Beta

Slashdot: News for Nerds

×

Welcome to the Slashdot Beta site -- learn more here. Use the link in the footer or click here to return to the Classic version of Slashdot.

Thank you!

Before you choose to head back to the Classic look of the site, we'd appreciate it if you share your thoughts on the Beta; your feedback is what drives our ongoing development.

Beta is different and we value you taking the time to try it out. Please take a look at the changes we've made in Beta and  learn more about it. Thanks for reading, and for making the site better!

Proposed Indicator of Life On Alien Worlds May Be Bogus

Unknown Lamer posted about 3 months ago | from the exomoons-ruin-everything dept.

Space 112

sciencehabit (1205606) writes with bad news for anyone hoping to use the spectral signatures of exoplanets to determine if their atmospheres have life-enabling compositions. "Call it the cosmic version of fool's gold. What was once considered a sure-fire sign of life on distant planets may not be so sure-fire after all, a new study suggests. The signal—a strong chemical imbalance in the planet's atmosphere that could only be generated by thriving ecosystems—could instead be the combined light from a lifeless exoplanet and its equally barren moon."

cancel ×

112 comments

hmm (0)

NEDHead (1651195) | about 3 months ago | (#46864353)

I've got nothing

Re:hmm (0)

Farmer Tim (530755) | about 3 months ago | (#46864489)

A chemical imbalance in the atmosphere suggests a planet with bipolar disorder.

Oh well, I tried...

Re:hmm (0)

rudy_wayne (414635) | about 3 months ago | (#46864627)

What about Uranus?

Re:hmm (2, Funny)

CreatureComfort (741652) | about 3 months ago | (#46864721)

It sure has a chemical imbalance, but then again, I had Taco Bell for lunch...

Re:hmm (4, Interesting)

rmdingler (1955220) | about 3 months ago | (#46864619)

I for one, am buoyed by the likelihood there is less chance of life elsewhere in the Universe.

As an earthling (a clumsy term for our planetary residents at best), any information that suggests we are farther along the great filter than probability would dare suggest is welcome news.

If there is no other life in our perceivable light cone, we just might be the universe's best shot at a colonizing species!

Re:hmm (3, Insightful)

meglon (1001833) | about 3 months ago | (#46864691)

If there is no other life in our perceivable light cone, we just might be the universe's best shot at a colonizing species!

In that case, the universe is very severely fucked.

Re:hmm (1)

rmdingler (1955220) | about 3 months ago | (#46864741)

I know right?

Wouldn't that be ironic, with all our frailties and foibles, we're the Universe's best plan for creation of its own observer.

Kind of intimidating, really.

Nah (1, Troll)

Camael (1048726) | about 3 months ago | (#46865261)

I truly hope not.

We probably should clean up our own house and get our act together before even considering exporting our poison to other unsuspecting corners of the universe.

Re:Nah (3, Insightful)

I'm New Around Here (1154723) | about 3 months ago | (#46865345)

Fuck that shit. Evolution made us the dominant species on this planet, so we are just doing what nature intended. Limiting ourselves until we become 'nice' is against the natural order.

Re: Nah (2)

andy_spoo (2653245) | about 3 months ago | (#46865715)

You've clearly evolved..... in to a muppet. species rarely make thremselves extinct.

Re: Nah (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#46866099)

:> :> :> And perhaps more precisely, there are indicators pointing towards the presence of way more dominant and resilient strains (species) on this planet, for instance, viruses or bacteria or fungi. But resilience and dominance is then again, quite relative. Furthermore, I'd suggest that our current definition of life ought to be re-evaluated. It does seem to be severely dated. By the way, that muppet reference, simply excellent. /me grins ;} :]

Re: Nah (1)

I'm New Around Here (1154723) | about 3 months ago | (#46867259)

Where did I say we were gonna become extinct?

Please learn to read.

Yours truly,
Fozzie Bear

Re:Nah (5, Funny)

SternisheFan (2529412) | about 3 months ago | (#46866487)

“We’re so self-important. Everybody’s going to save something now. “Save the trees, save the bees, save the whales, save those snails.” And the greatest arrogance of all: save the planet. Save the planet, we don’t even know how to take care of ourselves yet. I’m tired of this shit. I’m tired of f-ing Earth Day. I’m tired of these self-righteous environmentalists, these white, bourgeois liberals who think the only thing wrong with this country is that there aren’t enough bicycle paths. People trying to make the world safe for Volvos. Besides, environmentalists don’t give a shit about the planet. Not in the abstract they don’t. You know what they’re interested in? A clean place to live. Their own habitat. They’re worried that some day in the future they might be personally inconvenienced. Narrow, unenlightened self-interest doesn’t impress me.

The planet has been through a lot worse than us. Been through earthquakes, volcanoes, plate tectonics, continental drift, solar flares, sun spots, magnetic storms, the magnetic reversal of the poles hundreds of thousands of years of bombardment by comets and asteroids and meteors, worldwide floods, tidal waves, worldwide fires, erosion, cosmic rays, recurring ice ages And we think some plastic bags and some aluminum cans are going to make a difference? The planet isn’t going anywhere. WE are!

