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Three Neptune-sized Planets Found Nearby 337

Posted by CowboyNeal
from the cosmic-rodeo dept.
WillAffleckUW writes "CNN reports the discovery of three Neptune-sized planets found in orbit around a sun 41 light years away. The star they orbit is similar to our Sun, and the planetary distribution is probably similar to our Solar System. Recent observations by NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope last year revealed that HD 69830 also hosts an asteroid belt, making it the only other sun-like star known to have one. No word on if they have habitable moons, or monoliths yet."
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Three Neptune-sized Planets Found Nearby

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  • by SeanTobin (138474) * <byrdhuntr@nOSpaM.hotmail.com> on Thursday May 18, 2006 @07:56PM (#15362010)
    For those of you not immediately familiar with exactly what a Neptune-sized object is, it is about 12.645679 sextillion Volkswagens (go ahead, look it up. I have time). Now, as to why they would categorize an object that is 41 light-years away as 'nearby' is another question.

    (Go ahead, tell me the tale of how immensely huge the universe is and how 41 light-years away can only be described as nearby. Then tell me you won't mind helping me move if it's 'nearby')
  • "Nothing for you to see here. Please move along" acquires an odd meaning in a story about the discovery of new planets.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 18, 2006 @08:03PM (#15362049)
    I'd be happier if it were three planets the size of Uranus.

    ba-dum-cha. Thank you, thank you, I'll be here all week.

  • ...And by nearby, we mean 41 light years away.
    • Re:Nearby (Score:2, Funny)

      by CrazyDuke (529195)
      It is if you consider it is theoretically possible to get there within one's lifetime. Heck, if we sent a probe with our current tech which has a top speed of about 1/3c (assuming I remember correctly), it could get there in about 124 years. (It takes ~6 months to get up to top speed with an ion drive if I remember correctly. Yes, I know that's not quite right because it does travel at some speed while accelerating, there are galactic orbit considerations, depends on the mass of the probe/output of the
      • Which is all well and good, until you realize that the pictures of the aliens breaking the shit out of your probe were taken 41 years ago, and that your 41-further-years-delayed response isn't going to help much unless those are the slowest aliens in the universe. I do hope that we've mastered travelling via wormhole in the next 82 years so you can just use your intergalactic flyswatter when you get that gut feeling that something's going wrong.
  • Neighbors? (Score:4, Funny)

    by JehCt (879940) * on Thursday May 18, 2006 @08:05PM (#15362058) Homepage Journal

    There could be sentient being living there. Odds are 50/50 they have more advanced technology than we do. If they can travel at near light speed, they could arrive here 82+ years after we started beaming massive amounts of radio and tv into space, which would be soon. Maybe we should prepare a "reception" for them or something.

    It's only a matter of time until somebody picks up our signals and comes to crash the party.

    • It's only a matter of time until somebody picks up our signals and comes to crash the party.

      I'll bring the chips.

      Let's hope they use radio and not telepathy though. Otherwise, I'm not touching the guacamole.
    • Re:Neighbors? (Score:3, Interesting)

      by PieSquared (867490)
      I'm curious how you came to the conclution the odds of a more advanced society is only 50-50.

      There are two things involved in this: one, do they have the ability to become more advanced (or are they limited by intelligence to less then current levels), and two: how long would an advanced civilization survive?

      If you assume that an advanced society cabable of intersteller transport and teraforming could survive indefinatly (or at least more then 100k years past space travel), there is a far greater chan
      • Naw, too complicated. They're either more advanced or less. Two choices - 50/50.
      • Another interesting question: is it possible to design artificial intelegence smarter then yourself? If so, said intelegence could then create an intelegence greater then themselves ad infintium, meaning that relitive intelegence of the original species is irrelivent.

        That's what we call singularity [wikipedia.org] my friend.

    • Actually, the odds aren't 50/50. There are three possible outcomes: they are more advanced, the same level of advancement, and less advanced.

