Want to read Slashdot from your mobile device? Point it at m.slashdot.org and keep reading!


Forgot your password?

Proposed Indicator of Life On Alien Worlds May Be Bogus 112

sciencehabit (1205606) writes with bad news for anyone hoping to use the spectral signatures of exoplanets to determine if their atmospheres have life-enabling compositions. "Call it the cosmic version of fool's gold. What was once considered a sure-fire sign of life on distant planets may not be so sure-fire after all, a new study suggests. The signal—a strong chemical imbalance in the planet's atmosphere that could only be generated by thriving ecosystems—could instead be the combined light from a lifeless exoplanet and its equally barren moon."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Proposed Indicator of Life On Alien Worlds May Be Bogus

Comments Filter:
  • by bobbied ( 2522392 ) on Monday April 28, 2014 @08:37PM (#46864513)

    Assuming we actually FIND something/someone to talk to out there..

    We will NEVER be able to get there, or ever hope to even send something there (where ever there might be) and they are not coming here. We'd be better off trying to catch their attention by doing the cosmic equivalent of yelling (i.e. sending strong radio pulses) at them. But it's going to be like trying to get the attention of a rock fan in the mosh pit from the back row in the stadium using your cupped hands. Not to mention that it's going to take about 9 years to get a response if we found a habitable planet around Alpha Centauri, which so far has not been forthcoming. (Nearest possible place is 20+ Light years round trip).

    It may be fun to look, but it's pretty much useless.. We are here to stay at this point. At least until we can figure out how to go faster than the speed of light, safely. And if we can do that, we can get out of black holes too...

  • statistics (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Charliemopps ( 1157495 ) on Monday April 28, 2014 @08:50PM (#46864579)

    And if we find 3 planets with the signature in the same system? Or we find 100 systems with the signature? How likely is the planet/moon signature? It seems that, it may be proof enough if we find it in the right way.

  • Re:hmm (Score:4, Insightful)

    by meglon ( 1001833 ) on Monday April 28, 2014 @09:11PM (#46864691)

    If there is no other life in our perceivable light cone, we just might be the universe's best shot at a colonizing species!

    In that case, the universe is very severely fucked.

  • So let's say you're an advanced interstellar civilization looking about for other worlds with life for trade and/or colonization. You have system spanning optics capable of resolving individual planetary systems and resolving the atmospheric spectra thereof. And you find a small yellow star with 8 or 9 planets, including a couple of respectable gas giants and three rocky planets in the habitable zone. Two of those rocky planets clearly have stale atmospheres that have long ago achieved chemical steady state. But the third has an interesting mix of O2, CO2 and CH4, along with multiple other hydrocarbons, all apparently far from a stable state.

    But alas, that planet has a HUGE moon... a well-known explanation for the spectra, and the cause of many, many failed planetary exploration missions.

    The investment bureacrats HATE uncertainty. If you take a risk and it fails, it will cost your entire clan their wealth and status. You instead decide to commit your finite resources to explore planets with more exploitable natural resources than humongous gas giants and small rocky planets deep within the stellar gravity well.

  • Re:hmm (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mark-t ( 151149 ) <markt@nerdflat.cCHICAGOom minus city> on Monday April 28, 2014 @10:25PM (#46864985) Journal
    This news says absolutely nothing about the chance of life elsewhere in the universe... it only says something about our chance of being able to detect it as such.
  • Occams Razor (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 28, 2014 @10:39PM (#46865031)

    Seems like a bit of a stretch... if we discover a world, and if that world has an atmosphere and if that atmosphere has one of the chemical compounds associated with life and if that world has a moon and if that moon has an atmosphere and if that atmosphere happens to have an equivalent/opposite chemical compound associated with life and if those two bodies happen to line up so we can sample both atmospheres at the same time, THEN we might falsely conclude there is evidence for life.

    Seems like our current situation might be much more common...a world with life and a moon devoid of any atmosphere....

  • Re:Nah (Score:4, Insightful)

    by I'm New Around Here ( 1154723 ) on Tuesday April 29, 2014 @12:31AM (#46865345)

    Fuck that shit. Evolution made us the dominant species on this planet, so we are just doing what nature intended. Limiting ourselves until we become 'nice' is against the natural order.

Research is what I'm doing when I don't know what I'm doing. -- Wernher von Braun