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Space Science

Vega Older Than Thought: Mature Enough To Nurture Life 130

sciencehabit writes about new estimates of Vega's age giving hope that any planets it might have are old enough to harbor life. From the article: "Shining just 25 light-years from Earth in the constellation Lyra, Vega is the fifth brightest star in the night sky. In 1983, astronomers discovered dust orbiting the star, suggesting it had a solar system, and Carl Sagan chose to make Vega the source of a SETI signal in his 1985 novel Contact. At the time, Vega was thought to be only about a couple hundred million years old, probably too young for any planets to have spawned life. Since then, however, estimates of Vega's age have increased to between 625 million and 850 million years old. So suitable planets have probably had sufficient time to develop primitive life." With improvements in telescopes allowing detection of the rough atmospheric composition of exoplanets on the way, this could be pretty exciting.
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Vega Older Than Thought: Mature Enough To Nurture Life

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  • Re:What do we know? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by p0p0 ( 1841106 ) on Monday December 03, 2012 @09:14PM (#42175039)
    No, but it is a scenario that is proven and works, so they seek out similar scenarios. With the vastness of the universe, it's bound to happen again.
  • by The Master Control P ( 655590 ) <ejkeever@neDEBIA ... com minus distro> on Monday December 03, 2012 @10:46PM (#42175621)
    If the Vega system's evolution is similar to our own, the first signs of permanent life are likely originating there right now.

    The reason we have no evidence of life before 3.8 billion years ago on Earth is because the Late Heavy Bombardment, which ended around then, would've wiped out anything living on any planetary surface anywhere in the solar system. It's entirely possible that life began many times before then only be to be repeatedly annihalated.

    This provides an interesting constraint on life-supporting planets. The LHB was caused when the outer planets migrated into roughly their current orbital configuration and agitated various orbiting debris belts as their orbital resonances moved, them sending missiles flying every which way. This indicates that in a many planet system like ours, the planets must arrange themselves into stable orbits (preferably early on) for billions of years in order for advanced life to arise. Not only that, they have to do so in a manner that keeps them in the outer reaches of the solar system, as they will destroy or eject any rock worlds if they migrate too far sunwards (c.f. Hot Jupiters).

    To my knowledge it's an open question how likely this is to happen. The fact is we haven't found a single extrasolar system that remotely resembles ours. A lot of that is because the limits of transit observation and dopper velocimetry create a massive bias in favor of seeing large worlds in close orbits: You want large dips in brightness and large velocity shifts, and on average have to watch for at least 1-2 orbital periods to confirm. Meaning you'd have to watch our solar system nonstop for over 160 years to discover all the massive planets this way!
  • by symbolset ( 646467 ) * on Monday December 03, 2012 @11:34PM (#42175873) Journal

    The probe in question is Voyager 1 [wikipedia.org] and was launched in 1977. Let's not call it modern. It was designed in an era when there was no such thing as a personal computer. A high end cellphone probably has more battery-powered computing power in your pocket now than all of the compute resources of NASA back then. Imagine what those engineers could achieve with this [top500.org]. Materials science has progressed also. But the biggest gift of days is in our understanding the rich resources available in the space around us. Water is abundant everywhere from Mercury to the edge of the solar system. We didn't know that back then. Almost all stars have planets in the habitable zone. We didn't know that either.

    It's unlikely a mission to Vega would launch any sooner than 2037, or 60 years after the launch of the first Voyager. We have learned a lot of things since Voyager 1 was launched, and will have learned more. That none have gone faster is an artifact of 30 years of neglect of space operations, but not space science. At the moment Vega is too far to a man to reach in his span of years with the science we have, though another star might be. There is no reason to expect that this will always be so.

    With VASMR 200KW [wikipedia.org] thrusters entering service on the ISS in a few years, and the development of suitable power plants [wired.com] ongoing, we still would need fuel - LOTS of fuel - on orbit or somewhere near zero-G to make a go of it. Fortunately in 26 months the NASA Dawn mission [nasa.gov] will arrive at Ceres [wikipedia.org] and find there a practically unlimited supply of Xenon, Argon, Hydrogen and Oxygen ready for mining as well as a surface amenable to easily building human habitats on. You may schedule two years from now for the space Gold Rush to begin.

    Ceres is not only the perfect source for interstellar fuels: it's also the perfect launchpad as it should be possible to build a railgun there 1000KM long capable of launching interstellar probes with solar system escape velocity that don't require any fuel at all. It's also the only minor planet so situated within easy reach.

    Planetary Resources [planetaryresources.com], SpaceX [spacex.org], Virgin Galactic [virgingalactic.com] and others are all over this. The people behind these efforts are some of the brightest, most successful minds the world has ever known. Elon Musk. Sergey Brin. Larry Page. Eric Schmidt. Richard Branson. These are but a few. They know something you don't know.

  • Re:Vega STRIKE (Score:4, Interesting)

    by TheCarp ( 96830 ) <sjc@carpanet.PERIODnet minus punct> on Tuesday December 04, 2012 @12:04AM (#42176009) Homepage

    5. They are neither warlike, nor stupid. Their intelligence apparatus has already inserted itself, albeit only superficially within our own government. Upon finding that we would allow such plans as the destruction of their people (laughable as it is) to be put in the hands of someone picked for qualification through a process designed to refine sociopaths, they have determined our total extermination is the only safe course.

    Incidentally this means we are not being recomended to the United Plantes Comittees to fight poverty in third world planets, or possibly being nominated for eminent domain to make room for a new hyperspace bypass

APL hackers do it in the quad.