      I'm thinking that the chance of them having the same level of advancement is very small, so I'd say it's more of 49.25/.5/49.25 .
    • after we started beaming massive amounts of radio and tv into space

      What with dispersion, atmospheric absorption, and general background interference from the sun and other far more powerful sources of radio waves, I reckon aliens would have a hard time picking up TV stations from mars, never mind light years away. I mean in real terms, what are the odds that anything except a very, very powerful radio telescope pointed directly towards earth and listening on the correct wavelengths is going to pick up a

      • I reckon aliens would have a hard time picking up TV stations from mars, never mind light years away.

        Assume that the aliens have a radio telescope that is comparable to the one at Arecibo [nasa.gov]. I don't have numbers on its sensitivity after recent upgrades [oemagazine.com], but a ball-park figure I have heard is that it can pick up a cell phone transmission within a sizable part of the solar system near earth.

        A rough calculation reveals that perhaps a 10^14 W source at the centre of our galaxy (2.2 x 10^4 light-years away) could
        • A rough calculation reveals that perhaps a 10^14 W source at the centre of our galaxy (2.2 x 10^4 light-years away) could be detected by Arecibo.

          Sorry, typo: make that 10^15 W. And a tad more wouldn't hurt. The rest of my comment stands.
    • Re:Neighbors? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by M0b1u5 (569472) on Thursday May 18, 2006 @10:27PM (#15362672) Homepage
      I agree that aliens finding US, by way of travelling through our radiosphere is far more likely than us finding the aliens, and I even expect that to happen well before my hundredth birthday, in 2065. It's easy to see why this is likely: plot a sphere 150 light years in radius against the size of the milky way galaxy, and you will see it is a non-trivial portion of the entire thing. (i.e. our radiosphere is actually easily visible when viewing the entire galaxy.)

      However, I can not for the life of me figure out why you say the chances are 50/50 of them being more advanced than us.

      I think that it is almost impossible any radio-using aliens exist within a hundred light years of Earth - as SETI would already have picked up those signals.

      So, given it is 41 light years away - it is easy to say that no inteliigent life forms which use radio waves exist there.

      Of course, us looking for radio waves might be like Sioux Indians trying to intercept telegrapgh signals by looking for smoke signals on the horizon...

      It's likely that no self respecting civilisation would ever THINK about using the electromagnetic spectrum to communicate with, and it seems likely (to me at least) that all emerging civilisations will go through an electromagnetic "phase" until they find gravity waves, or FTL comms. This being the case, we'll never intercept ANY radio waves at all from aliens.

      Mostly because, if we lean towards Drake, then the number of space-faring civilisations in our galaxy is at best, 40, and at worst 1 (That's if you actually DO count Earth as "civilised"!). If it's one, the answer is easy - if it's 40, then the likelyhood of us finding them is exceedingly low. 40 civilisations spread randomly through the "blue donut" of habitable areas in our galaxy would mean being separated by many many hundreds (and probably thousands) of light years - I haven't done the math.

      Drake boils down to "Number of alien space-faring civilisations in galaxy = number of years those civilisations last". Ours has lasted 40 years... and that's giving us a HUGE benefit-of-the-doubt.

      Anyway, the chances of any other civilisation being more advanced than us (if we believe Drake) is almost zero. If he is correct, then WE are the most advanced race, and are close to self destruction, while the others still attempt space travel.

      The longer we survive, the more likely it becomes, that we will discover other races, and the longer we survive, the more likely it is that we will encounter them at levels BELOW where we are today. That's if we find THEM.

      Of course, I'm convinced that THEY will find US, and they'll be far more advanced than us. The only question is - when?
  • Nothing beats +2 minerals, +2 nutrients, and +2 energy without having to waste time with formers.

