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An artist's rendition of the new discovery of the three new planets, orbiting a star previously thought to hold none.  (Source: ESO)
More new Earth like planet discoveries pour in

Planets just aren't quite as unique as they once were thought to be.  During the medieval times, it was thought that the Earth was the center of the universe about which the sun and planets rotated. 

With time it was realized that the Earth was just one of the solar planets orbiting the sun, but skepticism that planets existed outside the solar system remained strong.  However, with the advent of new techniques and more power telescopes researchers began to discover extrasolar planets at a rapid pace, starting in the 1988, with the discovery of planets orbiting the star Gamma Cephei.  Meanwhile a large new orbiting body was discovered on the fringes of our own system, while Pluto was downgraded to a mere "Plutoid".

Some of these planets were deemed somewhat Earth-like in that they were smaller than gas giants, might have water, and could be made to be habitable.  Other extrasolar planets were similar in size to Earth, but were way to hot to inhabit with current technologies.

Now European astronomers have continued the run of discoveries of smaller planets with the discovery of a trio of "super-Earths" rotating around the star HD 40307, located 42 light-years from Earth towards the southern Doradus and Pictor constellations.  The new planets have masses of 4.2, 6.7, and 9.4 times the mass of Earth and orbits of 4.3, 9.6, and 20.4 days respectively.

The star they orbit is a normal star, approximately the same size as our sun.  According to Didier Queloz and Michel Mayor, expert planet hunters who led the discovery team, the planets are too hot to support life as we know it.

However, despite this slight disappointment, the discovery raises the intriguing possibility of a so-called "crowded universe" teeming with undiscovered planets.  HD 40307 was long thought to hold no planets -- it is clear now that the discovery was only possible with the advances in detection.  There are likely many smaller planets that have yet to be detected.  In total 270 extrasolar planets have already been found.

Stéphane Udry, a colleague of Mayor, describes the advance stating, "With the advent of much more precise instruments such as the HARPS spectrograph on ESO's 3.6-m telescope at La Silla, we can now discover smaller planets, with masses between 2 and 10 times the Earth's mass."

Mayor who works at the Geneva Observatory states, "Does every single star harbour planets and, if yes, how many?  We may not yet know the answer but we are making huge progress towards it.  Clearly these planets are only the tip of the iceberg.  The analysis of all the stars studied with HARPS shows that about one third of all solar-like stars have either super-Earth or Neptune-like planets with orbital periods shorter than 50 days."

The slowly unfolding picture of a universe full of planets brings two key possibilities.  First, the possibility of expansion and colonization outside the solar system, and secondly, the possibility of extraterrestrial life.



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RE: If space is so massive...
By Fluxion on 6/18/2008 12:52:31 PM , Rating: 3
quote:
What . . . in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary? I mean, if there were other living beings in our universe why haven't they evolved far enough to make contact with us? Or at least create structures in space that we could detect? The universe is billions of years old. If life existed outside of Earth, I would expect that there would be some very convincing evidence of that.


With the universe as large and old as it is, it's very likely that intelligent life (both more advanced and less advanced than we are) has already developed and currently exists. The reality however, is that in terms of them contacting us, you'd have to essentially be spending most of your time looking at the earth in order to notice a change that would signify life, and even then, I'd say that we've only been "noticeable" for 50-60 years now, unless they were spending hundreds of years recording changes in atmospheric chemistry, etc., that may signify life.

One of the best means of potentially "discovering" intelligent extraterrestrial life is via radio communication, but unfortunately, we've only been broadcasting radio signals outwards for about 70 years ourselves, and have only been listening for around 40 years. Even in human evolutionary terms, that's a mere drop in the bucket on the timescale, so the fact we haven't discovered anything yet, doesn't really mean much.

And given that it's likely that there are billions upon billions of planets, and no (given our current understanding) means of faster-than-light travel through space, it would take even an old, established space-faring species quite a long time to happen across another intelligent species.


RE: If space is so massive...
By Parhel on 6/18/2008 1:07:06 PM , Rating: 1
quote:
in terms of them contacting us, you'd have to essentially be spending most of your time looking at the earth


I wasn't necessarily referring to contact aimed directly and specifically at us . . .

quote:
One of the best means of potentially "discovering" intelligent extraterrestrial life is via radio communication


That's more in line with what I was thinking. If it occurs to us to send radio signals to try and contact extraterrestrial life, why isn't the entire universe filled with messages sent by intelligent beings?

I know that other possibilities exist. For example, maybe life exists, but is very rare and the news just hasn't had a chance to reach us yet. Maybe the conditions necessary to sustain life are only recently coming into existence throughout the universe. It's just very suspicious that no evidence exists.


RE: If space is so massive...
By masher2 (blog) on 6/18/2008 1:09:05 PM , Rating: 2
> "we've only been broadcasting radio signals outwards for about 70 years ourselves"

It's been almost 90 years since the first regular radio broadcasts begun...but yes, your primary point is correct.

Furthermore, it's likely that technological advances in the future might wholly invalidate radio broadcasting itself, which would help to explain why we see no other intelligent life using them.


RE: If space is so massive...
By phattyboombatty on 6/18/08, Rating: 0
RE: If space is so massive...
By masher2 (blog) on 6/18/2008 5:25:18 PM , Rating: 1
quote:
Religions are criticized often by the scientific community for holding blind faith belief in ideas with no supporting evidence (or, I should say, clinging to their beliefs in the face of overwhelming contrary evidence). Yet that is exactly what you are doing
No. There is no "overwhelming evidence" against intelligent life elsewhere in the universe. In fact, there is evidence that life will tend to evolve whenever certain conditions are present.

