anything. Seems kind of rude to just start shouting at them. Of course if you think about it Humans have had a civilisation for well over 4000 years on Earth. Yes it was primitive but we have been reading and writing and smelting metals and creating art for more than 4000 years. We have only had radio for about 100 of those years and radio telescopes for around 50 years. There could be a civilisation on that planet equal to 1900 and we couldn't talk to them.

    • by sqldr ( 838964 ) on Tuesday May 17, 2011 @12:23PM (#36154904)
      either that, or..


    • NO! NO! NO! (Score:4, Insightful)

      by wisebabo ( 638845 ) on Tuesday May 17, 2011 @12:52PM (#36155352) Journal

      I fear we may have only 40 years left before the invasion fleet (or planet busters) arrive.

      Don't you people read any (bad?) science fiction? One solution to the "Fermi Paradox" is that there ARE aliens but they are definitely NOT friendly. Once they detect another civilization they move to wipe it out. In fact maybe they do so out of prudence thinking that if they don't, the new civilization will wipe THEM out! Sort of like an intergalactic version of the MAD (Mutual Assured Destruction) policy that STILL underpins the basic relationship between the superpowers.

      In fact the first civilization to think this way doesn't even need to be around anymore Just start making some self replicating probes and within a very short (geologically speaking) period of time the entire galaxy will be filled with automated systems capable of snuffing out a fledgling civilization (us). (This is the plot of Greg Bear's "The Forge of God"). So instead of telling everyone "We're here, we're here!", we should be as quiet as possible like a lamb all alone in the deep dark woods filled with wolves. I didn't mind the Arecibo transmission sent out in the 70s (and used as the plot device for the movie "Species") because it was aimed at one of the Magellanic clouds; hundreds of thousands of light years away. But Gliese 581? Cosmically speaking, that isn't just next door it's on our door mat!

      So great an intellect as Stephen Hawkings has expressed his concern on this so it bears thinking about! Anyway, it's too late now so let's hope that if anyone's there it's E.T. or the Vulcans rather than Predators or Aliens!

      • Re:NO! NO! NO! (Score:5, Insightful)

        by VortexCortex ( 1117377 ) <(VortexCortex) ( ...> on Tuesday May 17, 2011 @03:14PM (#36157522)

        So, you'd rather toil away for eons in fear, ignoring the doomed hope that we can someday explore and populate the cosmos because we'll be exterminated once we've been noticed.

        I say: Let's scream our bloody heads off -- At worse, we were doomed anyway, fuck it. However, it's possible we had nothing to fear at all. At best our neighbors are just waiting for us to exhibit good will and adequate technology before they visit and help expand our race across the universe.

        This is the plot of Julian May's Intervention & Metaconcert books of the Galactic Milieu Series []. Perhaps, it's best to let some species die of self immolation if they don't survive the trial by fire that is the discovery of atomic and/or quantum power. It may be better to wait until we are mentally mature rather than risk a pre-mature induction into the galactic society.

        TL;DR: One solution to the "Fermi Paradox" is that the "aliens" are benevolent and mark primitive worlds as off limits; Would you trust us with a warp-drive?

        P.S. Pussy. Whatever happened to Live free or Die? It's your fearful ilk that hamper progress and allow corrupt governments to control the masses by fear.

      • by EdZ ( 755139 )
        If so, the past half century of TV transmissions has already let the cat out of the bag. At the very least, we could broadcast "sorry about the noise, we were just moving in".
      • by mbkennel ( 97636 )

        "In fact the first civilization to think this way doesn't even need to be around anymore Just start making some self replicating probes and within a very short (geologically speaking) period of time the entire galaxy will be filled with automated systems capable of snuffing out a fledgling civilization (us). "

        So, assuming other green mean people are doing that, it then makes sense to create self-replicating probes which exterminate self-replicating probes. And maybe you shouldn't exterminate other civiliza

      • by Jeremi ( 14640 )

        Once they detect another civilization they move to wipe it out.