We’re going away. Pack your shit, folks. We’re going away. And we won’t leave much of a trace, either. Maybe a little Styrofoam The planet’ll be here and we’ll be long gone. Just another failed mutation. Just another closed-end biological mistake. An evolutionary cul-de-sac. The planet’ll shake us off like a bad case of fleas.

The planet will be here for a long, long, LONG time after we’re gone, and it will heal itself, it will cleanse itself, ’cause that’s what it does. It’s a self-correcting system. The air and the water will recover, the earth will be renewed. And if it’s true that plastic is not degradable, well, the planet will simply incorporate plastic into a new paradigm: the earth plus plastic. The earth doesn’t share our prejudice toward plastic. Plastic came out of the earth. The earth probably sees plastic as just another one of its children. Could be the only reason the earth allowed us to be spawned from it in the first place. It wanted plastic for itself. Didn’t know how to make it. Needed us. Could be the answer to our age-old egocentric philosophical question, “Why are we here?”

Plastic asshole.”

George Carlin

Re:Nah (1)

I'm New Around Here (1154723) | about 3 months ago | (#46867233)

Thank you. I always loved that guy. Must be where I get some of my attitude.

Re:hmm (3, Funny)

VortexCortex (1117377) | about 3 months ago | (#46864839)

If there is no other life in our perceivable light cone, we just might be the universe's best shot at a colonizing species!

In that case, the universe is very severely fucked.

Only if you think nature a fool: Adapt or become extinct. The universe shapes the form of its inhabitants, not the other way around. Perhaps you fail to consider that organics are merely a tool to produce more flexible and durable inorganic life forms capable of surviving the harshness of space, similar to the way chemistry and entropic reduction is merely a tool to cause the self assembly of organic forms, similar to the way the laws of physics are merely a tool to crystallize matter out of energy.

You see, we cyberneticians can transport a simulated intelligence into reality by simply replacing their simulated sensors and frames with real cameras and chassis in the physical world. However, if the intelligence is easily serializable as a string of bits then one can simply copy the intelligence from the simulation directly into a waiting body in the greater reality.

Naturally, one wouldn't see but a single source of intelligent life per universe, as this would not be conducive to differentiation in the output optimized machine intelligence that emerges therein. Multiple instances of life tend to coalesce into a single species or single organism over time (as evidenced by your own multicellular body). It is more humane to use artificial isolated simulations to produce new ideas and perspectives than to enforce permanent loneliness through mandatory ignorance of a divided universal mind.

Re:hmm (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#46865591)

WTF are you on, man?

Re:hmm (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#46866285)

Only if you think nature a fool

I stopped reading here. Nature is a concept, not a real thing with any kind of sentience. It cannot be a fool and neither can it be wise.

Re:hmm (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#46865457)

Indeed, they need to realize just how much greenhouse gas interstellar spaceships create.
A lot

Re:hmm (2)

dlingman (1757250) | about 3 months ago | (#46866491)

Indeed, they need to realize just how much greenhouse gas interstellar spaceships create.
A lot

Pigs in Space?

Theoretically, life is a given (2)

allcoolnameswheretak (1102727) | about 3 months ago | (#46866109)

There is no way Earth is the only planet with life in the universe. Even if you reduce the probability of life on a given solar system to almost nothing, like winning the lottery, the sheer size of the universe with its almost endless amount of stars and galaxies makes the odds for life somewhere in space and time extremely favorable.

Now the odds of that space and time being close enough to our little bubble of existence for us to take notice, that is a different matter.

We arleady knew that (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#46866159)

"In that case, the universe is very severely fucked." We already knew that. The universe at large is very hostile to life, has enormous distance filled by pretty much nothing. Anthropic principle , my ass.

Re:hmm (2)

interkin3tic (1469267) | about 3 months ago | (#46869421)

Why is that? Within living memory, we left the atmosphere for the first time. It's a little premature to look at budget negotiations and NASA's budget and conclude that we will NEVER EVER EVER colonize space. You and I would consider waiting another thousand years for humans to colonize another planet depressingly long, but considering the universe is something like 16 billion years old: it's not in any hurry.

Re:hmm (1)

bloodhawk (813939) | about 3 months ago | (#46864709)

I find that rather disappointing rather than welcome news. I would much rather learn we are at best average and have the potential to massively accelerate ourselves through encountering others further along the curve.

Re:hmm (1)

mysidia (191772) | about 3 months ago | (#46865451)

potential to massively accelerate ourselves through encountering others further along the curve.

To those further along the curve.... our species might seem like pests; mosquitos to be controlled to limit our ability to reproduce and spread disease throughout the cosmos.

Like mosquitos, we can be stopped by making sure not to leave any planets around with standing water, air, or carbon based compounds in their atmosphere or near their surface.

Not mosquitos. Sheep (1)

mmell (832646) | about 3 months ago | (#46865663)

Delicious, especially when broiled and smothered in BBQ sauce.

