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Science in Washington, D.C., says he can't comment on the Swiss work because he wasn't at the meeting and the data are unpublished.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. icon
    Dark Helmet (profile), 13 Oct 2010 @ 2:43pm

    Re: Re: Wow

    "The requirements for it to be true have been experimentally confirmed (genetics, basically) AND, despite amazing efforts, it has not been convincingly rebutted."

    Rebutted? No. But it's fairly accepted that microevolution and macroevolution are two separate things, and that microevolution cannot explain certain things that occurred in nature:

    "Major transitions in evolution - such as the origin of life, the emergence of eukaryotic cells, and the origin of the human capacity for language, to name but a few - could not be farther from an equilibrium. Also, they cannot be described satisfactorily by established models of microevolution." -- Dr. Fagerstrom, et al.

    Gradualism might occur, but the fossil record seems to be against it. Species in the fossil record, to a large extent, seem most often to simply "appear". Now, I happen to believe there is a logical scientific explanation for this, but such spontaneous speciation goes against popular evolutionary theories. The fossil record is, of course, incomplete, but not overwhelmingly so.

    Punctuated Equilibrium is inherently less likely than gradualism, because of requirements of isolation of a small number of the species from the group in order for beneficial mutations to take hold and dominate. This is called species sorting, and there are huge problems with it (namely the problems of inbreeding amongst the isolated population and it's likely negative effects).

    Again, IMO, science CAN explain what actually happened, although we might not be able to because of a lack of information. Straight creationism is a bedtime story, Intelligent Design as currently explained is likely a bad attempt at justifying creationism and science together. Having said that, evolution as the theory currently stands doesn't do the complete job either. There's just too much missing information....

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