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Microlensing Uncovers Earth-Like Planet

ScuttleMonkey posted more than 8 years ago | from the bring-your-mittens dept.

Space 263

smooth wombat writes "Using a new technique called gravitational microlensing, a team of astronomers have discovered the smallest Earth-like planet circling a star 20,000 light years away in the constellation Sagittarius. Unfortunately the planet takes ten years to circle the red dwarf and has a surface temperature estimated at -220 C which means it's just a larger version of Pluto so the chance of finding life on this planet is essentially zero."

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posted (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14561942)

blah!!

Go the web (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14562320)

Read about this in my national newspaper, which would have gone to press about 12 hours ago. New Zealand Herald [nzherald.co.nz] .

Wait... (4, Insightful)

scolby (838499) | more than 8 years ago | (#14561945)

Unfortunately the planet takes ten years to circle the red dwarf and has a surface temperature estimated at -220 C which means it's just a larger version of Pluto so the chance of finding life on this planet is essentially zero.
So it's earth-like how?

Because it's small and rocky. (4, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14561995)

Unlike all the gas-giant, Jupiter-like planets we've seen so far. It's very difficult to spot tiny, Earth-sized objects from so far away. We may not find this new planet very hospitable but it's still an important discovery.

Re:Wait... (4, Insightful)

Alotau (714890) | more than 8 years ago | (#14562020)

From the article:
"This is the most Earth-like planet we have discovered to date, in terms of its mass and the distance from its parent star," he told BBC News. "Most of the other planets that have been discovered are either much more massive, much hotter or both."

He is an astronomer, so when saying it was Earth-like he was, of course, speaking relatively.

Of course.... (4, Funny)

grahamsz (150076) | more than 8 years ago | (#14562045)

it must be "mostly harmless"

Re:Of course.... (2, Funny)

BakaHoushi (786009) | more than 8 years ago | (#14562226)

Assuming, that is, that you can survive -220C. Better bring a few extra towels.

Re:Wait... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14562083)

So it's earth-like how?

Well, the Hitchhiker's Guide says it's "mostly harmless"

-Ford

Re:Wait... (1)

tylersoze (789256) | more than 8 years ago | (#14562135)

Assuming the density is the same as the Earth's, 5 times more massive means its radius and surface gravity would only be 1.7 times Earth's. Finding a planet this small is cause for excitement despite the fact it's climate is most decidely not Earth-like.

It's earth-like in the same way that... (2, Informative)

SIGFPE (97527) | more than 8 years ago | (#14562161)

...Proxima Centauri is our neighbour and humans only recently diverged from the other apes. Earth-like is really just a literal translation of the Latin elements of the technically correct word which is "terrestrial".

Re:Wait... (2, Interesting)

Randolpho (628485) | more than 8 years ago | (#14562232)

It's "earth-like" in that it's "rocky", rather than a gas giant.

Mercury, Venus, Mars, and Pluto are all "earth-like" planets.

Well... Pluto is more like a large comet. ;)

Re:Wait... (5, Insightful)

mrsev (664367) | more than 8 years ago | (#14562242)

"at -220 C .......so the chance of finding life on this planet is essentially zero."

I get fed up with people saying this. Our data set for planets that can support life is 1. We have no idea what "other" lifeforms can survive. Pretty much everywhere we look on earth we find life.

We find it at +120C at several thousand atmospheres of pressure next to thermal vents.

We find it at -40 C under meters of ice.

We find it living in our stomachs at a pH of less than 2.0.

We find it making a living from cleaning the insides of a sharks mouth.

I am sure that if you go into the charred remains of Reactor core number 4 chernobyl you will find plenty of life.

All you need for life is some form of energy that can be harnessed and some raw materials to use. There is no justification for saying that we should look for life at 300 kelvin and 1 atmoshphere pressure and 20% oxygen. For the report on a "scientific" article it is just lame speculation dressed as informed fact.