    Also good for quick healing of troops. (But don't overdo it!)
  • by no reason to be here (218628) on Thursday May 18, 2006 @08:12PM (#15362094) Homepage
    Nearby, like many words, is not an absolute term. It is relative to the scale of the things involved. No, 41 lightyears is not nearby if you're talking about the distance from your house to the nearest gas station, but when you are talking about interstellar distances, 41 lightyears is much more near our sun (i.e., nearby) than say a star on the opposite side of the Milky Way.

    Think of it like this. We'll use another word whose meaning is varaible in a similar way: close. A scafolding platform collapses and a pile of bricks comes within one foot of crashing down on you. You might say, "Wow! that was close." You throw a pitch in a ball game and you throw wide one foot left of the strike zone. No one would call that close. You'd need to be in a range of, say, a centimeter from the plate for a pitch to be called close.
  • Close enough (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Original Replica (908688) on Thursday May 18, 2006 @08:13PM (#15362103) Journal
    We might not have the technology to travel there physically in my lifetime (or lifespan, whatever) but that should be close enough to warrant some refocusing of more than a few SETI dishes. And for the longer term maybe a satelite designed to last 500 years to send there. This might be a project worth investing in even though we will be long gone before it would achieve fruition.
  • by Sentri (910293)
    welcome our new-neptunian overlords
    • Actually, they're not Neptunian. They are Neptunian-sized overlords. Mistakes such as that will cause you to be one of the first against the wall when our Neptunian-sized overlords take over.

      I will welcome that, for using such an old joke. :^)
  • But ... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Micah (278) on Thursday May 18, 2006 @08:22PM (#15362142) Homepage Journal
    Yeah, some might consider this a possible life site. But how can we know the planets are indeed distributed as they are in our Solar System, with a rocky planet with the right elements located in zone around the star that can support liquid water for billions of years?

    Also, three Neptune sized planets probably would not protect such a terrestrial world against frequent life-exterminating collisions as our Jupiter and Saturn (and to a lesser extent Uranus and Neptune) have done. Neptune is no where near Jupiter's size, and Jupiter has almost certainly saved us from death.
    • No extinction wiped out ALL life.
      • Yeah, but if a major (and by major I'm talking impact of a reasonably large sized asteroid) extinction happened 5,000 years ago, would we be here right now?
    • Yeah, some might consider this a possible life site. But how can we know the planets are indeed distributed as they are in our Solar System, with a rocky planet with the right elements located in zone around the star that can support liquid water for billions of years?

      AFAIK, the formation of planets is not understood very well yet. So I think it is not a bad way to assume that, if many parameters for a star system match, that they may also be similar in many other regards.

      This is what one would do to model
  • I'm Excited... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Quaoar (614366) on Thursday May 18, 2006 @08:39PM (#15362207)
    I'm really impressed by the speed of progress here. I'm hoping that in ~30 years, we'll actually be able to SEE these planets. That's really exciting!
  • by DrBuzzo (913503) on Thursday May 18, 2006 @08:45PM (#15362226) Homepage
    Okay.. so this system seems like it is the best we've found (yet) as far as being a candidate for life. Great.... At 41 light years, if there any intelegent beings there (and that's a big if), they already know about world war II and they're just finishing digesting the McCarthy Hearings and the development of the H-Bomb. This can't be good...
  • by rewinn (647614) on Thursday May 18, 2006 @09:21PM (#15362402) Homepage

    From the Article:The newly discovered planets have masses of about 10, 12 and 18 times that of Earth and they zip around the star in rapid orbits of about 9, 32 and 197 days, respectively. Based on their distances from the star, two inner worlds nearest the star are rocky planets similar to Mercury, the scientists suspect.

    The significance of the distinction is that rocky planets may be much more likely to harbor earth-like life than are gas giants. Of course, being so close to their home sun that they have a 9 or 32-earth day year, it seems likely that the "earth-like" life may be mere bacteria living in subsurface water [sciencenews.org], rather than human-like meat-bags getting suntans on the surface.

  • by R3d M3rcury (871886) on Thursday May 18, 2006 @09:24PM (#15362414) Journal
    The setup is similar to our own solar system in many ways: The outermost planet is located just within the star's habitable zone, where temperatures are moderate enough for liquid water to form
    Okay, I'm missing this. How is this like our solar system?

