Planet Declared As 100% Likely To Have Life... Now Can't Even Be Found

from the oops dept

You may recall a few weeks ago, we wrote about the discovery of the first "potentially life-sustaining planet" outside of our solar system, which got some astronomers so excited that one declared the chance of life on the planet to be 100%. Of course, he may want to adjust his optimism a bit downwards as Slashdot points us to the news that another group of astronomers are saying they can't find any trace of the planet:
But at this week's Astrophysics of Planetary Systems meeting, astronomer Francesco Pepe of the Geneva Observatory and the Swiss group reported that he and his colleagues could find no reliable sign of a fifth planet in Gliese 581's habitable zone. They used only their own observations, but they expanded their published data set from what the U.S. group included in its analysis to a length of 6.5 years and 180 measurements. "We do not see any evidence for a fifth planet ... as announced by Vogt et al.," Pepe wrote Science in an e-mail from the meeting. On the other hand, "we can't prove there is no fifth planet." No one yet has the required precision in their observations to prove the absence of such a small exoplanet, he notes.

Astronomer Paul Butler, a member of the U.S. team who is at the Carnegie Institution for Science in Washington, D.C., says he can't comment on the Swiss work because he wasn't at the meeting and the data are unpublished. He notes, however, that more observations will likely be needed to solidify the existence of Gliese 581g. "I would expect that on the time scale of a year or two this should be settled."
So, perhaps before we declare it 100% likely to have life, we should make sure it actually exists.

Filed Under: astronomy, habitable, planets


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  1. identicon
    Fentex, 13 Oct 2010 @ 1:35pm

    A planet tidally locked to it's sun without a large satellite stands a good chance of having no magnetic field worth a damn among other extreme conditions that makes like far less likely than certain.

    We only have Earth as a data point on how likely llife is and we know it happened almost as soon as Earth cooled enough for life to get by, so it seems like it's probably in the irght conditions.

    But Earths conditions include a lot more than just size and distance from Sol, the rotating metallic core of Earth provides magnetic protection from deadly radiation, the Moon and it's tides help it and help moderate the density of our atmosphere.

    Our astronomy is getting better, and continued investment in improved observation will mean we'll have a good catalogue of nearby stars in the next few decades and have a btter idea of the propensity of Earth like planets in the Universe.

    But for now what little we can see does not make a good candidate for a life bearing planet.

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