Re:Wait... (2, Insightful)

Alex P Keaton in da (882660) | more than 8 years ago | (#14562267)

Arrgh- Who says the chance of finding life isn't very good? How would we even know what we are looking for as far as intelligent life? The only "intelligent" life that any of us know is on Earth... and we assume that intelligent life will look like us to some degree. Perhaps our imaginations aren't big enough to even have any idea as to what exists out there, and perhaps we are missing tons of it. Who is to say that there isn't intelligent life in the form of a vapor, or a thinking rock somewhere in the universe? Perhpas a scencient star? Maybe we have been spoiled by Star Trek, where the life in the universe wore different colored pajamas and spoke with Russian accents? (I am not digging at Star Trek, I love the shows)
I hate to use a middle manager term, but what we need is a paradigm shift. To assume intelligent life would warm blooded and bipedal may be a mistake. Who knows what forms are out there?

Re:Wait... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14562455)

The only "intelligent" life that any of us know is on Earth...

Umm, have you been to Earth recently?

Re:Wait... (4, Informative)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 8 years ago | (#14562510)

Who is to say that there isn't intelligent life in the form of a vapor, or a thinking rock somewhere in the universe? [...] I hate to use a middle manager term, but what we need is a paradigm shift. To assume intelligent life would warm blooded and bipedal may be a mistake. Who knows what forms are out there?
Nobody is assuming that intelligent life would be warmblooded and bipedal. In fact, nobody said anything about intelligent life in the first place, just that there was little likelihood of this planet harboring life.

That being said, life depends on a certain level of chemical activity (I.E no thinking rocks) and a large degree of predictable organization (I.E. no intelligent vapor). Anything else requires repealing the laws of physics and chemistry as they currently understood. (The former is possible on the cosmic and subatomic scale, I.E. outside the realms of life. The latter is unlikely in the extreme.)

Re:Wait... (1)

homerotl (930400) | more than 8 years ago | (#14562351)

I think the important thing here is not if the planet temperature or climate is similar to earth, but the fact that such small and distant objects are being discovered by our instruments. If we were to find a truly earth-like planet, even if it was life-less it would be a major event. Unfortunately the climate in such planet could change a lot in the 20,000 years light took getting here, and it would definitely change in the no less than 20,000 years that would take us to get there.

Re:Wait... (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 8 years ago | (#14562499)

Earth-like is a really really stupid term. It means something that's in the same vague ballpark of size and such. It's kind of like "high temperature superconductors" which only have to be cooled with liquid nitrogen... they don't have to be brought near absolute zero to superconduct :P

Re:Wait... (1)

sholden (12227) | more than 8 years ago | (#14562533)

It's not a gas giant.

Earthlike? (1, Redundant)

erroneus (253617) | more than 8 years ago | (#14561948)

In what way, then, is it earth-like?

Re:Earthlike? (1)

Enigma_Man (756516) | more than 8 years ago | (#14561981)

It isn't a giant, gaseous fireball, with gravity that crushes everything into minute particles.

Re:Earthlike? (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14561991)

Its for Sale!!

Just paypal 1.2 Million quatnids to YourAsucker@slashdot.com

and the planet is yours!

Re:Earthlike? (1)

Ihlosi (895663) | more than 8 years ago | (#14561994)

It's more earthlike (small & rocky) than any other extrasolar planet (which are mostly gas giants).

Re:Earthlike? (5, Informative)

scheming daemons (101928) | more than 8 years ago | (#14561997)

By "earth-like" they meant that it is terrestrial, not a gas giant (a la Jupiter or Saturn).

Until now.. they hadn't found a planet in another star system that was

A) terrestrial (solid, with a rocky surface) B) farther than 0.15 AU from its star.

This planet is 2.5 AU from it's star and it is not a gas giant. That's what makes it "earth-like".. in the way that mercury, venus, mars, and pluto are "earth-like".

Until now.. no such planet had been observed in another star system.

All of this is in TFA.

Re:Earthlike? (1)

Billosaur (927319) | more than 8 years ago | (#14562014)

In the broader context of planetary science, I believe they mean that it is a small rocky body (if you call something 5 and 1/2 Earth masses small) as opposed to a gas giant such as Jupiter and Saturn. There's more on New Scientist [newscientistspace.com] .

Re:Earthlike? (1)

thue (121682) | more than 8 years ago | (#14562033)

There are two kinds of planets: Solid and gas giants. Almost all other extra-solar planets have been gas giants; this new one is solid, just like Venus, Earth and Mars.