        For that to be a successful (and hence common) strategy, the benefit of destroying competing civilizations would have to be greater than the cost of destroying them.

        Given the current state of known physics, the benefit of destroying another race looks to be small or zero (since the other race will be too far away to threaten your solar system anyway), and the cost of destroying the other race looks to be quite large (interstellar space travel being prohibitively expensive for any significant amount of mater

  • It would be a waste of time to go there within the near future. What we should do, is wait until we've mastered time travel, travel into the future for light-speed transportation, and hope we don't overshoot and end up when we've destroyed ourselves. Wait a second, why does that sounds like a cheesy sci-fi sitcom?
    • We could build a generation ship, most of the trip would be coasting anyway. If there are any asteroids or strays, we could harvest resources from them. If not, well, colonists will just have to go green and recycle...

      Seriously, though, recycling is what this mission hinges on, in lieu of asteroid mining.

      • by Sonny Yatsen ( 603655 ) * on Tuesday May 17, 2011 @11:49AM (#36154428) Journal

        300,000 years would be longer than there have been anatomically modern humans on Earth. If we make it, by the time we get there, we'll be a whole new species.

        • You are assuming without lack of new stimuli in the closed environment of a space craft that humans would still evolve. There have been reports that humans are no longer evolving even here on earth, since at least the last few thousand years.
          • I'm not sure that I buy that. What's happened is that more adults make it to adulthood and reproduce, I'd be very much surprised if there's less evolution going on. It's more likely that it's just not noticeable due to not knowing where to look. Genetic mutations don't stop just because it's no longer necessary.

          • by Sta7ic ( 819090 )
            ...because oh so much evolution occurs over the course of ten thousand years. There have been much heavier influences on human development, such as agriculture, metalworking, medicine, and similar technological discoveries that have either overshadowed or also influenced our development. If anything, there's been too much noise in our systems to observe any small changes in the last 500 generations.
          • Maybe humans will adapt to space life / life on the spacecraft better in the 300000 years on the spacecraft

          • by corbettw ( 214229 ) on Tuesday May 17, 2011 @01:54PM (#36156428) Journal

            It's preposterous to state that human evolution is over. Here's a short list of evolutionary changes from just the last 10,000 years:

            * Blue, green, and gray eye variants
            * Ability to process lactose as adults
            * Ability to process high-starch diets without developing diabetes (the prevalence of which is much lower in populations with older histories of farming)
            * Wider variety of skin tones
            * Differently shaped and sized teeth and skulls from the past

            And those are just surface traits that are easy to see/detect in everyday life.

            More info here: []

            • by Spykk ( 823586 )
              10,000 years ago things were not the same as they are today. Today whether you survive to breed or not has more to do with what part of the world you were born in than any genetic advantages you might have. Evolution isn't a mystical force slowly improving life over time. Without natural selection there can be no evolution. Human evolution stopped when societies began supporting members who would not have survived on their own.
          • by radtea ( 464814 ) on Tuesday May 17, 2011 @02:26PM (#36156944)

            You are assuming without lack of new stimuli in the closed environment of a space craft that humans would still evolve

            Right, because completely changing virtually every aspect of the environment by locking a small number of humans in a closed, artificially-maintained ecosystem for generations won't introduce any additional selective pressure of any kind whatsoever. And you're forgetting the role of sexual selection in driving evolution independently of external environmental change.

        • Is that 300,000 years to a static observer, or to the party in transit, though? If you're talking about putting that much mass in space to start with, a power plant capable of getting up to a non-negligible fraction of light speed wouldn't be so far-fetched, even with current tech - the humans on Earth may have evolved into an entirely new species, but the guys on the ship will only have had time to start a few religions, develop their own art, science and language, and maybe work out how to turn the whole

          • by Nadaka ( 224565 )

            It wouldn't make much difference. Time dilation due to relativistic effects is asymptotic at c, and only significant close to it. Even if you hit 50% of c, over the course of a 300,000 year journey, 300,000 years is still an accurate estimate. However it does not matter at all, because they are talking about 300,000 years to travel only 20 light years, or significantly less than 1% of c.

