Follow Slashdot stories on Twitter

 



Forgot your password?
typodupeerror

Billions of Planets In Milky Way? 238

jeffsenter writes, "The Washington Post has the story: 'NASA scientists using the Hubble Space Telescope have discovered what they believe are 16 new planets deep in the Milky Way, leading them to conclude there are probably billions of planets spread throughout the galaxy.' What sets these potential planets apart is they are in the central bulge of the Milky Way where most stars are located. More planets in the galaxy means more chances for life." The 16 are planet candidates at this point, until verified by spectroscopic measurement of their parent stars' wobbles, which probably can't be done until the James Webb Space Telescope files in 2013.
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Billions of Planets In Milky Way?

Comments Filter:
  • Once again, Hubble comes in handy when crawling the sky... it would be great if they could keep it running until the next one gets up there, but I guess we'll have to make do with cruddy ground scopes for a while.
    • Working on it! (Score:5, Informative)

      by ThankfulJosh ( 867278 ) on Thursday October 05, 2006 @12:19PM (#16323053)
      I work for the Shuttle program. The current plan is to send up a Hubble repair mission. Can't say when, but it's definitely planned.
      • by OakDragon ( 885217 ) on Thursday October 05, 2006 @12:27PM (#16323201) Journal
        I work for the Shuttle program.

        Hey, can you snag me some of those NASA ash trays? Sweet!

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        I work for the Shuttle program

        The -2 from OT mods will be worth it for saying this: YOU ROCK.
      • by bhima ( 46039 )
        Well, What the fuck is the story with the hubble origins probe?
      • Well, that isn't exactly top-secret information is it?

        I was wodering though, considering how much technology has advanced in recent years, would we be able to launch a much better telescope, and would we have more bang for the buck?
        • Re:Working on it! (Score:4, Insightful)

          by OrangeTide ( 124937 ) on Thursday October 05, 2006 @03:29PM (#16326331) Homepage Journal
          I would hope that repairing the existing telescope would be cheaper than putting up a new one. And ideally I think we all would like multiple Hubble-class telescopes going at once. I wish there was some way to save the Hubble, maybe put it in a museum or something. So little space history has been preserved because it is not economical to do so.

          If we save the hubble, maybe 100 years from now they will have coated it with diamond-polymer and put it on the playground at the city museum for the kids to climb on.
    • Re:Good ol' hubble (Score:5, Interesting)

      by AsmCoder8088 ( 745645 ) on Thursday October 05, 2006 @12:29PM (#16323239)
      There are some advantages to ground-based scopes versus ones such as the Hubble. For instance, you can get a great deal more sensitivity on the ground than in space simply due to the fact that the aperture of the primary mirror can be made much larger for a ground scope than a space scope. The reason behind this is cost - it is far more expensive to put a large mirror in space than on the ground. However, since it is in space, the smaller mirror does have better resolution. So it is simply a trade-off between sensitivity and resolution. With greater sensitivity, you can pull in fainter objects, but with better resolution, you can differentiate more easily between distance objects.

      This is a great example of a ground-based telescope that could easily rival any space telescope:

      OWL Telescope [wikipedia.org]

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by erroneus ( 253617 )
        I think that's because space manufacturing hasn't been made a reality yet. I think once mirrors or even optical lenses are made in zero-gravity in a place where size isn't nearly so important, space-borne telescopes could well out-perform the earth-based.
        • by dgatwood ( 11270 )

          IANAOE (I am not an optics engineer), but it seems to me that you could create a large mirror in space without actually fabricating it at all. Use a large sheet of thin, ferrous foil that can be rolled up. Throw in some directed magnetic fields to create the shape. That way, the entire thing can be compressed into a fairly small space for launch, then rolled out once it gets into space.

          You could also, in theory, do a fairly portable lens by taking a liquid and misting the surface of this mirror. In th

          • by Rei ( 128717 )
            Foils crinkle. You need a near-perfect shape for your mirror. Also, instead of sending a large mirror, you want to send up some huge magnets? Seems kind of counterproductive.

            It is interesting, though, to think of the fact that a parabola will naturally form if you take a circle of very light material and apply a uniform force to every square inch of cross-sectional area (not every square inch of surface area -- that's a catenary). Also, a spinning fluid in a container under the influence of a uniform fo
            • Re:Good ol' hubble (Score:5, Interesting)

              by Pooua ( 265915 ) on Thursday October 05, 2006 @04:25PM (#16327191) Homepage
              Spinning liquids to form mirrors works on Earth because Earth's gravity acts perpendicular to the plane of spin. We would need some way of replicating those two forces in space. All the methods I know about would cost more than simply launching a solid mirror.