Re:Earthlike? (1)

LouisZepher (643097) | more than 8 years ago | (#14562230)

At the moment, there's only two kinds. I believe that although unlikely, it wouldn't be too impossible for a large glob of liquid (one that exists as a liquid in the extreme cold of space, like methane perhaps) to hold a planet-like shape and orbit a star. Then again, I believe that our definitio of "life" is too narrow, and that we often just dismiss the possibility of non-carbon life that doesn't require H2O for energy production/use...

Re:Earthlike? (2, Funny)

dotgain (630123) | more than 8 years ago | (#14562446)

Imagine finding a huge ball of Mercury in space - that would be cool.

Re:Earthlike? (1)

cyclopropene (777291) | more than 8 years ago | (#14562037)

In what way, then, is it earth-like?

From the article:

It is in the same galaxy as Earth, the Milky Way...


So what you really mean is... (-1, Redundant)

garcia (6573) | more than 8 years ago | (#14561952)

Unfortunately the planet takes ten years to circle the red dwarf and has a surface temperature estimated at -220 C which means it's just a larger version of Pluto so the chance of finding life on this planet is essentially zero.

Which means that besides its thin atomosphere and a rocky core, it's nothing like Earth.

Re:So what you really mean is... (2, Insightful)

maynard (3337) | more than 8 years ago | (#14562029)

It's small. Most every planet discovered so far has been an object with very large mass - enough to perturb the host star. Gravitational lensing allowed these scientists to detect a planet with much smaller mass. The cool thing is that these astronomers are finding new ways with current land-based technology to image distant small planets around stars. With these advances, some day we may well find a planet giving off a telltale spectroscopic oxygen signature - a real indicator of life. So, baby steps first I guess.

Oh, Rebecca... (4, Insightful)

TripMaster Monkey (862126) | more than 8 years ago | (#14561957)


Sorry to carp, but it's stuff like this, especially in 'science' articles, that drives me to distraction.

From TFA (boldface mine):
Predicted surface temperatures are minus 220 degrees Celcius (-364F), meaning that its surface is likely to be layer of frozen liquid.
Umm...wouldn't that be the textbook definition of solid ? In the absence of any information as to the composition of the 'frozen liquid, the term 'frozen liquid' could apply equally well to any terrestrial planet.

Re:Oh, Rebecca... (2, Funny)

garcia (6573) | more than 8 years ago | (#14562025)

Umm...wouldn't that be the textbook definition of solid ? In the absence of any information as to the composition of the 'frozen liquid, the term 'frozen liquid' could apply equally well to any terrestrial planet.

It's obvious that they were suffering from a severe case of brain freeze from eating too many Slushies. Mmmm, red.

Re:Oh, Rebecca... (2, Interesting)

k4_pacific (736911) | more than 8 years ago | (#14562051)

No, not all solids are frozen liquids because not all solids can be melted. Sugar, for example, doesn't melt, buit decomposes into water and carbon when heated, so it can't be a frozen liquid.

Re:Oh, Rebecca... (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14562141)

Sugar doesn't melt?!?

I've made hundreds of kilos of candy from melted sugar.
It melts just fine and solidifies just fine

Re:Oh, Rebecca... (1)

Vellmont (569020) | more than 8 years ago | (#14562349)

Perhaps you're thinking of the boiling point of sugar? As another poster pointed out, melting sugar is an important part of candy making.

Re:Basic thermodynamics (5, Informative)

Jim_Callahan (831353) | more than 8 years ago | (#14562359)

Uh, melting point varies with pressure and a couple other factors that depend on your PVT model. You can melt pretty much any material if you set the conditions correctly, regardless of wether the decomposition temperature is below the MP at 1 atm or not. The liquid phase may not be very accessible, but it's always there.
 
Also, you need a better example, since Sucrose (the molecule people mean when they say 'sugar' without a qualifier) has a MP of 191 degrees centigrade at 1 atm, i.e. it has a viable liquid phase pre-decomposition. Perhaps you're thinking of Glucose or Ribose?
 
You could make an argument that 'frozen liquid' would refer to an amorphous (non-crystalline/glassy) structured solid only, as these result from a skipping of the phase formation bit of solidification to just lock the structure of the liquid into solid form. However, I think it's more likely that the writers of the article just skipped the materials phase of their education, locking the structure of their brains into a void-filled physics-oriented glass. Or they just, you know, made the intellectual equivalent of a typo. Whichever.

