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Clouds May Hide Water On Alien Worlds ( 27

sciencehabit writes: Astronomers have discovered about 2000 planets around other stars, but they have few hard facts about what they are like, such as the contents of their atmospheres. Now, a team of astronomers using the Hubble and Spitzer space telescopes have gathered enough data (abstract) to compare 10 large exoplanets, finding a range of atmosphere types, and to propose a solution to an early mystery of exoplanet atmospheres: why some don't seem to have enough water. Study lead David Sing said, "I’m really excited to finally 'see' this wide group of planets together, as this is the first time we’ve had sufficient wavelength coverage to compare multiple features from one planet to another. We found the planetary atmospheres to be much more diverse than we expected, and this significantly progresses our understanding of what makes up these planets and how they were created."
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Clouds May Hide Water On Alien Worlds

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  • by sinij ( 911942 ) on Monday December 14, 2015 @01:40PM (#51115497)
    Easy solution. Send high-yield nukes to candidate nearby worlds and use spectroscopy to observe element composition. By the time we travel there in-person any radiation would have long since decayed.

    (and this is why alien life doesn't have to be intentionally hostile to cause us a great deal of harm)
    • Re:Easy solution (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Jason Levine ( 196982 ) on Monday December 14, 2015 @01:47PM (#51115579) Homepage

      I feel like there's a sci-fi story there.

      A program is started to detect alien atmosphere composition via high yield nuclear weapons. Nukes are launched but it takes hundreds of years for them to reach their targets and the program is forgotten about. In the meantime, mankind develops FTL drives and colonizes the planets. The nukes arrive after the colonies have been established for awhile and mankind winds up nuking itself.

      • by sinij ( 911942 )
        Ray Bradbury beat us to this idea by many decades.
        • I knew that there was at least one story about a generational ship being leapfrogged by FTL ships (and the generational ship's passengers needing to deal with their empty planet to colonize not being no empty anymore), but I didn't know of one dealing with an old weapon launched needing to be dealt with by the descendants of those who launched it. Of course, it doesn't surprise me that this would have been written by someone already.

    • Easy for which particular value of easy? The one equating to "the most expensive and ambitious project ever undertaken by humans?" Or did you mean to send a probe that arrives after the human species has either evolved into something else or is extinct?

      So far, we have managed less than 20 km/sec at the outer reaches of the solar system, achieved with multiple gravity assists along the way. Estimates of the time required to reach the nearest start, which AFAIK has no candidates for the project, range fro

      • by sinij ( 911942 )
        While I enjoyed reading your informed post, it was clear that you didn't get the actual point of my response. The point was two-fold: a) homage to old SF story where they nuked the last martian city while trying to spectographically detect water b) highlight the imperative to diversify from just one planet in case of designed or natural catastrophe wipes us out.

        As to actual colonization - anything short of 'lego' self-assembling mission is doomed to fail. The probability of us finding planet that can susta
        • No arguments. Although "terraforming" to the extent of seeding a water ocean to transform a marginally unfavorable atmosphere biologically doesn't seem impossible or unreasonableI didn't recognize the reference to SF -- just as a matter of curiousity, what's the story? I thought I'd read nearly all of the old SF, but obviously I'm mistaken.


          • by sinij ( 911942 )
            I though it was one of the Martian Chronicles stories, but when I went looking I couldn't find it. Maybe something I read in Azimovs and misattributed since then.
  • by kheldan ( 1460303 ) on Monday December 14, 2015 @01:41PM (#51115509) Journal
    Wouldn't clouds detected on alien worlds, indicate a fairly decent chance that there is water there?

    (Yes, yes, yes, I know, the clouds could be something other than water vapor -- which is why I used the word 'chance')
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      They have some idea what the clouds consist of, based on how they reflect/filter their sun's light. It's silicates and other minerals [], not water. The point is if such a cloudy planet has water oceans, we would still not see the water signature because the clouds are in the way.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday December 14, 2015 @01:45PM (#51115559)

    Oh those mysterious clouds that obviosuly hide a tropical civilization!

  • by Anonymous Coward
    aliens may hide clouds on water worlds

"I have not the slightest confidence in 'spiritual manifestations.'" -- Robert G. Ingersoll