              A method of putting cheap mirrors into space that I proposed to my physics mentor a few decades ago is to use inflatable mirrors. He brushed off the idea at the time. Now, though, NASA has research on the general concept:

              NASA Tech: Parabolic Membrane-Thickness Variation for Inflatable Mirror [nasatech.com]

              A Google search for inflatable mirrors turns up many more results.
              • by dgatwood ( 11270 )

                Who said anything about spinning? I'm imagining a mister that moves around above a surface that is extremely cold and adds layer upon layer of ice until it is the correct thickness.

          • by arete ( 170676 )
            I could be wrong, but my impression is that it doesn't work that way; the near-total lack of pressure overcomes the freezing cold.

            More precisely: Even after your hypothetical water freezes, it will continue to "boil" (actually sublime) directly from solid to vapor without passing through liquid. It will do this until the vapor pressure around it gets to be a little higher - which will never be stable so basically your water will constantly evaporate. Of course, water is also heavy and heavy = precious in
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Ironsides ( 739422 )
        Ah, but the most kick ass telescope would be one located on the far side of the moon. No earth light to interefere and, to quote a book "This place has no atmosphere". With the 1/6th gravity, the mirrors could be much larger as well.
        • You really think a bit of light reflecting off the Earth is going to be more disruptive than 14 straight days of sunlight?

          And then there's the inconveniently thick slab of radio-wave-blocking rock between the telescope and the scientists who want to use it to look at things. I suppose they could always put some communication satellites into lunasynchronized orbit.

          • Don't be silly. The scientists don't have to stay on earth; build a Moon base on the far side and put the astronomers there, with the telescope.

            During the 14 days of sunlight, they can take a break.

            It's an idea, anyway. It'd probably make more sense to put a remote-controlled telescope in its own Solar orbit, facing away from the sun.
          • You really think a bit of light reflecting off the Earth is going to be more disruptive than 14 straight days of sunlight?

            I seem to recal that several ground based telescopes can work in daylight. Not as well, but they do. Eitherway, the 14 days of light would be worth it for the 14 days of near perfect darkness that would be experienced.

            And then there's the inconveniently thick slab of radio-wave-blocking rock between the telescope and the scientists who want to use it to look at things.

            Actually,
      • This is a great example of a ground-based telescope that could easily rival any space telescope: OWL Telescope
        Ha! Wait until I put huge rockets under that beast! Voila, instant huge space telescope with no rivals on ground!
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 05, 2006 @12:12PM (#16322873)
    Harbouring what form of life exactly.

    Common sense suggests that there are billions of planets in the galaxy, and that millions of them could harbour life, and that thousands of them have significant evolved life and a few have intelligent (tool using or above) life. That's just playing with numbers and likelihoods and the belief that we're not a one off.

    But this just shows that there are lots of large gas giants. Maybe there's life on their moons...
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      Until a few years ago we weren't sure that there were any other planets at all. Once astronomers figured out how to find these large planets, hundreds were discovered in short order. The implication is that planets are common and while we still can't detect earth-like planets, but it's certainly much easier to believe that they exist.
    • Harbouring what form of life exactly.

      Hydrogues! :-o

    • by exp(pi*sqrt(163)) ( 613870 ) on Thursday October 05, 2006 @01:01PM (#16323803) Journal
      How do you deduce, using common sense, that one in a thousand planets could harbor life?

      How do you deduce, using common sense, that one in a thousand planets that harbor life have 'significant life'? (Whatever that is.)

      How do you deduce, using common sense, that a few in a thousand planets with 'significant life' have 'intelligent' life?

      That's just playing with numbers and likelihoods
      Oh, right. You just made up some random stuff and then claimed it was suggested by common sense.
      • by dgatwood ( 11270 ) on Thursday October 05, 2006 @02:04PM (#16324813) Homepage Journal

        Assuming we don't kill ourselves before our sun fails catastrophically:

        • The viable lifespan of our sun: 9.2 billion years (main sequence)
        • The period during which Earth has had life: 3.8bn + 4.6bn = 8.4 billion years
        • Period of human existence: 2 million + 4.6bn ~= 4.6 billion years
        • Probability of intelligent life: ~50%

        What remains to be determined are:

        • Number of stars with rocky planets.
        • Average number of rocky planets per star with rocky planets.
        • Percentage of rocky planets within band where life is expected (currently speculated to be 0.958 AU +/- 0.023 AU out of about 40 AU to Pluto, so about 1/869.565217)
        • Number of rocky planets in this band with the proper chemical makeup for life to begin (presumed to be nearly all of them, but...)