Where's this sugar coated planet you speak of? (1)

Colin Smith (2679) | more than 8 years ago | (#14562428)

Somewhere in the Milky Way? Boom boom!

 

Re:Oh, Rebecca... (1)

ottffssent (18387) | more than 8 years ago | (#14562431)

"Sugar, for example, doesn't melt, buit decomposes into water and carbon when heated, so it can't be a frozen liquid."

I have candy says otherwise.

Sure, sucrose eventually decomposes into carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen. But then so does pretty much every other organic compound, given sufficient heat.

Re:Oh, Rebecca... (1)

Enigma_Man (756516) | more than 8 years ago | (#14562066)

I think it was meant to specify a solid that under "ordinary" earth circumstances would be a liquid. If you were talking about a planet covered in water-ice, it seems more relevant to say it is a frozen liquid, rather than just a normal, solid planet. Same with the moon of Titan. It is mostly covered by solids, but expanding that to frozen liquid methane is much more interesting. Doesn't that make more sense?

-Jesse

Re:Oh, Rebecca... (1, Insightful)

k4_pacific (736911) | more than 8 years ago | (#14562113)

How, geo-centric of you. I would think that, on this planet, water is normally in a solid state. Actually, given that most of the visible universe is stars, one could argue that the normal state of matter is fusioning plasma and that anything else is non-fusioning frozen/liquid/gaseous plasmas.

Re:Oh, Rebecca... (1)

Enigma_Man (756516) | more than 8 years ago | (#14562148)

Yes, it is geo-centric, because I live here! Why would I think of it in a non geo-centric way? That does me no good at all. Thinking of it based on being a Human means "Hmm, this is frozen liquid, if it were water, I might melt some, and have a drink if I happened to land a colony there in the future" rather than the non-geo centric view of "It's just another boring solid planet". If I were thinking about earth from a molten-lava-people centric view, I might say it's a frozen liquid planet, because that's what's important to me.

-Jesse

Re:Oh, Rebecca... (1)

TripMaster Monkey (862126) | more than 8 years ago | (#14562252)

..."Hmm, this is frozen liquid, if it were water, I might melt some, and have a drink...

This shows you've missed my point entirely. While the surface of this recently discovered planet may in fact be composed partially of water ice, there is most probably a significant collection of other solids such as nitrogen, oxygen, and methane (to name a few). Calling such a surface 'frozen liquid' is wore than useless, because accouding to your 'geoentric' view, the term 'frozen liquid' evokes images of water ice, which is quite innacurate in this situation.

It's plain poor language, just like substituting 'earthlike' for 'terrestrial'.

Re:Oh, Rebecca... (1)

Enigma_Man (756516) | more than 8 years ago | (#14562317)

I haven't missed your point, that I know of. I only used water-ice as an example. I meant as a generalization that calling something frozen-liquid indicates that as something useful to humans, it's generally a liquid. If it were frozen methane, we might use it as a refuelling station for example. I would imagine that's the primary reason for searching for other Earth-like planets, is to either move there someday or look for life similar to our own.

-Jesse

Re:Oh, Rebecca... (1)

Z0mb1eman (629653) | more than 8 years ago | (#14562155)

How, geo-centric of you.

Well excuuuuse us for not living in space! :p

Re:Oh, Rebecca... (1)

Prairiewest (719875) | more than 8 years ago | (#14562332)

Yes, when I read "frozen liquid", I laughed a bit. How they have any idea that the matter on the surface of this very distant planet *used* to be liquid isn't explained at all. What if it was always solid rock, and now it's rock but very cold?

Anyhow, the part that really got me was this:

"The new planet has five times the Earth's mass and can be found about 25,000 light-years away"

I think that's stretching things a bit much. If that planet is really that far away, then we're looking at the light rays that are just reaching earth now - which first bounced off that planet 25,000 freaking years ago. So the planet may be long gone by now , and "can be found" is better written "might have been found" (or something equally vague about the planet's current state).

Just like earth? (3, Funny)

nharmon (97591) | more than 8 years ago | (#14561959)

Cold...inhospitable...sounds like Earth to me.

Re:Just like earth? (1)

AviLazar (741826) | more than 8 years ago | (#14562098)

Sounds like Slashdot to me.