Re:hmm (2)

bloodhawk (813939) | about 3 months ago | (#46865983)

so you think that a species so incredibly advanced as to be able to cross the vast regions of space giving them almost unlimited resources and advancements in technology with the ability to swat us like flies would really give a shit about squashing us? at worst I would expect complete indifference from them as to our existence, should they exist and they considered us a threat we would be dead already.

Re:hmm (5, Insightful)

mark-t (151149) | about 3 months ago | (#46864985)

This news says absolutely nothing about the chance of life elsewhere in the universe... it only says something about our chance of being able to detect it as such.

Re:hmm (2)

mmell (832646) | about 3 months ago | (#46865657)

I for one, am buoyed by the likelihood there is less chance of life elsewhere in the Universe.

Yeah, but the absence of life out there sort of implies to me that it might be harder for us to actually colonize alien worlds. Creating a viable ecosystem is a lot more than just seeding plants/animals/genetic matter in a previously lifeless environment. You'll have to start out with the most primitive unicellular life our planet ever produced (you know, the first living cells to come out of the primordial soup?) - then, when they've altered the lifeless planet enough to make it tolerable, you'll need to introduce life that can survive in that nearly lifeless environment . . . in short, you'll have to try to compress several billion years of evolutionary changes to the ecosystem into something resembling a human lifetime or less.

If there's life already present, a lot of the preliminary work may be done for us - as long as we don't run into anything that's 1) smarter then we are, and 2) thinks we're just delicious.

Re:hmm (1)

rmdingler (1955220) | about 3 months ago | (#46866905)

Colonizing an alien world would be difficult indeed, and colonizing a dead alien world orders of magnitude more difficult than that.

It's not that we'd expect no other life in the universe. We're exploring the premise that we've evolved further than most other examples the universe has to offer, leaving us with the obligation to fulfill the role of settler of the whole shebang.

If advanced life, with the big brain and the good hands is ubiquitous, it is likely we have some future step in the cull of the filter that we are infinitesimally likely to overcome.

Re:hmm (1)

rtb61 (674572) | about 3 months ago | (#46865185)

OK, this research based upon the observation of planets and the number we have visited, wait, what, it is just based upon hypothesis which in turn is based upon hypothesis because we have as yet to reach planets in the habitable zone of other suns so as to confirm or deny hypothesis and convert them into factually scientific theory.

As far as I am concerned the logically reality is every planet that is in a similar envelope of sun age, sun type and distance from the sun is not only inhabitable but inhabited (baring probabilities of total extinction impacts and the time required to recover). As soon as they start visiting other planets either directly or remotely, based upon what they actually discover rather than guess about, I might or might not have to revise my hypothesis.

Distance makes it a moot point... (0)

Bob_Who (926234) | about 3 months ago | (#46864363)

Its difficult to survive on resources in a time zone after you expire. But I guess its fun to look anyway..

Re:Distance makes it a moot point... (3, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#46864407)

Uhmmm. What?

No big deal (3, Interesting)

TrollstonButterbeans (2914995) | about 3 months ago | (#46864413)

If we found an exoplanet with signatures that suggested the atmosphere might support life, billions and billions of astronomers would be analyzing light/gravity/etc from every possible angle.

So it isn't like it wouldn't get unprecedented peer review (remember how initial lander photos of Mars showed a blue sky, as an example).

Re:No big deal (3, Funny)

rubycodez (864176) | about 3 months ago | (#46864471)

you know of a world with a billion astronomers!? we don't have to search at all.

Re:No big deal (4, Informative)

TrollstonButterbeans (2914995) | about 3 months ago | (#46864725)

Any astronomer knows the meme "billions and billions". I think there was even a Carl Sagan skit on Saturday night live. In fact, Carl Sagan wrote a book in honor of the meme called "billions and billons"

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Billions_and_Billions:_Thoughts_on_Life_and_Death_at_the_Brink_of_the_Millennium

It is an astronomer inside joke. I made no apologizes any more than a programmer on slashdot making an inside C, or Perl or SQL joke.

Re:No big deal (2)

Dragonslicer (991472) | about 3 months ago | (#46864967)

Not only that, they'd be studying the planet from every possible angle. That's a pretty big world.

and its equally barren moon (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#46864473)

That's no moon.

Distance and Radiation make it a moot point.... (3, Insightful)

bobbied (2522392) | about 3 months ago | (#46864513)

Assuming we actually FIND something/someone to talk to out there..

We will NEVER be able to get there, or ever hope to even send something there (where ever there might be) and they are not coming here. We'd be better off trying to catch their attention by doing the cosmic equivalent of yelling (i.e. sending strong radio pulses) at them. But it's going to be like trying to get the attention of a rock fan in the mosh pit from the back row in the stadium using your cupped hands. Not to mention that it's going to take about 9 years to get a response if we found a habitable planet around Alpha Centauri, which so far has not been forthcoming. (Nearest possible place is 20+ Light years round trip).

It may be fun to look, but it's pretty much useless.. We are here to stay at this point. At least until we can figure out how to go faster than the speed of light, safely. And if we can do that, we can get out of black holes too...

