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Space Science

Possible Habitable Planet Just 12 Light Years Away 420

sciencehabit writes "Astronomers have discovered what may be five planets orbiting Tau Ceti, the closest single star beyond our solar system whose temperature and luminosity nearly match the sun's. If the planets are there, one of them is about the right distance from the star to sport mild temperatures, oceans of liquid water, and even life (paper)."
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Possible Habitable Planet Just 12 Light Years Away

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  • by eltardo ( 160932 ) on Tuesday December 18, 2012 @11:12PM (#42333187)

    I've got my own helmet. Where do I sign up?

  • Take us out of orbit, set the heading for Tau Ceti. Maximum warp. Engage!

  • If there is life, it consists of paper-based organisms?
  • by detain ( 687995 ) on Tuesday December 18, 2012 @11:28PM (#42333279) Homepage
    Sure its not viable for us to go there ourselves but couldnt we start sending probes in the direction of planets like this with enough ingredients on them to help kickstart life on other worlds that can support it. It wont effect us but might help ensure life continues in the universe once we inevitably destroy our own planet.
  • Pretty impossible to say if the planet is habitable, but at 4 times the Earth's mass it definitely isn't Earth-like. The search continues...
    • by tmosley ( 996283 )
      Eh? Not necessarily. If it is less dense, it wouldn't be all that different.
    • Pretty impossible to say if the planet is habitable, but at 4 times the Earth's mass it definitely isn't Earth-like. The search continues...

      To be specific, according to Stephen Dole and Isaac Asimov ( Planets for Man ), the max habitable gravity is 1.5g. If I'm 180 pounds, 4g would mean I feel like I'm an unsightly 720 pounds. Get in ma' belleh! :D

    • by ceoyoyo ( 59147 )

      A planet with four times Earth's mass but the same density would have a surface gravity of about 1.6g. Not so different. There are lots of people balancing 1.6 times my mass on similar sized feet.

  • I'll go. Please? No reservations here, just sign me up. Beem me up, please.

  • ...welcome our new Tau Cetian overlords!

  • by ethanms ( 319039 ) on Tuesday December 18, 2012 @11:40PM (#42333353)

    Even if the planets are inside the habitable zone, they would need to be the correct consistencies... Venus and Mars are in the zone here, but neither has life or is natively habitable. Yes, we're attempting to discover if Mars may have HAD life, but as far as we can obviously tell, it has none now...

    So it's fun and interesting to search these types of star systems and planets--and I think it's absolutely worthwhile to focus a SETI program on them to try to determine if there are any stray signals we can pick up--but otherwise this really is not much more than dreaming and guessing.

    Assuming SETI finds no signals, but we do believe there a couple of planets into the habitable zone, then I think it would make some sense to attempt a probe mission there... but it could be a while before we're at the technology level we'd need...

    I think our current speed record in space is about 150,000mph ... which is ~1/5000th the speed of light. So while 12 years seems do-able from a speed of light point of view, there is no (present) method to send a probe there in a reasonable amount of time... I'd say reasonable would be a ~36 years to get there, plus another 12 years for the return signal... so roughly 50 years from launch to first data... meaning it would likely be a two, maybe three, generation program from a NASA engineer point of view.

    We'd need something capable of:
    a) Traveling at least 1/3rd the speed of light (roughly a quarter billion miles per hour)
    b) A power source capable of lasting at least ~40 years or more with enough juice available near end of life to complete its mission
    c) Capable of complete autonomy in 100% unknown situation
    d) Possibly requiring the ability to actively correct its course en route, and maybe even detect and avoid collisions

    • Your idea of "reasonable" seems somewhat arbitrary. I would posit 0.03c as reasonable enough. Four hundred years or about 7 generations. Still alot closer than the 666 years it would take to get to Gliese 581.

    • by ceoyoyo ( 59147 ) on Wednesday December 19, 2012 @12:16AM (#42333595)

      An Earth-like planet orbiting Tau Ceti could be examined telescopically in fair detail. If it's confirmed, it would be a great target for one of the extrasolar planetary imaging telescopes people are starting to design. It might even be possible, with refinement of current techniques, to get a rough spectrum from it with current telescopes.

  • From the article...

    "It's the fourth planet--planet e--that the scientists suggest might be another life-bearing world, even though it's about four times as massive as Earth."

    Correct me if I'm wrong, but doesn't that mean that the gravitational pull on surface dwellers would be four times that of Earth? That would complicate any colonization plans...

    That got me thinking though--how, exactly, do we deal with high-gravity environments? One tactic could be to use generational acclimatization--our first coloniza

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Correct me if I'm wrong, but doesn't that mean that the gravitational pull on surface dwellers would be four times that of Earth?

      Not necessarily. You forget that both mass and distance play a role in gravitational attraction. Therefore, given a larger radius, it could in fact have a comparable or identical gravitational attraction on the surface, though the exact numbers vary depending upon the density and distribution of material in the various layers of the planet. Assuming identical density distribution, it would require a radius twice that of Earth to have identical gravity on the surface. At the same time, the rotation speed of

      • 1/2 right. IIRC the rotational ('centrifugal') effect is negligible compared to gravity unless it's really spinning fast. The force is represented as mv^2/r, where m is the mass of a person or whatnot, v is the angular velocity in meters/second, and r is the radius. If the radius is 2*Earth and the rotation speed is the same, then the surface velocity is roughly 80,000 km/day or 1 km/second. So for a 100 kg person (let's assume they're wearing a space suit), we have 100 kg * (1000 m/s) * (1000 m/s) / 80

    • by tmosley ( 996283 )
      Not unless it had four times the mass AND the same diameter (ie it was 4x as dense). 4X larger and less dense would make it similar to Earth gravity.
  • We could conceivably make the trip in 12,000 years. Nothing to it!

  • Hell yeah (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Swampash ( 1131503 ) on Wednesday December 19, 2012 @12:19AM (#42333609)

    Team member Chris Tinney, an astronomer at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia, acknowledges the problem. "It's certainly very tantalizing evidence for potentially a very exciting planetary system," Tinney says, but he adds that verifying the discovery may take 10 years, and the scientists didn't want to wait that long. "We felt that the best thing to do was to put the result out there and see if somebody can either independently confirm it or shoot it down."

    Subtext: we don't care if we're proven wrong, so long as we learn something.


  • Just like Venus (Score:4, Interesting)

    by WindBourne ( 631190 ) on Wednesday December 19, 2012 @12:44AM (#42333723) Journal
    Seriously, Venus is in the living zone as well.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      No, it isn't. The sun's habitable zone is between 0.9 AU and 1.5 AU. The maximum distance of Venus to the sun is 0.728 AU. So Venus doesn't even come close to the habitable zone.

  • by Spy Handler ( 822350 ) on Wednesday December 19, 2012 @04:16AM (#42334625) Homepage Journal

    He had foreseen this. The planet around Tau Ceti is called Aurora. It is the home of long-living humans and mind-reading robots.

Don't tell me how hard you work. Tell me how much you get done. -- James J. Ling