        • Those aren't aliens, they're just the returning expedition we sent out to check if that system next door was habitable.
        • 300,000 years would be longer than there have been anatomically modern humans on Earth. If we make it, by the time we get there, we'll be a whole new species.

          That can work for the colonists. Consider a generational ship that slowly changes the onboard environment from something resembling earth to something resembling the destination over the trip. Gravity, temperature, chemical composition of atmosphere, etc. There would also need to be some mechanism to implement natural selection.

          Of course this is most likely somewhat academic. When scientists use the word "habitable" they are generally referring to some place habitable by something other than humans, mayb

      • by MoonBuggy ( 611105 ) on Tuesday May 17, 2011 @11:52AM (#36154476) Journal

        According to TFA it looks to be habitable in principle (using Earth-centric assumptions about complex life, of course) but toxic to humans, so perhaps not a prime candidate for humanity's first extrasolar excursion.

      • by DrXym ( 126579 )
        I doubt you're going to be mining asteroids unless the asteroid is going exactly the same direction and velocity as your own ship. Which sort of implies it set off at the same time as you too.
      • No, it's completely impossible, unless you've created a nuclear reactor that'll last that long? Remember we'd need energy from the sun; life rots planets, and plants use solar energy to produce sugar from CO2 + H2O. Without that energy input, the entire earth would find itself in a CO2 atmosphere, with not enough oxygen to sustain life. Other life would flourish, mostly sulfur-consuming bacteria using a thermal process in volcanic vents; surface life would die, and eventually the core of the earth will c

  • indeed (Score:5, Funny)

    by Artifex ( 18308 ) on Tuesday May 17, 2011 @11:30AM (#36154182) Journal

    Since it's within the Goldilocks zone, I'm guessing that the Starbucks serves oatmeal not too hot, and not too cold.

    • I'm not traveling 20 light years to eat instant oatmeal when I've got a Jamba Juice up the road next door to Starbucks, so I can get my coffee and some good oats in one easy trip.

    • It's a pretty loose definition of "habitable" to include only "You probably won't burst immediately into flame or turn into an instant icecube upon stepping off the ship." Methinks it might also be good to include little things like "oxygen," "survivable air pressure," "water," "soil that can support some form of planet life," "enough atmosphere to protect against cosmic radiation," etc.

  • first post (Score:3, Funny)

    by slick7 ( 1703596 ) on Tuesday May 17, 2011 @11:30AM (#36154188)
    When you get readey to go, don't forget the pox laden blankets.
  • so it's probably still pretty cold for us? maybe hoth-like?
  • by gstoddart ( 321705 ) on Tuesday May 17, 2011 @11:31AM (#36154194) Homepage

    Has it only been 16 years since we discovered the first exoplanet?

    I remember before I graduated university, the astronomy geeks were excited about this as something that was being worked on and the concept of finding a planet by detecting transit in front of the star made my brain hurt.

    Now we can tell all of this ... of course, if it would take 300,000 years to get there with current technology, it's still unimaginably far. Still, it's hard not to believe that if there's one that might be habitable "only" 20 light years away ... the universe must simply be teeming with life.

    • Re:Wow ... (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday May 17, 2011 @11:51AM (#36154456)
      Here is something that may interest you. This is a time-lapse video of asteroids discoveries. You'll notice the amount and distance increasing considerably as we reach the present. This shows the difference between technologies 20 years ago and the current ones.
      • I almost got bored with that. I skipped ahead from the middle to close to the end, and saw the big green ring, so I had to go back and watch the missing parts.

        It's really amazing. But I have to think, we don't watch inwards of our own path enough. If there are that many objects outward of our own orbit, from the sun, there should be quite a few more inward. I know, I know, the infinite expanse of space, versus the distance between our own star and our dinky little planet.