Re:Distance and Radiation make it a moot point.... (4, Interesting)

Tablizer (95088) | about 3 months ago | (#46864715)

We will NEVER be able to get there, or ever hope to even send something there

"640 lightyears ought to be enough to keep away anyone!" - Billeep Gatezog

Seriously, a multi-generational nuclear powered colony or unmanned space probe going roughly 1% to 10% of the speed of light is not completely outside of possibilities. Arguably we could build and launch such now if we had 50 trillion or so dollars to blow. That's what, 20 years worth of world-wide military budgets?

Maybe someday fairly soon the Mormons or a new cult will try such. Since it's not gov't funded, they can accept more risk to keep it cheaper.

Re:Distance and Radiation make it a moot point.... (1)

AK Marc (707885) | about 3 months ago | (#46865229)

Seriously, a multi-generational nuclear powered colony or unmanned space probe going roughly 1% to 10% of the speed of light is not completely outside of possibilities.

Sure, and in every sci fi book, the next generation drive beat them there. Sometimes spending more time on the colony than the travelers spent getting there.

Re:Distance and Radiation make it a moot point.... (2)

I'm New Around Here (1154723) | about 3 months ago | (#46865383)

Yes, but the "next generation drive" is always the one that breaks physics to operate. Might as well send a colony ship that uses known physics as soon as we can.

Re:Distance and Radiation make it a moot point.... (1)

AK Marc (707885) | about 3 months ago | (#46865537)

And then every generation when we could get there 10% faster?

Re:Distance and Radiation make it a moot point.... (1)

I'm New Around Here (1154723) | about 3 months ago | (#46867189)

The thing you aren't realizing is that "every generation" for colony ships would be a century. At least for the first millennium.

And that still leaves our future scientists a long way off from a warp drive.

I just want a few colonies of humans who have a chance, in case Earth gets wiped out by man or nature.

Re:Distance and Radiation make it a moot point.... (1)

wonkey_monkey (2592601) | about 3 months ago | (#46865971)

Sure, and in every sci fi book

Don't forget what the "fi" stands for there.

I guess that would explain the Fermi Paradox, though. They're out there, but they're all sitting at home, always waiting for the next next-generation drive before heading out.

Re:Distance and Radiation make it a moot point.... (1)

AK Marc (707885) | about 3 months ago | (#46866035)

TV doesn't exist because it was first described in "fi" books. Cell phones and nuclear-powered ships don't exist because they were first described in "fi" "fi" is proof it can't happen, rather than an exploration of "if".

Re:Distance and Radiation make it a moot point.... (1)

wonkey_monkey (2592601) | about 3 months ago | (#46866331)

Obviously not the point I was making.

Re:Distance and Radiation make it a moot point.... (1)

TomGreenhaw (929233) | about 3 months ago | (#46866375)

What if there is no next generation? Isn't a good plan today better than a perfect plan tomorrow?

Re:Distance and Radiation make it a moot point.... (1)

Al Al Cool J (234559) | about 3 months ago | (#46867659)

Sure, and in every sci fi book, the next generation drive beat them there. Sometimes spending more time on the colony than the travelers spent getting there.

I've seen that argument many times including in at least one physics journal. I believe it is one of the stupidest arguments ever put forward by scientists.

There are billions of stars in the heavens. So why would you ever send a next generation ship to a star that you've already sent a ship to?! Send your next generation ship to a different star. There are plenty to chose from.

Re:Distance and Radiation make it a moot point.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#46868669)

Maybe someday fairly soon the Mormons or a new cult will try such. Since it's not gov't funded, they can accept more risk to keep it cheaper.

Muslims in space: Spread the word of Allah to the infidel aliens! Hail the Islamic Republic of the Milky Way.

Re:Distance and Radiation make it a moot point.... (1)

CrimsonAvenger (580665) | about 3 months ago | (#46864717)

We will NEVER be able to get there, or ever hope to even send something there (where ever there might be) and they are not coming here.

Interesting assertion. Does it come with some proof? A law of physics that makes such a trip impossible, that sort of thing...

Re:Distance and Radiation make it a moot point.... (2)

bobbied (2522392) | about 3 months ago | (#46868883)

Transit time + cosmic radiation = certain death

Special relativity doesn't help..

We don't need a response! (1)

TrollstonButterbeans (2914995) | about 3 months ago | (#46864761)

We just give them a high intensity focused radio broadcast of "Big Bang Theory" or "The Office" and wait for them to become hooked.

Like Futurama aliens getting hooked on "Single Female Lawyer".

The rest handles itself. Two way communication is highly overrated anyway!

Re:We don't need a response! (2)

CarsonChittom (2025388) | about 3 months ago | (#46864805)

We just give them a high intensity focused radio broadcast of "Big Bang Theory" or "The Office" and wait for them to become hooked.

Like Futurama aliens getting hooked on "Single Female Lawyer".

Great plan, except that it ends with us getting stuck with Richard Nixon's head in a robot body as president.

Re:Distance and Radiation make it a moot point.... (2)

mark-t (151149) | about 3 months ago | (#46865001)

You don't have to necessarily go faster that the speed of light... just a significant fraction of it. Travelling at 99% of the speed of light, for example, it might take more than 500 actual years to get to a planet 500 light years away, but in that time, you will have only aged a few years yourself.