Re:Just like earth? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14562168)

This emo blog moment was brought to you by the letter "I".

why does this make it an "earth like planet" (0, Redundant)

HelloKitty (71619) | more than 8 years ago | (#14561967)

so does anyone know what is "earthlike" about a planet that is too cold to live on?

I'm guessing it has to do with the observed spectrum from the planet indicating the right checmical components...

Ways in which this planet is earthlike (1)

soft_guy (534437) | more than 8 years ago | (#14562071)

1. It is closer in mass and size to earth than to (example) Jupiter.
2. Its density is closer to that of earth than to, say, a neutron star.
3. It is made of matter and not anti-matter.

Life Once Upon a Time (2, Insightful)

slashrogue (775436) | more than 8 years ago | (#14561972)

The more novel thing (to me) would be discovering the ruins of ancient (chronologically speaking) civilization on a planet like that.

Re:Life Once Upon a Time (1)

c0rnn (924937) | more than 8 years ago | (#14562003)

I heard it's actually home to talking penguins

Re:Life Once Upon a Time (1)

MagPulse (316) | more than 8 years ago | (#14562076)

Of course that would be more interesting, but we can't even see any planets directly at this point let alone Earth-sized planets. And to detect a dead civilization you'd need to see very detailed surface features (assuming they didn't leave a beacon or something), and we can't even see the lunar lander with Hubble on our own moon.

out of curiosity... (4, Funny)

GungaDan (195739) | more than 8 years ago | (#14562354)

Is there a non-chronological context for the word "ancient?"

Re:Life Once Upon a Time (3, Funny)

bigpat (158134) | more than 8 years ago | (#14562483)

The more novel thing (to me) would be discovering the ruins of ancient (chronologically speaking) civilization on a planet like that.

And even more interesting than that would be to discover that the planet was still inhabited, by beautiful amazonian women, and that they had sent a space ship to come get me.

Short of that, however, I'll take it as very exciting that it might be possible to use this same technique to discover more earth sized planets around other stars in the near future. So that we can use the information to target those solar system for further observation. Then maybe we can start talking about finding another civilization and planets full of sexy alien women and such.

Earthlike? (3, Funny)

tradiuz (926664) | more than 8 years ago | (#14561974)

So its earthlike in the fact that it is a planet, earth sized, and orbitting a sun? Thats like saying I'm hung like Ron Jeremy, in the fact that we both have a penis and are ugly as sin.

Re:Earthlike? (1)

robertjw (728654) | more than 8 years ago | (#14562067)

Actually, it's 5.5 times the size of earth, so not exactly earth size. In galactic terms, yes, in terms of habitability I'm guessing no.

Re:Earthlike? (1)

nfgaida (68606) | more than 8 years ago | (#14562515)

The metaphore might still apply...

What are the chances of finding life? (2, Insightful)

TheHulk (80855) | more than 8 years ago | (#14561979)

I tend to think the chances of us finding life on anything 20,000 life years away is essentially zero.

Oh, Rebecca... (1)

TeleoMan (529859) | more than 8 years ago | (#14561984)

Sorry to carp, but it's stuff like this, especially in 'science' articles, that drives me to distraction.

From TFA (boldface mine):

Predicted surface temperatures are minus 220 degrees Celcius (-364F), meaning that its surface is likely to be layer of frozen liquid.

Umm...wouldn't that be the textbook definition of solid? In the absence of any information as to the composition of the 'frozen liquid', the term 'frozen liquid' could apply equally well to any terrestrial planet.

Superfriends show. Iceplanet people. (-1, Offtopic)

zymano (581466) | more than 8 years ago | (#14561987)

Remember the Superfriends had one show about an iceplanet with iceplanet people. My memory of it has faded though.

Re: Superfriends show. Iceplanet people. (1)

sanman2 (928866) | more than 8 years ago | (#14562460)

Isn't that the one where they all board a NASA rocket, and Superman heaves them all up into space? Or, as Ted Baxter would say, "Syupahmahn"

Earth-like? (1)

phixson (822408) | more than 8 years ago | (#14561990)

I guess definitions vary.

Of course, it could be very earth-like if global warming causes a catastrophic "snowball earth" effect.

