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Space Communications Science

Scientists May Have Discovered the First Planets Outside the Milky Way (washingtonpost.com) 74

Using data from a NASA X-ray laboratory in space, Xinyu Dai, an astrophysicist and professor at the University of Oklahoma, detected a population of planets beyond the Milky Way galaxy (Warning: source may be paywalled; alternative source). The planets range in size from Earth's moon to the massive Jupiter. From the report: There are few methods to determine the existence of distant planets. They are so far away that no telescope can observe them, Dai told The Washington Post. So Dai and postdoctoral researcher Eduardo Guerras relied on a scientific principle to make the discovery: Albert Einstein's theory of relativity. Einstein's theory suggests light bends when tugged by the force of gravity. In this case, the light is coming from a quasar -- the nucleus of a galaxy with a swirling black hole -- that emits powerful radiation in the distance. Between that quasar and the space-based laboratory is the galaxy of newly discovered planets. The gravitational force of the galaxy bends the light heading toward the Milky Way, illuminating the galaxy in an effect called microlensing. In that way, the galaxy acts as a magnifying glass of sorts, bringing a previously unseen celestial body into X-ray view. In a university news release, Guerras had a less formal way to describe the complicated process: "This is very cool science."
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Scientists May Have Discovered the First Planets Outside the Milky Way

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    And still, i can't find my iPhone charger !!

  • by Camembert ( 2891457 ) on Tuesday February 06, 2018 @02:15AM (#56075179)
    Many of us are so jaded and cynical these days, yet no matter how you look at it, this is indeed very impressive. It is like standing at the coast in France and noticing a butterfly in New York. Very cool.
    • Yep. Itâ(TM)s mind boggling just how advanced weâ(TM)ve become in our scientific endevors. We can detect planets at unimaginable distances , and particles unimaginably small. Science works folks, we ought defend it

      • by Anonymous Coward

        It is mere mathematical speculation, not science.

        Science requires a hypothesis, a method of testing said hypothesis, and then confirmation or refutation of the expected results.

        While I am impressed with much of what goes on in the scientific community, there is a lot of stuff touted out to the public that really doesn't meet the bars, especially as the news articles portray it. That does a disservice to real science and proof of the hypothesis and methods used to get there, as well as any tangible applicati

        • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 06, 2018 @03:09AM (#56075279)

          "Until we can go there" would be the same fallacy as saying electrons are not science until we can see them with our naked eye. Confidence in theories comes in a continuum, not some binary threshold. In this case, there is quite a history of microlensing studies, which did include hypotheses about what would be seen. The results are not as certain as the existence of the electron, but a lot more so than some math thrown together without new evidence.

        • by Mascot ( 120795 )

          You can't call it science when you use scientific theories to make discoveries? That seems to me to be what you're saying.

          E.g. if we take Einstein's hypothesis for how light should behave near massive objects, and the predictions this provides, and confirm those, we can't call it science if we then use the resultant theory to make observations/discoveries?

          Case in point, that mass bends light isn't some wild speculation, but a fact of reality with decades worth of confirmation at this point. There's a reason

          • We have observations of that phenomen since 1917: https://www.forbes.com/sites/s... [forbes.com]

            • by Mascot ( 120795 )

              1919, not 1917, but I'm not sure I see your point. Did you reply to the wrong post? I wrote that we have decades worth of confirmation. I considered going with "about a hundred years", but considering gravitational lensing took longer to observe, I decided to avoid a possible pedant response pointing that out. I guess there's just no winning the internet. :p

      • by fisted ( 2295862 )

        Yep. Itâ(TM)s mind boggling just how advanced weâ(TM)ve become in our scientific endevors. We can detect planets at unimaginable distances , and particles unimaginably small. Science works folks, we ought defend it

        And it's also mind-boggling how we've advanced beyond ASCII, "smart" quotes and all that fancy stuff. I wish people would advance to stop using them, especially on sites that don't support them.

    • by DrTJ ( 4014489 ) on Tuesday February 06, 2018 @03:04AM (#56075263)

      No, this is far, far, far more impressive than that.

      These planets are (according to the article) 3.8 billion lightyears away, i.e. 3.5*10^22 km. At that distance, a planet appears to be *extraordinarily* small.
      If we take your France - New York example (Paris-New York = 5681 km), an earth-sized planet (included in the size range mentioned in the article) would - from Paris - have an apparent size of 2*10-15 m.