Re:Distance and Radiation make it a moot point.... (1)

Camael (1048726) | about 3 months ago | (#46865277)

We'd be better off trying to catch their attention by doing the cosmic equivalent of yelling (i.e. sending strong radio pulses) at them. But it's going to be like trying to get the attention of a rock fan in the mosh pit from the back row in the stadium using your cupped hands.

You're assuming that they do not have access to better technology, science and knowledge which will enable them to do just that. I wouldn't take that bet.

Re:Distance and Radiation make it a moot point.... (2)

bobbied (2522392) | about 3 months ago | (#46868155)

I wouldn't take that bet.

Oh I would in a second.... The rules of physics don't change despite our imaginations or wishes to the contrary. Some things are easy, some just possible but hard, others simply are not going to happen.

In order to establish communication over distances measured in "light years" it is going to take some serious coordination or incredibly lucky circumstances. The SETI projects results pretty much proves that. (Or does it prove life is unique to this solar system? Naw, but it's evidence of that.. )

Re:Distance and Radiation make it a moot point.... (2)

Antonovich (1354565) | about 3 months ago | (#46865727)

WE may well never get there. Because WE will be dead. However, the idea that "science is almost finished" is as old as the hills, and it was as silly back then as it is now. Sure, it may be that humans, or at least Homo Sapiens Sapiens, never leave the solar system - who knows. But it is just ridiculous to suggest that we know everything about manipulating energy and space-time that there is to know or that there is any certainty whatsoever on what we will know tomorrow. Future generations may well be visiting the stars - you know about as much about it anyone else alive today, not much.

Re:Distance and Radiation make it a moot point.... (1)

bobbied (2522392) | about 3 months ago | (#46868031)

I don't think we will break the speed of light barrier, assuming Relativity doesn't prove to be an approximation like Newtonian physics turned out to be. All indications are the special relativity is here to stay.

Re:Distance and Radiation make it a moot point.... (1)

cyberchondriac (456626) | about 3 months ago | (#46868765)

Agreed. I also keep a small amount of skepticism alive in the theoretical sciences and cosmology, in the back of my head.
When the knowledge of the natural sciences can be used in the applied sciences, you know you have it right; but on the fringe of the natural sciences, there should be a little wiggle room. Example, imagine our embarrassment if it turns out the "standard candle" is somehow not truly standard after all; our entire estimation of the size and age of the universe is based on them. A revision of that one accepted scientific fact would change everything.

Re:Distance and Radiation make it a moot point.... (1)

Sockatume (732728) | about 3 months ago | (#46866197)

"Pretty much useless"? Do you have any idea how much we would learn about biology and the origins of life?

Re:Distance and Radiation make it a moot point.... (1)

bobbied (2522392) | about 3 months ago | (#46867823)

"Pretty much useless"? Do you have any idea how much we would learn about biology and the origins of life?

How? By having Morse code conversations with somebody when it takes 20 years get an answer to your question? Heck, it's going to take a career just to come up with valid questions... By then, the tinfoil hats will be claiming we didn't really hear anything, just like they don't think we went to the moon..

I'll concede your point, but I think it is of less value than you might think. My point really is, you will never be able to go there, so look if you are interested, just don't start making plans to visit. Heck, Mars is about as far as we will personally be able to go...

Lessons from Mars (4, Interesting)

Tablizer (95088) | about 3 months ago | (#46864519)

I don't think we could know up front what good life indicators are. Basically we see if anything looks odd or promising, form theories, and investigate more to strengthen or falsify such theories with new data and tests.

Mars' goofy and teasing soil and rock chemistry* should have taught us that searching for life is likely a long and winding road (barring a direct landing party with a big lab).

* This includes seasonal changes that looked like vegetation seasons to early telescopes (turned out to be seasonal dust patterns), Viking's "positive" results, the "magnetic worm" meteorite, methane detection, etc. Bill Clinton even jumped the gun with a "life!" press release.

Your Right! Except ... (1)

TrollstonButterbeans (2914995) | about 3 months ago | (#46864819)

Well --- we kinda know what the bad for life indicators ARE!

1) Tidally locked gas giant with orbit of star = 3 days = sucks.
2) Shitty ice planet 15 AU from star = sucks.
3) Super Earth orbiting Pulsar and Blackhole Pulsar = Sucks
4) Hot Planet 318 the size of Jupiter = Sucks

Etc.

I think we know the definition of sucks = most of the ones we've found so far since our current methods tend to find the gigantic ones, so we certainly know what NOT to look for!!!

Re:Your Right! Except ... (1)

Riceballsan (816702) | about 3 months ago | (#46864963)

Well where I'd have to disagree, is that we know what sucks... We know what sucks for life, that evolved in the conditions of earth. We can't even imagine what life outside of our conditions are, assuming it is possible. Sometimes I think assuming that the nearest life, is most certainly going to be needing a water ritch atmosphere with oxygen hydrogen and CO2 in the atmosphere, is similar to coming to the conclusion that if we find inteligent life similar to us, we should expect them to speak chinese, because that is what the majority of inteligent life capable of complex communication in which we are familair with speaks

Re:Your Right! Except ... (2)

TrollstonButterbeans (2914995) | about 3 months ago | (#46865037)

Well, you probably agree that life is likely to be made of molecules, right?