Re:Earth-like? (1)

phixson (822408) | more than 8 years ago | (#14562050)

Wow!! In the time it took to type my comment, eleven other smartasses popped off with exactly the same thing. Don't ANY of us have anything better to do than state the obvious? (guess not)

Re:Earth-like? (1)

moochfish (822730) | more than 8 years ago | (#14562173)

the earth isn't getting to -220C no matter how much global warming snowballs the earth.

Re:Earth-like? (1)

Jim_Callahan (831353) | more than 8 years ago | (#14562411)

Wanna make a bet?

I wonder how much smog it would take to surrounf the sun in an impenetrable black cloud.... Ooh! or we could do the 'catapult earth off its orbit and into the outer disc of the solar system' thing. That would do it.

Too bad (4, Funny)

NitsujTPU (19263) | more than 8 years ago | (#14561993)

Unfortunately the planet takes ten years to circle the red dwarf and has a surface temperature estimated at -220 C which means it's just a larger version of Pluto so the chance of finding life on this planet is essentially zero.

It's especially unfortunate given the ease of a mission requiring us to travel 20,000 light years from Earth, then survive 57.3 Kelvin temperatutes.

Re:Too bad (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14562453)

53.15

Re:Too bad (1)

NitsujTPU (19263) | more than 8 years ago | (#14562494)

Yeah, whoops, I thought that I had that conversion memorized.

Which is it... (1)

subl33t (739983) | more than 8 years ago | (#14562002)

...Earth-like or Pluto-like?

TFA says it's more Pluto-like. 5x the mass of Earth and -220 degrees. But "Earth-like" is scattered rather too liberally throughout the article.

Seems just a bit sensationalist to me.

More earth-like than the earlier discoveries (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14562013)

I think they emphasize "earth-like" because up till now, all the discovered exoplanets have been gas giants, as opposed to solid planets. It's even in the same order of magnitude with earth, only 5 times bigger. Gas giants are hundreds of times bigger than earth.

By Earthlike... (1)

SenorPez (840621) | more than 8 years ago | (#14562016)

... they mean that Apple is already preparing to ship 125,000 iPods, and there won't be enough to satisfy the demand.

Other than that, it doesn't sound too Earth-like to me.

lucky us (1)

pekkak (840639) | more than 8 years ago | (#14562017)

No life... lucky us. Otherwise we'd need to build up an expedition to go and nuke 'em till they glow. And boy would that be expensive!

Re:lucky us (1)

Bob 4knee (756841) | more than 8 years ago | (#14562323)

No life... lucky us. Otherwise we'd need to build up an expedition to go and nuke 'em till they glow. And boy would that be expensive!

They have oil?

Quote from TFA: (4, Insightful)

Enigma_Man (756516) | more than 8 years ago | (#14562019)

Quote:

"How can we prove there is life on a distant planet when we have problems seeing if there is life on Mars?"

So, by all means, let's just stop looking then. That's the easy solution. Seriously though, I hate when people think like this. Maybe by looking out into deep space, we'll discover some new method for easily detecting life which we can then apply to Mars. That is unlikely, but still, science is about exploring, not just throwing down the hat at something silly like a problem that we can't quite answer yet.

Whomever said that hopefully isn't a scientist and/or working on this project.

-Jesse

Re:Quote from TFA: (1)

RobertB-DC (622190) | more than 8 years ago | (#14562192)

Dr. Foo: "To prove there is life on a far-off planet would be difficult," Dr Dominik told the BBC News website. "How can we prove there is life on a distant planet when we have problems seeing if there is life on Mars?"

Mr. Bar: Whomever said that hopefully isn't a scientist and/or working on this project.

Indeed. Unfortunately: "Dr Martin Dominik from the University of St Andrews is a co-leader of the PLANET collaboration, one of the microlensing networks used to detect the new planet." Crap.

Frankly, if signs of life on a planet are as scarce as those on Mars, I think it's safe to declare it "dead". If there's no macroscopic life at all, not even a bacterial culture's worth, then it's about as dead as dead can be.

I'm excited about new planets, though, because I'm hoping one of these days they'll run the light through a spectrometer and find unexpected amounts of life-supporting stuff [esa.int] .

Re:Quote from TFA: (2, Insightful)

barawn (25691) | more than 8 years ago | (#14562224)

Seriously though, I hate when people think like this. Maybe by looking out into deep space, we'll discover some new method for easily detecting life which we can then apply to Mars.