      I.e. the same size as an alpha particle (Helium nucleus).

      "This is very cool science" - Indeed!

      • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 06, 2018 @04:11AM (#56075403)

        I recently started to do a "fun" calculation with energy when it comes to those kind of distances.
        First I imagine a radio transmitter or a laser with a frequency and an energy output, for example 50kW and 1MHz.
        The output power divided by the frequency times planck's constant gives us the number of photons emitted per unit of time.
        Divide this value by the area of a spherical surface and set the radius to the distance we are talking about, like 3.8 billion light years in this case.
        Now we have the number of photons that hits a surface area every time unit.
        So if you place an antenna with a surface area of one square mile over there it will receive one photon from the KOMO [wikipedia.org] radio station every million years or so.

        Increasing to signal strength to 1.21 gigawatts won't really do much to make the signal detectable, neither will directing the signal to a few millidegrees.

      • I remember one of my favorite computer games from the 1990s was Masters of Orion II, and classic galaxy exploration and colonization game. One of the things was no matter how advanced your technology to find if a star system had a planet around it, you had to send a ship to that system. Only a few years after that game came out, the detection of extrasolar planets started being a thing and really took off. And now we're finding planets in other galaxies. The degree to which our technology has outpaced the s
    • Yes it is like that. In fact, it is very much like that which makes it suspicious since it is impossible to stand on the coast in France and notice a butterfly in New York. What they are doing are not directly observing, they are speculating based on some evidence. It is just speculation and educated guesses.
    • It is like standing at the coast in France and noticing a butterfly in New York.

      I suspect that probably is an easier undertaking. This is seriously cool.

    • by dohzer ( 867770 )

      And there's no smog to kill the butterfly.

  • It doesn't sound like everyone is convinced these planets - if they are planets - are extragalactic. So while it's definitely cool science, perhaps we should monitor this story for further developments and feedback from other researchers.

  • Wow. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by RyanFenton ( 230700 ) on Tuesday February 06, 2018 @03:09AM (#56075283)

    That's - that's ACTUALLY far out, dude.

    In order to take advantage of that without some unforeseeable technology, you'd need to do some rather extreme things though.

    Not just planning hundreds of thousands of years in advance, but planning across many, many kinds of entropy that we're not used to engineering around - and even then, you'd be very limited with what you could do.

    The most hard-sci-fi solution I can think of to get through such a puzzle would be genetically engineering a culture of bacteria-sized critters to live in minimal-metabolism cycles (think water bears) for the long, long period between galaxies, until they sensed a solar body warming them up again. Then, they'd wake up to their their DNA-triggered-payload, and break through a seal to a block of stable metals and, start carving out circuits and shells for nanobots. Those nanobots would work with the organic components to make solar cells, harvest rocks, gather resources.

    Eventually, they'd look for home galaxy signals, looking for an extensively protected series of keys and protocols to 3d-print further updates from home, until they can eventually become a hub to print people (or equivalent, given the timeframe) to live on what worlds are discovered, of what habitats can be built.

    Anything like a modern machine just wouldn't make it there, and would be useless by the time it was in place, you'd kind of need a generic programmable platform to bootstrap what will actually be useful by that time. You have to have something that makes information from our future mean something in these far-off vistas, a foothold.

    Ryan Fenton

  • Misleading story (Score:4, Informative)

    by JoeRobe ( 207552 ) on Tuesday February 06, 2018 @07:54AM (#56075895) Homepage

    The picture that goes with the story is pretty, but carries no actual information about the planets that were detected. The story also gives the impression that the planets were actually imaged thanks to microlensing, which I donâ(TM)t think is true. Does anyone have access to the original AJL article?

    My understanding (from the OU press release and abstract) is that they analyzed the high frequency fluctuations of atomic line energy shifts of the lensed light to determine that there were small, fast moving objects in the galaxy. They modeled those fluctuations to determine planets in the size range of moon to Jupiter were consistent with what they saw.

    If thatâ(TM)s correct, then what theyâ(TM)re able to do here is impressive. Theyâ(TM)re claiming to be able to identify the presence of small objects based upon their contribution to the lensing from a much larger parent object.

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