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Science in Washington, D.C., says he can't comment on the Swiss work because he wasn't at the meeting and the data are unpublished.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
    Anonymous Coward, 14 Oct 2010 @ 3:13pm

    Re:

    Your PDFs are kinda useless. They throw some supposed conditions for the existence of life in the Universe into a blender, mix them up, and pour out...something.

    But if you want to find gaps in those PDFs, I'll pick a few random ones from the second PDF and rant about them:

    45: Assumes organisms should evolve the same way as on Earth - Organisms not dependent on oxygen could evolve. But still, even if they did evolve as on Earth, as the number of organisms increased, the global levels of oxygen would decrease and the global level of carbon would increase. This "could" trigger the appearance of Cyanobacteria or primitive plants to that would further regulate the quantities of oxygen and carbon-dioxide. This also trumps 46.

    180: This one is stupid. Life has evolved in places of extreme heat (in most deserts, and not just unicellular organisms) and places of extreme cold (the poles). Notice that our planet has suffered a prolonged ice-age and life still thrived in it (it did not completely die off). Also, some lifeforms can survive in environments with high concentrations of methane. The existence of life in those conditions "could" contribute to lower the global methane levels of the planet (as they would probably consume methane). This would have the nice effect of cooling the planet, while also making it possible for other (non-methane loving) life forms to evolve.

    231: All viruses are parasites, therefore, all viruses require hosts to survive. The number of viruses is linked to the number of potential hosts, therefore, both their numbers rise and fall at the same time. It is virtually impossible to have "too many" or "too few" viruses (assuming viruses existed in that ecosystem in the first place).

    370: Again assumes that all life forms must be "Earth-like". It does not take into account the possibility for life to evolve in a totally different path (notice that life HAS been confirmed in places where you wouldn't normally expect it). The "too many forests" possibility is laughable. If the planet was too cool for life to evolve, then you wouldn't have plants in the first place. Forests are naturally contained if they grow too large since they are competing for nutrients, sunlight and heat. The lack of these resources would kill them quickly (down to acceptable numbers) and/or cause other types of better, more fit plants to evolve out of it.

    4 gaping flaws right there.

    Also, they seem to throw around a ton of references just to seem credible. In a proper scientific context, references MUST BE REFERRED TO in the text. You don't just toss them in the end of the text and expect people to guess why they should read them or why you felt they were important. Some scientist you found here...

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