If you agree that life is made of molecules, then you need to have an environment that can form complex molecules and that it needs to do it during a period of a several billion years.

1) A boiling planet isn't going to form complex molecules the same way plasma doesn't form complex molecules (plasma = too hot to keep electrons).
2) A 3-degrees above absolute zero planet isn't going to form complex molecules in a trillion years because super cold makes everything into a solid that would react very, very slowly at best.
3) The star system better not emit intense bursts of energy 15-times per second, like a pulsar that emit high intensity radiation like xrays that knock apart chemical bonds and rip molecules apart.

So sure, maybe there is life around that is unusual compared to ours, but if it is made of molecules, we sure know what doesn't support stable evolution of chemical complexity in a reasonable period of time (several trillions years for a cold planet to facilitate reactions means everything in the entire universe except some small red dwarfs will have long died out).

Re:Your Right! Except ... (1)

AK Marc (707885) | about 3 months ago | (#46865237)

You didn't exclude Jupiter or Saturn in your list of issues. So should we expect to find some giant gas-bags on Jupiter eventually?

Re:Your Right! Except ... (1)

Tablizer (95088) | about 3 months ago | (#46865127)

But you are ruling out Hortas, dude

Re:Your Right! Except ... (1)

cyberchondriac (456626) | about 3 months ago | (#46868829)

Hortas are the children of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. They just have smaller meatballs.

statistics (5, Insightful)

Charliemopps (1157495) | about 3 months ago | (#46864579)

And if we find 3 planets with the signature in the same system? Or we find 100 systems with the signature? How likely is the planet/moon signature? It seems that, it may be proof enough if we find it in the right way.

Re:statistics (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#46866281)

Moon signature will have an oscillating or rotating pattern. A planet itself should not exhibit this (apart from how much of the lit surface we see, but this doesn't change that often). Besides there could be more than one kind of signature we can look for.

Oh noes (0)

Alejandro Roberto Gonzaga (3634469) | about 3 months ago | (#46864593)

Science made a mistake? Since when is that supposed to happen? Lololol

Epic failsauce! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#46864679)

Fail troll is FAIL

a better indicator suggestion (1)

Tablizer (95088) | about 3 months ago | (#46864665)

A strong indicator of life would be continents that spell out "Go Home Yankee!" (Or "Go Home Yankees" if occupied by Red Sox fans.)

Re:a better indicator suggestion (1)

Draugo (1674528) | about 3 months ago | (#46865701)

Hey, they might be watching us from 2000 years ago, the continents would read "Romans go home" instead.

like any of this exoplanet crap ever mattered (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#46864701)

These planets are so far away from Earth, the only way humans would get to them would be through Oculus Rift. Some people believe humans will figure out faster than light travel, but this is a fantasy. Human beings can't even figure out how they can stop burning their planet for energy.

Re:like any of this exoplanet crap ever mattered (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#46865495)

lol @ the space nutters amirite? XD

Re:like any of this exoplanet crap ever mattered (1)

camperdave (969942) | about 3 months ago | (#46865621)

Exoplanets are just the next logical step in the indoctrination program. Like the movie says "A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky dangerous animals and you know it." So, how do you introduce extraterrestrial intelligence to a planet without inducing massive culture shock? By boiling the frog, that's how. In the media, aliens have gone from impossible to bug-eyed-monsters to some-good/some-bad. They've also transitioned from coming from Mars or Venus to extrasolar planets.

Now that the concept of exoplanets is taking root in our mass consciousness, the idea of habitable exoplanets is being planted. We are being taken from extraterrestrial life is impossible, to improbable, to possible. Look for this trend to go from possible to likely to the point where a "hey, we may have found something" announcement is going to be met with an "about bloody time" response. In the mean time, we'll get more SETI wow-events, and physics breakthroughs.

Any Sufficiently Advanced Tech Still Fallible (5, Insightful)

bughunter (10093) | about 3 months ago | (#46864735)

So let's say you're an advanced interstellar civilization looking about for other worlds with life for trade and/or colonization. You have system spanning optics capable of resolving individual planetary systems and resolving the atmospheric spectra thereof. And you find a small yellow star with 8 or 9 planets, including a couple of respectable gas giants and three rocky planets in the habitable zone. Two of those rocky planets clearly have stale atmospheres that have long ago achieved chemical steady state. But the third has an interesting mix of O2, CO2 and CH4, along with multiple other hydrocarbons, all apparently far from a stable state.

But alas, that planet has a HUGE moon... a well-known explanation for the spectra, and the cause of many, many failed planetary exploration missions.

The investment bureacrats HATE uncertainty. If you take a risk and it fails, it will cost your entire clan their wealth and status. You instead decide to commit your finite resources to explore planets with more exploitable natural resources than humongous gas giants and small rocky planets deep within the stellar gravity well.