      • Here is something that may interest you. This is a time-lapse video of asteroids discoveries.

        That is one of the coolest things I've seen in a while.


      • That video was amazing - what you don't know can certainly hurt you. Thanks for the, uh, "heads up".

    • by geekoid ( 135745 )

      just over 20 years ago, the idea of discovering exoplanets was a joke.

      Literally, within my life time, people where saying that there weren't any other planets, anywhere.

  • by derrickh ( 157646 ) on Tuesday May 17, 2011 @11:34AM (#36154228) Homepage

    I call dibs on the tall blue chick with the hot body and prehensile tail. ...hmm..after reading the article, it seems that she'd probably be a short , squat woman with reddish tinged skin. ..oh well, I'd still hit it,


  • At first, I read:
    "Gliese 581d orbits on the outer fringes of the star's 'Goldilocks zone', where it is not so hot that water boils away, nor so cold that water is perpetually frozen. Instead, the temperature is just right for water to exist in liquid form."

    But then I also read:
    "The denser air and thick clouds would keep the surface in a perpetual murky red twilight, and its large mass means that surface gravity would be around double that on Earth....A spaceship travelling close to light speed would
    • by gman003 ( 1693318 ) on Tuesday May 17, 2011 @11:40AM (#36154326)
      The importance of this isn't that we can now send a team to colonize it. The importance of this is that we now have actual evidence that there are other planets that are theoretically habitable (Gliese581d doesn't sound like a good vacation spot, but it sounds comparable to some parts of Siberia or Antartica). We just one of the lower bounds in the Drake Equation.
      • The importance of this isn't that we can now send a team to colonize it. The importance of this is that we now have actual evidence that there are other planets that are theoretically habitable (Gliese581d doesn't sound like a good vacation spot, but it sounds comparable to some parts of Siberia or Antartica). We just one of the lower bounds in the Drake Equation.

        There have always been planets that were theoretically habitable. Actually habitable is a different story. Mars is theoretically habitable, actually habitable is yet to be proven. Gliese 581d "meets key requirements for sustaining life" That doesn't mean it could sustain our life. The only thing really stated is that it has the minimum things that would be required for some type of life to exist there.

        Even on our own planet, there are many parts that are not habitable, at least for most creatures. The

        • by geekoid ( 135745 )

          No, it confirms what was suspected, not known.
          Well, NOW it's known.

          And this is huge and exciting, I'm not sure why you are blase about finding a planet where life as we know it could exist.

          • by deapbluesea ( 1842210 ) on Tuesday May 17, 2011 @12:24PM (#36154934)

            Well, NOW it's known.

            Actually, now it is MODELED. Given that we have no direct experience with planets like this, none of the models can be directly verified, and the authors had to invent a new model just to reach their conclusion, I think it is poor scientific practice to say that is it "confirmed" to be habitable. Instead, it is confirmed that there is a possible path by which it could be habitable, but that just doesn't have the same zing to it, so instead we make wild assertions and let the sci-fi geeks salivate over what amounts to a plausible, but completely unproven, explanation for how things work. While we're at it, I have this model for how the universe was created. We have no way to verify it, but it is at least plausible. I guess we should just call it confirmed and shout down anyone who objects as unscientific.

      • they seem to be saying 'potentially earth-like'. That's far and away from 'theoretical', unless I'm missing something...

    • Sir,

          We do not even have a self-sustaining colony on Antarctica, which is warmer than mars, and has unlimited air and water. Our colonies on Antarctica are nowhere near self-sustaining. Mars is colder than Antarctica, water is scarce, and there's NO oxygen and barely any atmosphere.

          In other words, calling Mars "habitable" is like calling rocks "edible". The rocks might become edible if you ground them down to dust, added plants, and then ate the plants.