    Assuming we can spot Neptune sized planets, if we were looking at our Solar System, we would see four planets well outside the "habitable" zone. Here we see three big rocky planets where only one is "just inside" the habitable zone--and I rashly assume it's just within the too-hot side (the outermost planet has a year of 197 days, compared to Venus's 224).

    How is this "similar"? Seems pretty different to me...
  • by sdfad1 (880883) on Thursday May 18, 2006 @10:13PM (#15362619) Homepage Journal

    It wasn't that long ago (err, wow, 10 years, maybe that's long) that the first extrasolar planet was discovered. I still remember that news announcement I watched on TV...

    Anyway, since the discovery of those 3 planets, another planet has been found. Check out the exoplanet encyclopedia [exoplanet.eu] (my favourite exoplanets site). It has a catalog with all the data of those planets, some with uncertainty factors. Discovery method, size, catalogue number, the whole lot. Try chucking all that into a spread-sheet, and plot some scatter graphs. Should be a lotta fun. The last time I tried this, it was a bit problematic because the masses are not really known (for planets discovered using spectral shifts), but are merely minimum (maximum?) limits only. But still, an order of magnitude plot could be fun.

    Anyway, the 3 planets are already in the catalogue under HD 69830 [exoplanet.eu]. Don't forget to check out this one [exoplanet.eu] as well. Exciting times. I look forward to 200 planets!

  • by constantnormal (512494) on Thursday May 18, 2006 @10:44PM (#15362768)
    A similar type sun, an asteroid belt, and three Neptune-sized planets.

    Assuming that Bode's Law [wikipedia.org] applies there, it's a reasonable assumption that a planet resides within the habitable zone [nasa.gov] around that star.

    However, unless it has through some miracle of coincidence a large moon to provide the environment of constant change via tides and crustal flexing, I doubt that Darwinian processes would have had the time to produce an ecosphere like ours. Maybe something along the lines of the Paleozoic era might be possible.

    But then, with an asteroid belt comes catastrophic encounters, and maybe that would be the larger driving influence for Darwinian change.

    But in any case, I doubt that the coincidence would be strong enough to extend to a similarity of geography that would support an ecological mechanism similar to ours, that regulates climate change between two quasi-stable regimes [scotese.com].

    Quite possibly, once life developed on such a world it might quickly drive it into a greenhouse state like Venus, without the mechanisms that switch us between greenhouse and icehouse that we have.

  • From reading the article, it seems the planets have semi-habitable climates, possible liquid water, that's interesting...

    Perhaps these planets contain intelligent life, advanced far beyond our own. Perhaps they have learned the better way of pacifism and build technologies directed toward bettering life rather than destroying it.

    If that's the case, I vote we conquer them, enslave their kind, take their technologies and patent them as our own, and propel ourselves toward a new age of luxury. It will serve
    • They sound pretty neutral.

      What makes a man turn neutral? Lust for gold? Power? Or were they just born with a heart full of neutrality?

  • by jdoeii (468503) on Friday May 19, 2006 @01:39AM (#15363498) Homepage

    Suppose one light year is 1 km. Then the tinyest speck of dust on the monitor is about 5 times bigger than Earth (1 micron), Sun is about half the size of the dot above i (0.1mm), distance from Earth to Sun is the length of the word "length" (1.5cm). The size of the Solar system (Pluto orbit) is about the size of your computer - 0.7 meter. The most distant objects in Oort cloud are probably within your room (a few meters). The nearest star - 4km away, like a gas station. The new planets are 41km away - the state border :-). Our Miky Way galaxy is a few times larger than Earth, maybe half way to the Moon. The nearest spiral galaxy is not too far - just 8 times more distant than Moon. The edge of the Universe (12 bln l.y.) is about the size of Sedna orbit.

    So, 41 light years is relatively near :-).

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