Simple (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#46864885)

We tell the Corporations any planet with interesting chemistry contains Unobtanium.

Re:Simple (1)

camperdave (969942) | about 3 months ago | (#46865647)

We tell the Corporations any planet with interesting chemistry contains Unobtanium.

They won't go after unobtanium. Monopolium, though...

Re:Any Sufficiently Advanced Tech Still Fallible (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#46865295)

If you were an advanced civilisation looking for such things.... it kinda says to me that you have a much more advanced ways of finding out.

Or... you know, getting there.

Re:Any Sufficiently Advanced Tech Still Fallible (1)

bughunter (10093) | about 3 months ago | (#46869235)

Read moar Vernor Vinge, less Iain M. Banks.

(Not that The Culture novels aren't a fun read...)

Re:Any Sufficiently Advanced Tech Still Fallible (1)

TuringTest (533084) | about 3 months ago | (#46866083)

you find a small yellow star with 8 or 9 planets

I see what you did there

Oh noes (0)

Alejandro Roberto Gonzaga (3634469) | about 3 months ago | (#46864787)

Science makes a mistake? Who knew?

We're alone or we're not ... (1)

Kittenman (971447) | about 3 months ago | (#46864827)

Can't remember who said it, but someone once said, on looking up at the stars "A sorry spectacle: if they be inhabited, what a scope for misery and folly. If they be uninhabited, what a waste of space".

Whoever it was, was a pessimist.

Here's your Obama! (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#46864853)

Koran thumping thug! [cnsnews.com]

One thing the writers missed (2)

techno-vampire (666512) | about 3 months ago | (#46864863)

This idea would only work if either the planet's moon was right in front of it from out point of view, just going behind it or just coming out from behind. That means that even if the orbit was oriented just right, we'd only get the filtering effect intermittently. Of course, it's possible that the planet's orbit is such that we only see it at just the right time, but that's pilling one unlikely coincidence on top of another.

Re:One thing the writers missed (1)

Ken_g6 (775014) | about 3 months ago | (#46865075)

This idea would only work if either the planet's moon was right in front of it from out point of view, just going behind it or just coming out from behind.

Well...yes, and no. I'll start with the no: The idea is that if the planet and moon are both in front of the star at the same time, no matter how they're aligned, the spectrum will look like it's being filtered through their combined atmospheres. They're just so far away that everything blurs together.

But it does seem like there should be ways to tease them apart. If the planet and moon are widely separated, there should be a brief period when only one atmosphere is filtered at the beginning of the transit and again at the end. This may be too brief for current technology to detect. It could also be mistaken if the planet is really a single planet that is somehow highly asymmetrical. (Perhaps something evaporates by day and condenses by night?)

The other thing that comes to mind is that a moon orbiting a planet will likely have to move fast. Astronomers are good at calculating speeds, especially relative speeds, with redshifts. They've measured the very slow motion of stars as large planets orbit them. So if they detect that the signatures of the two gases have significantly different redshifts, they can conclude that one gas is on a planet while another is on a moon. This doesn't eliminate all false positives - the planet and moon could be close together, and thus not moving much toward or away from Earth, when the transit happens. But multiple transits are likely to have different alignments, unless either the moon's orbital period is synchronized to the planet's, or the planet and moon orbit in a plane perpendicular to our line of sight. Both of these are not impossible, but are unlikely. An asymmetrical planet with a high rotational velocity could also produce a false negative, but this is also unlikely.

I hope they are right. (3, Funny)

funwithBSD (245349) | about 3 months ago | (#46864891)

Embarrassing if alien life was checking Slashdot. The editors would convince them there is no intelligent life on Earth.

"of of" indeed.

Occams Razor (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#46865031)

Seems like a bit of a stretch... if we discover a world, and if that world has an atmosphere and if that atmosphere has one of the chemical compounds associated with life and if that world has a moon and if that moon has an atmosphere and if that atmosphere happens to have an equivalent/opposite chemical compound associated with life and if those two bodies happen to line up so we can sample both atmospheres at the same time, THEN we might falsely conclude there is evidence for life.

Seems like our current situation might be much more common...a world with life and a moon devoid of any atmosphere....

Re:Occams Razor (1)

Suomi-Poika (453539) | about 3 months ago | (#46865605)

Yep. If we ever find some chemical traces of life I bet we will not limit the sampling for one time only. A moon disturbance will be detected within days of the observation because the spectra will show significant changes when the moon changes its orbital position to the planet. TFA gives a bad feeling, do the "scientists" have some other agenda behind them?