      • by Mindcontrolled ( 1388007 ) on Tuesday May 17, 2011 @12:10PM (#36154698)
        Antarctica is not a good comparison. The reason why we do not have a self-sustaining colony there is not primarily technical, but rather economical. It is way simpler to fly in supplies to the few research stations we have there than to setup a whole economy there. Technically - set up a nuclear reactor, use waste heat to heat some greenhouses and off you go.
      • by geekoid ( 135745 )

        Why would we need or want one on Antarctica?

  • So I say this world is knackered. Let's get as much out of it as we can, take off and nuke the site from orbit.

    Then start Earth 2 on Gliese 581d.

    It's the only way to be sure.

    (We'd put all the telephone sanitizers on the 3rd ship, right?)

  • I love how our definition of "habitable" is "kind of like Earth."
    • Re:Habitable (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Brett Buck ( 811747 ) on Tuesday May 17, 2011 @11:44AM (#36154384)

      Given that there are very scientifically sound and obvious limitations on chemical processes involved in known or postulated life, that doesn't seem to outrageously presumptuous.

    • habitable adjective/habitbl/Suitable or good enough to live in

      In order for me to figure a planet suitable for me to live on, I would prefer something earth-like, as opposed to say, a bubbling cauldron of methan gas.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by wcrowe ( 94389 )

      Exactly. "Habitable" means I can live on it. Not some microbe or other life form.

    • by LWATCDR ( 28044 )

      Well since we understand the chemistry of life we classify habitable as having the ability to support that Chemistry. Liquide water is the number one requirement. Since our planet is habitable then by sheer definition any other planet that is habitable will be more or less like earth. It would be illogical to classify a planet that is totally unlike earth as habitable.
      Even if it turns out that a planet like Jupiter can support life it will then be kind of like Earth because like Earth it will be habitable.

    • I love how our definition of "habitable" is "kind of like Earth."

      That would be the generally accepted definition of habitable: capable of being lived in. There are many parts of this plant that are not habitable. Just because some type of life form might be able to live there, doesn't make it habitable. Those sulfur vents in the Pacific have life that has adapted to it, but is toxic to most creatures and definitely not habitable to human beings. The Antarctic is not considered habitable, even though we have people living there doing research, because those people can

  • by peter303 ( 12292 ) on Tuesday May 17, 2011 @11:52AM (#36154488)
    It should get better. The Doppler planets and early Kepler results are biased toward extreme planets. By 3rd year Kepler should be seeing 1 A.U. planets.
  • Slashdotted already... man, the article has been up like what, thirty minutes?
    • by socz ( 1057222 )
      Yeah seriously! And as AC posted, they Australia f'd up, they missed out on a golden "Hello, World!" opportunity!

      I finally got in an after reading TFA, it doesn't seem like it's a place we'd want to inhabit @ 2 x earth's gravity. We're gonna have to start working out build up strength in our legs and lose some serious weight! Unless we get those exoskeletons working right!
  • FTA: "It receives less than a third of the solar radiation Earth gets"

    IANAScientist, but does that usually mean that genetic mutations, and most "big steps" in evolution, would be stunted?

    • by jandrese ( 485 )
      Maybe. It's entirely possible that whatever evolves there, if it even uses anything similar to DNA, will not have as robust of a damage repair mechanism as life on Earth. We really don't know. It's basically impossible to speculate at what "life" might be like on other planets, because we have literally only one example to go on at the moment.
  • I want to observe that 'their models suggest that the planet is habitable'. Don't get all excited until their models are validated, verified, and well-tested. Until then, it could indeed turn out to just be that trick of curved space-time that brought in a few funny photons in the right place.
  • So, when does the B ship leave?

  • Missionary (Score:3, Funny)

    by CosaNostra Pizza Inc ( 1299163 ) on Tuesday May 17, 2011 @03:21PM (#36157590)
    The 700 Club is already building a spaceship so a Missionary can be started there.

They are called computers simply because computation is the only significant job that has so far been given to them.