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Science in Washington, D.C., says he can't comment on the Swiss work because he wasn't at the meeting and the data are unpublished.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
    Niall (profile), 14 Oct 2010 @ 6:41am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: To quote Peter Walker

    I think that's stretching statistics away from scientific plausibility and into Fundie/Creationist 'babble'-physics.

    That's like saying "This tiny pebble that I found here at my feet at the base of Mount Everest had a 10-gajillion-to-one chance against being here, so not only is it highly unlikely that it's really here without a divine miracle, but that also disproves there being any more stones around the base of Everest."

    A lot of these conditions are not linked, so cannot be 'multiplied' into a false unlikelihood, which is a favourite of evangelical science-haters. Also, it has also been shown that pairs of these can change and still support life. A lot of these numbers are also highly irrelevant to life on Earth, or indeed any other planet, or are facets of the same thing stated many times. Most of those numbers just looked like they were pulled out of a hat, and then run through a dodgy stats program that any 17-year-old maths student would be given an 'F' for using. I know I would have never gotten into a Physics degree using lousy reasoning like that, let alone graduated...

    We know there's one planet already with life, so are you saying that statistically every other planet in the universe (and we've already found over 50 just nearby in a few short years) cannot have life? Riiiight. It all comes down to the very weak "god of the gaps" theory.

    It's always funny when fundie 'scientists' try to use use hard science to try to disprove hard science.

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