Re:Occams Razor (1)

amaurea (2900163) | about 3 months ago | (#46866287)

That's not what the article is saying. It's saying that atmospheres that contain a non-equilibrium mix of chemicals that would under normal conditions react and turn into something else, are thougt to be a strong indication of the presence of life, since some non-trivial process is needed to maintain that non-equilibrium. Basically one would say "Hey, isn't it really weird that this planet has both X and Y in its atmosphere at the same time, even though those should react and form Z on a time-scale of a few hunderd thousand years? Some sort of exotic process must be continually producing X and Y to maintain this situation, or we wouldn't observe it." But as it points out, you could have perfectly balanced atmospheres containing each of those chemicals separately, so if the planet has compound X in its atmosphere, and it has a moon with compund Y in its atmosphere, then due to our limited resolution, we will only observe a compound object which appears to have both X and Y in its atmosphere at the same time, making it seem to be out of equilibrium.

The alignment of the two objects does not requrie a huge coincidence if one is the moon of the other. Then they could always be close enough that they both occupy a single pixel in the image. No equivalent/opposite cancellation stuff is going on here.

Re:Occams Razor (1)

Gavagai80 (1275204) | about 3 months ago | (#46866509)

Doesn't that have to be a pretty big moon to have a measurable atmosphere, and isn't that likely to be very rare for terrestrial planets? Even Earth's moon seems abnormally large for a terrestrial planet, far bigger than any others known.

Barren Moon (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#46865151)

Our moon itself is barren yet we are so close ... I still don't understand.

Misdirection ... (1)

PPH (736903) | about 3 months ago | (#46865201)

... by alien agents sent here to keep their planet's existance a secret.

"These are not the spectral signatures you are looking for."

planets, stars , life (1)

the_Bionic_lemming (446569) | about 3 months ago | (#46865585)

The thing that bugs me about all these claims of planets and star wobble and theories on how to predict life and all are all based on the latest iteration of conjecture.

The light being examined is really, REALLY ancient. There's no (as far as I can tell) any leeway given to what may be between the star and us - like dust, or any other thing like dark matter (which is a theory) between us and the exoplanet - Honestly?

To me all this planet discovery is about as verifiable as the canals of mars were when I was a kid.

A star "wobbles" after 15 million years of the light traveling to where we can observe it - and It's as definable as the canals of mars were 40 years ago?

Really? I can't say that the people declaring plants and life are wrong - but then again, science about the near planets is woefully lacking.

How can we definitively say that life exists light years away when we're fucking clueless about what is going on under the surface of Europa?

Re:planets, stars , life (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#46865925)

How can we definitively say that life exists light years away when we're fucking clueless about what is going on under the surface of Europa?

How can we definitively say that life exists when we have yet to properly define it.

Re:planets, stars , life (1)

wonkey_monkey (2592601) | about 3 months ago | (#46866043)

The light being examined is really, REALLY ancient.

Light doesn't rust.

There's no (as far as I can tell) any leeway given to what may be between the star and us

I think it's safe to assume that if you've thought of this problem, the guys who've spent their entire lives devoted to the science of astronomy have already done so as well.

A star "wobbles" after 15 million years of the light traveling to where we can observe it - and It's as definable as the canals of mars were 40 years ago?

Nice bit of out-of-the-ass number pulling. The most distant extrasolar planet so far discovered is about 20,000 l.y. away, while the first to be discovered was only 50 l.y. away.

What does "definable" mean? Is there a standard measure of "definability"? How did you come to equate the "definability" of exoplanets with the "definability" of Martian canals?

If you've got a better explanation for stellar wobble (which is measured not by noting changes in position, but by Doppler shifts in the frequency of light from the star, a very accurate technique, and, as far as I'm aware, with no other known possible cause), astronomers would love to hear it.

It took about 25 years for the notion of Martian canals to fall out of favour, at a time when communication and advancements in technology were far slower than today. The notion of stellar wobble as a means of identifying planets have been around for more than twice that amount of time, and so far no-one's come up with a better explanation for why all of these stars would regularly wobble.

Non-paywalled version (1)

amaurea (2900163) | about 3 months ago | (#46866245)

Here is a non-paywalled version [arxiv.org] (any time you see a paywalled astronomy article, you can always find a free version on arxiv.org).

I've only skimmed the article, but I did not see any mention of doppler shifts in it. I would imagine that a planet+moon system would exhibit a time-dependent doppler shift of the moon atmosphere relative to the planet atmosphere, which would make it possible to disentangle the two. However, for an Earth-Moon situation, with a relative velocity of 1 km/s, the doppler shift will only be lambda/(delta lambda) of about 3e5, which is much smaller than the spectral resolution they are assuming (1600), so perhaps it doesn't work.

Re:Non-paywalled version (1)

DrProton (79239) | about 3 months ago | (#46868479)

Any astronomers analyzing the signal can detect time-dependent variations in intensity. This effect complicates the analysis a bit, but it won't fool a scientist.
Load More Comments
Slashdot Account

Need an Account?

Forgot your password?

Don't worry, we never post anything without your permission.

Submission Text Formatting Tips

We support a small subset of HTML, namely these tags:

  • b
  • i
  • p
  • br
  • a
  • ol
  • ul
  • li
  • dl
  • dt
  • dd
  • em
  • strong
  • tt
  • blockquote
  • div
  • quote
  • ecode

"ecode" can be used for code snippets, for example:

<ecode>    while(1) { do_something(); } </ecode>
Create a Slashdot Account

Loading...