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Science in Washington, D.C., says he can't comment on the Swiss work because he wasn't at the meeting and the data are unpublished.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), 15 Oct 2010 @ 6:01am

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

    As someone who did an astrophysics degree, and someone who's been reading up on this crap for over 2 decades now, I know a fair bit of it already.

    Also, what I am pointing out is that some of the core methodology is highly suspect. It's no use saying "go read 300 references" when I know that it's highly unlikely that it matters whether there are 3 or 300, if the methodology 'adding' them together is suspect. Trying to say that "these all multiply to make it highly unlikely" is VERY bad mathematics, even assuming that all the points are both relevant and exclusive. Besides, all you are saying is "this is highly unlikely". You could apply the same 'statistics' to the Earth's location in the Galaxy after its 4.6 billion years of existence. If you 'ran' history again, chances are Earth would be in a (slightly?) different relative location in the Galaxy. All that says is that any one location is highly unlikely by itself, but that doesn't make it impossible.

    If you look at the Drake equation, it uses a different set of assumptions and finds a much much different proportion of lief in the universe.

    I am well aware of how finely tuned the universe seems to be. But that doesn't mean that life has NO chance (or even a tiny tiny chance) of appearing elsewhere. It happened here. That alone makes it much more likely to happen elsewhere. There is nothing in the laws of physics, or anywhere else that says "Ok, life appeared on Earth, better stop those chemical reactions on other planets".

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