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Science in Washington, D.C., says he can't comment on the Swiss work because he wasn't at the meeting and the data are unpublished.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
    Karl (profile), 13 Oct 2010 @ 9:37pm

    Re: Wow

    My point was, that if a SCIENTIST can proclaim something like this (100% that the exoplanet has life!) as fact, and then not even be able to FIND the planet later (let alone prove ANY percentage of chance of life) then how can we accept their judgment and analysis on something as complex and all-encompassing as the theory of evolution (which, by the way, said scientists state categorically is also FACT, not theory)?

    One was the hyperbole of a single scientist, reacting to a nascent hypothesis using one set of data. A hypothesis that was put into question by other scientists, but can be either proven or falsified with more data.

    The other is a scientific theory that has been confirmed by over a century's worth of empirical data, and is central to diverse fields such as archaeology, biology, medicine, and pretty much any other field related to life science. It has been put into question almost exclusively by people outside their fields of expertise, for non-scientific (religious) reasons, who offer no empirical data themselves, and whose theories are not falsifiable.

    Yeah - that's exactly the same thing.

    Incidentally, science uses "theory" in a more specific way than the general populace. Most people use "theory" when a scientist would use "hypothesis." Scientific theories can only be considered "true" when they explain a great deal of data, are falsifiable, and are in fact not falsified. For example, the idea that the earth moves around the sun is called the "heliocentric theory," but that doesn't mean it's "only a theory."

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