The other problem with that quote is that searching for life on Mars is difficult because Mars is very, very close to dead. Mars isn't teeming with surface life. That's pretty much a total given. It might have life clinging in a few underwater reservoirs, but it's not like Earth.

If someone was able to see Earth from a distant star, they'd be able to tell that there's life on the planet in a heartbeat. All you have to do is look for atmospheric oxygen.

We're not looking for marginal life. We're looking for another Earth.

Star Trek Reference Time! (1)

reachums (949416) | more than 8 years ago | (#14562026)

So let's say we are classifying planets according to their ability to support humans. Let's just say Earth is class, oh, M. Is this planet class M? Certainly not! No human could survive in -220 Celsius! Far from being like earth. Ok I'm done being uber trekie :)

Re:Star Trek Reference Time! (1)

AviLazar (741826) | more than 8 years ago | (#14562133)

Yes, this planet is definitly not Menshara class.

Isn't anyone going to... (1)

Errandboy of Doom (917941) | more than 8 years ago | (#14562273)

Isn't anyone going to make a Red Dwarf reference?

Minshara Class (1)

Supurcell (834022) | more than 8 years ago | (#14562286)

So let's say we are classifying planets according to their ability to support humans. Let's just say Earth is class, oh, M. Is this planet class M? Certainly not! No human could survive in -220 Celsius! Far from being like earth. Ok I'm done being uber trekie :)
Actually, the M stands for "Minshara". It is a Vulcan term. It would be more accurate to say "No Vulcan could survive in -220 Celsius."

To everyone; It's Earth like... (0, Redundant)

IAAP (937607) | more than 8 years ago | (#14562055)

because of mass.FTFA:

Recent simulations of planet formation suggest that bodies with an Earth-like mass are abundant.

The headline should have been: Earth like (similar mass) Planet uncovered.

What we need is some sort of descriptor like, oh I don't know, let's say 'M' class for Earth like - in the sense that we can live on it as we do here on Earth.

I'll thin I'll trade mark :M Class". None of you have heard of that before - have you?

Re:To everyone; It's Earth like... (0, Offtopic)

reachums (949416) | more than 8 years ago | (#14562101)

HA! I just barely beat you to the M class comment! but seriously, totaly not an M class planet, could NOT support us. :)

Re:To everyone; It's Earth like... (1)

IAAP (937607) | more than 8 years ago | (#14562122)

Yeah, of course the mod's don't look at the time-stamp. I couln't have NOT dup'ped ("Redundant") your comment even if I tried.

Counter example (2, Funny)

undeadly (941339) | more than 8 years ago | (#14562063)

"Unfortunately the planet takes ten years to circle the red dwarf and has a surface temperature estimated at -220 C which means it's just a larger version of Pluto so the chance of finding life on this planet is essentially zero."

Come on, read a few posts on Slashdot on Intelligent Design and you will know that there is no chance involved here. Absense or precense of life is by design and only those not graced by Kansas education falsly believes otherwise.

Re:Counter example (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14562093)

would you all shut up already with the retarded ID jokes? I hate the pro-ID zealots too but this article has NOTHING to do with religion. I wanted to have a mature discussion about science on Slashdot, not a sophomoric display of our own personal insecurities.

Re:Counter example (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14562191)

I wanted to have a mature discussion about science on Slashdot
Oh, I'm sorry, you probably didn't mean that to be funny. But it is. So very, very funny...

Re:Counter example (1)

slavemowgli (585321) | more than 8 years ago | (#14562200)

I'd say that the chance of *finding* life on this planet is essentially zero, anyway, simply because it's essentially zero for just about any planet we find - how are you going to take a close enough look to determine whether there's life at a rock that's so far away that it's almost impossible to even register that it's there at all?

The chance of life *existing*, of course, is another matter...

Don't insult us! (4, Insightful)

32bitwonder (684603) | more than 8 years ago | (#14562188)

This style of reporting is beyond annoying. I'd much rather have this story presented like it is "Using the microlensing technique first predicted by Albert Einstein in 1912, a team of astronomers have discovered a rocky planet about 5 times the mass of the earth some 25,000 light years away. It orbits a red dwarf....." Personally I was more intriqued by Albert Einsteins' involvement than the idiotic claims of the planet being "Earth-like" but.....not.

