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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 Parhel on 6/18/2008 1:52:37 PM , Rating: 3
People even still argue proof that the earth is flat

Methinks that's an elaborate joke . . . Supposed "flat earth" believers are somewhat of an urban legend.

RE: If space is so massive...
By Parhel on 6/18/2008 1:55:07 PM , Rating: 3
Correction - I know that's an elaborate joke. Read their "current events" section:

It's actually a pretty damn funny read.

RE: If space is so massive...
By encryptkeeper on 6/18/2008 2:19:57 PM , Rating: 2
From the bottom of the "Flat Earth Society" homepage:
The Flat Earth Society is not in any way responsible for the failure of the French to repel the Germans at the Maginot Line during WWII. Nor is the Flat Earth Society responsible for the recent yeti sightings outside the Vatican, or for the unfortunate enslavement of the Nabisco Inc. factory employees by a rogue hamster insurrectionist group.

Yeah. Fake. You may be thinking of people denying that the moon landing occurred. I believe they truly exist. Go to youtube and search for "proof of moon hoax" and view the first clip. Classic.

RE: If space is so massive...
By jabber on 6/19/2008 6:00:20 AM , Rating: 1
The whole 'flat earth' thing is actually a rather recent idea postulated by an author in the 18/19th century.

Humans have assumed the earth is round from pretty much the get go.

It is a myth.

RE: If space is so massive...
By masher2 on 6/19/2008 7:33:48 AM , Rating: 2
> "Humans have assumed the earth is round from pretty much the get go. It is a myth. "

No, that "myth" is itself pretty much a myth from the annals of Christian Apologia. Belief in a flat earth was exceedingly common during the Dark Ages, and persisted in some forms up to nearly the Renaissance. For instance, Medieval artist Hieronymous Bosch depicted a flat earth in his Garden of Earthly Delights, with the heavens above the earthly disc:

RE: If space is so massive...
By Parhel on 6/19/2008 12:02:55 PM , Rating: 2
You think that's bad? Pablo Picasso believed that people's noses grew out of the side of their heads . . .

Seriously though, Bosch was sort of the Salvador Dali of his day. If you think that "The Garden of Earthly Delights" indicates that he believed the Earth was flat, you are totally missing the point of his work.

Rather than do a lot of cutting and pasting, I'll just state that it is indeed a myth that medieval people believed in a flat Earth . . . a myth which this article discusses in detail:

RE: If space is so massive...
By masher2 on 6/19/2008 2:04:33 PM , Rating: 2
> "If you think that "The Garden of Earthly Delights" indicates that he believed the Earth was flat, you are totally missing the point of his work."

One can argue the "point" of an artist's work forever. And yes, I don't believe Bosch himself believed in a flat earth. But he can't have painted in the 1500s a myth that we only invented in the 1900s. He is, rather, depicting a fanciful view of a collective mythos from an earlier era.

> ". . a myth which this article discusses in detail"

I won't bother pointing out the dangers of quoting Wikipedia, especially on politically-charged topics like this. I will say this, however. By the late Medieval period (the 1400s onward), that statement was true -- only a few uneducated people believed in a flat earth.

However, during the early Medieval period (from AD 400 onward) on can find many religious scholars espousing a flat earth viewpoint. And in fact, we find Wikipedia pointing out a few of those (though true to form for politically-charged topics, the mention is buried deep...the editors on the "apologia" side were obviously more numerous this month):
In his Homilies Concerning the Statutes[41] St.John Chrysostom (344–408) explicitly espoused the idea, based on his reading of Scripture, that the Earth floated on the waters gathered below the firmament...Diodorus of Tarsus (d. 394) also argued for a flat Earth based on scriptures; however, Diodorus' opinion on the matter is known to us only by a criticism of it by Photius.[43] Severian, Bishop of Gabala (d. 408), wrote: "The earth is flat and the sun does not pass under it in the night, but travels through the northern parts as if hidden by a wall".[44]

The Egyptian monk Cosmas Indicopleustes (547) in his Topographia Christiana, where the Covenant Ark was meant to represent the whole universe, argued on theological grounds that the Earth was flat, a parallelogram enclosed by four oceans...

"I'd be pissed too, but you didn't have to go all Minority Report on his ass!" -- Jon Stewart on police raiding Gizmodo editor Jason Chen's home
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