That -- coupled with the nonevidentiary, but highly reasonable supposition that intelligent life is no more than a special case of life in general -- is certainly reason to believe.

Is it hard proof? No of course not...but many murderers have been convicted on the basis on circumstantial evidence. And that's what we have here: circumstantial evidence that life is ubiquitous, and intelligent life not exceedingly rare.


RE: If space is so massive...
By Parhel on 6/18/2008 5:52:51 PM , Rating: 1
quote:
the nonevidentiary, but highly reasonable supposition that intelligent life is no more than a special case of life in general


I don't see how that is a reasonable supposition at all. It's possible, but it's certainly no more reasonable than assuming that the we are the only case of intelligent life in the universe. There are no other intelligent lifeforms here on Earth, and it's only reasonable to assume that there weren't in the past.

In a very short time human beings have covered the Earth from wall to wall with evidence of intelligent beings, and sent radio signals into space which would now cover a diameter of some 90 light years, encompassing over 1400 known solar systems. Despite the fact that intelligence as we know it clearly leaves such evidence, we have yet to run into any evidence at all. That alone makes me assume that if intelligent life exists elsewhere in the universe, it is in fact exceedingly rare.

I'm not saying it isn't worth investigating. In fact, I think that we should fund NASA far more than we do today. If extra-terrestrial life exists, it may be the most important discovery the human race has ever made.


RE: If space is so massive...
By phattyboombatty on 6/18/08, Rating: 0
RE: If space is so massive...
By Ringold on 6/18/2008 6:13:05 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
You would need to find a second case other than Earth to support your statement.


Why?

If the universe is infinite (or really, really, amazingly huge), then if Earth exists with intelligent life, obviously the probability is greater than zero.

Beyond that, if Mars had just a little more mass, and therefore managed to keep more of its atmosphere, it would've been conducive to life. There is liquid water under the surface of Europe, so there's a shot there. Thats one winner for life, and two close-calls, in one solar system.

With a probability greater than zero and an infinite universe, logic dictates there must be countless other Earth-like planets.

If you take a look at any of the pictures of distant galaxy clusters from a telescope like Hubble, and realize that almost everything in the image is a galaxy, and that thus you're looking at perhaps trillions of trillions of stars in just a tiny sliver of the sky.. Is it really all that hard to figure out that somewhere out there some other species developed an opposable thumb or equivalent?

http://antwrp.gsfc.nasa.gov/apod/ap080616.html

Load that picture up, and zoom in. We can't possibly be that special; to even think we could be almost seems arrogant.


RE: If space is so massive...
By phattyboombatty on 6/18/08, Rating: 0
RE: If space is so massive...
By idconstruct on 6/18/2008 7:15:34 PM , Rating: 3
You can't just selectively exclude earth from a probability based on the universe when the earth is very clearly part of it.

quote:
With a probability greater than zero and an infinite universe, logic dictates there must be countless other Earth-like planets.

I think there's something about that quote you must not understand.^

quote:
Obviously, if the question is "What is the probability of life existing in the universe?", that probability would be 1


yes this is nit-picky but a probability of 1 is like saying: The Universe = Earth
The probability is actually 1*10^-(BIG NUMBER)... yes it is small, but it is greater than zero. As such, if you multiply that by an infinite universe, you have infinite other planets with life.

quote:
It's similar to asking what is the probability of pulling a blue marble out of a bag, where you have no idea what color marbles are in the bag.


Well, considering we've pulled quite a few marbles out of the bag already and one of them was indeed blue (earth) how is it unreasonable to assume there could be more in the bag? Especially considering there's upwards of millions or billions of marbles in the bag?


RE: If space is so massive...
By cyclosarin on 6/22/2008 12:46:44 AM , Rating: 2
He isn't discounting the Earth. He's saying Earth is reference point 1, find reference point number 2 before you start extrapolating data.

You're trying to debate on an emotional level based on your belief structure and you aren't comprehending the debate on a logical level. He's already said there could be millions of 'earths' out in the universe, he also said we could be the only one. We have no proof either way at this point.


RE: If space is so massive...
By masher2 (blog) on 6/18/2008 9:52:50 PM , Rating: 1
> "We haven't even been able to replicate abiogenesis under presumably ideal conditions in a controlled laboratory setting"

I'm surprised you didn't sprain a finger when you typed the word "even" in that sentence. Once we've "replicated abiogenesis", we've created life itself. It's something that took nature billions of years and a laboratory the size of a planet (if not larger) to accomplish...and you're upset because we haven't been able to replicate that in our extremely limited experiments of the past 50 years or so?

The fact is, while we haven't replicated the entire process, we've made enormous strides in many areas. We've shown that inorganic molecules can spontaneously form into organic nucleotides -- not under "controlled laboratory conditions" but under conditions the primordial earth would have had. We've seen those nucleotides self-assemble into larger units, and likewise seen the spontaneous formation of protocells, which exhibit behavior remarkably similar to the simplest eukarotic life.

At our current rate of progress, within the next 250 years or so, we'll not only have replicated the entire process, but we'll be custom-building our own lifeforms, to whatever designs we wish.


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