Great subject, crappy article (1)

devphaeton (695736) | more than 8 years ago | (#14562204)

It's sad to see that BBC is now following suit of PMSNBC and CNN in creating fluffy, repetetetive, 'sound-byte' laden articles like this one. You could probably sum this all up in one paragraph, about like the blurb on the top of the page here is.

Bummer.

Re:Great subject, crappy article (1)

Frobisher (677079) | more than 8 years ago | (#14562375)

Despite that, at least you can read it top to bottom without having to navigate past half a dozen crappy banner ads..... Good old Auntie!

Official ESO Press Release (3, Informative)

Oink (33510) | more than 8 years ago | (#14562206)

Since I am related to the guy interviewed for the ESO Press Release I feel obliged to link to it.

http://www.eso.org/outreach/press-rel/pr-2006/pr-0 3-06.html [eso.org]

I have not read the BBC article. But this is the official PR document. It's nice having relatives in the field. I had this news days ago. :)

Re:Official ESO Press Release (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14562420)

It's nice having relatives in the field. I had this news days ago. :)
 
So? This is Slashdot, all news are at least several days old ;)

provincial attitude, dude (3, Insightful)

Ancient_Hacker (751168) | more than 8 years ago | (#14562222)

>the chance of finding life on this planet is essentially zero.

Well, if you mean life, as in Jessica Alba, you're correct.

But that's a tad provincial, limited, humdrum, some might say. We know very little about chemistry at 50 degrees Kelvin. Maybe there are some chemical reactions that don't go at all at our room temperature, but run just fine at 50K.

Might be a tad slow, but who says life has to run at our speed?

Re:provincial attitude, dude (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14562523)

Umm, why do we know very little about chemistry at 50K? I'm not saying we know everything, but I was doing experiments at 2.7K in undergrad....

Surface Temp of -220 C (5, Funny)

aquatone282 (905179) | more than 8 years ago | (#14562287)

" . . .has a surface temperature estimated at -220 C which means . . . the chance of finding life on this planet is essentially zero."

Obviously these researchers have never met my ex-wife.

Little green men on that planet dont agree (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14562310)

"surface temperature estimated at -220 C ... so the chance of finding life on this planet is essentially zero"

I am sure the little green men on that planet are saying the same thing about our 32 C planet. "There is no way anything could live on a planet above -100 C."

How can they really know though? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14562313)

I remember seeing an article about a satellite orbiting Mars couldn't tell that Earth was a habitable planet. If true, how can they be any more confident of their assessment of a planet several lightyears from here?

Sensationalist expectations (4, Insightful)

Bob3141592 (225638) | more than 8 years ago | (#14562421)

I can't believe most everyone here is up in arms because the term "earthlike" was used. That basically refers to mass, and is technically correct in it's field. Remember, astronomers refer to anything above helium as "metals." But it leads so many to say "Nothing to see here, there's no giant trees or sea monsters on that planet." How jaded do you have to be to have ridiculous expectations like that?

That astronomers can detect that planet at all is a phenomenal acheivement. Before this, the only extrasolar planets that could be detected had large masses in close orbits, a rather extreme situation. But here's something quite outside that class. So its parameters aren't inside the "habitable zone." It's the first discovery of its kind. The attitude I'm seeing here is like someone claiming poker is no fun because they haven't been dealt a royal flush on their first hand. It's the process, more than this particular result, that should inspire amazement.

And it was seen at 20,000 light years away. That really, really far, a galactic distance! That means there are a lot of stars potentially obnservable using this technique. Even if the alignment is relatively rare, with billions of stars to try, perhaps sooner or later one or two will prove themselves to be more interesting to this unreasonably demanding crowd. But then I'm sure the discovery will be discounted if the alien civilization hasn't developed Linux.

essentially zero (2, Insightful)

LesPaul75 (571752) | more than 8 years ago | (#14562422)

... so the chance of finding life on this planet is essentially zero.
This statement is essentially nonsense. It is equivalent to me saying, "The chances of my friend Joe flooglebarging a flarglefilk are essentially zero." It's something that no one has ever done before, something that no one has any idea how to do, and something that no one has any statistical data on whatsoever. As far as we know, every single planet in existence could be completely saturated with living creatures, or ours could be the only one in the entire universe.
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