        So from this, a good guess might be 1/1700 of the rocky planets out there are habitable. If our solar system is typical, we have 5 rocky planets, so there would be a (1 - (1699/1700)*(1699/1700)*(1699/1700)*(1699/1700)*(1 699/1700)) or chance of our solar system evolving any life at all, or about 0.29%. Multiply times the odds of a habitable planet having intelligent life at any given time (about 1/2), and we have about a 0.145% chance (only a little better than 1/1000) of finding intelligent life in a solar system with rocky planets.

        Nowhere near the 1 in a million long shot speculated, but this assumes that Earth is typical, which is not necessarily a valid assumption.

        • by exp(pi*sqrt(163)) ( 613870 ) on Thursday October 05, 2006 @02:26PM (#16325207) Journal
          Your logic is a little flawed. Britney Spears appeared on earth after 4.6 billion years of evolution around a star with a lifetime of 9.2 billion years. Therefore, by your logic, 50% of rocky worlds have, or have had, Britney Spears evolve on them.
        • by mcvos ( 645701 )
          • The period during which Earth has had life: 3.8bn + 4.6bn = 8.4 billion years
          • Period of human existence: 2 million + 4.6bn ~= 4.6 billion years
          • Probability of intelligent life: ~50%

          No, that just means this planet will have intelligent life for 50% of its existence. That says nothing whatsoever about the likelihood that intelligent life will evolve on any other planet. Not does it even mean that life will appear there at all.

          At the moment, we still have no clear idea of what causes life. Will it app

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          It appears to me that all of your quite precise estimates are made on the basis of a single data point: our solar system.

          So the confidence factor of these estimates is pretty low, with a sample size of one out of a population of planets (or stars with planets) in this galaxy that is a pretty large number (perhaps billions, but that's a guess).

          Also, given that we know exactly zero about the processes that operated to produce (or will hopefully produce within another Darwinian cycle or two) intelligent life o
      • by Sleepy ( 4551 )
        >>Common sense suggests that there are billions of planets in the galaxy

        >How do you deduce, using common sense, that one in a thousand planets could harbor life?

        The grandparent poster meant to say HYPOTHESIS or THEORY (the latter being the strict definition, since you can't PROVE such extrapolation of planet types -- not the way you can prove say 2+2=4). Everyone knew the earth was round LONG before it could be PROVEN.

        There are lots of planets and moons discovered that exhibit characteristics betwe
        • We've discovered life at the bottom of the ocean, deep in the antarctic, and even in water so hot that we previously expected to kill life by causing the cells to explode.

          So because earth lifeforms can survive at high temperatures, the existence of life on other planets is "most supportable theory given the current data". And I suppose that because someone has a Britney Spears CD that can srvive at a temperature of 110F, all planets with a temperature of 110F must be covered in Britney Spears CDs.

          Did I

      • 100% of the planets I've been to so far harbor intelligent life.
        There are billions of planets in the galaxy.
        Ergo, there are billions of planets in the galaxy that harbor intelligent life.
      • by bigpat ( 158134 )
        How do you deduce, using common sense, that one in a thousand planets could harbor life?

        1 in 8 planets harbor life, unless we have missed something. 2 in 8 if those microbes in the martian meteorite are to be believed. Thanks to the IAU that is a fact now, not just an extrapolation, since planets only exist in our solar system.

        Seriously though, if we do extrapolate from current observations then we should estimate the number of rocky planets in the galaxy and then estimate how many are around stars like o
        • We need bigger telescopes

          Like this [eso.org]. Not only would we be able to see earthlike planets - we'd be able to use spectrography to determine the composition of their atmospheres.

    • Jupiter sized planets are what we can see- there may be smaller ones closer to the stars. But you're right on "life in what form"- in the denser galactic center, Asimov's Nightfall Planet would be common, planets that have no night or only very rare eclipse nightfalls. The life on such planets would evolve to be used to daytime only.
    • 7 day orbits? (Score:4, Interesting)

      by iamlucky13 ( 795185 ) on Thursday October 05, 2006 @01:55PM (#16324665)
      The article said these findings were based on 7 days of observations, using the transit method. In this method, the planet passes in front of the star, causing a very small, but sudden and periodic drop in the brightness of the star. Presumably, they don't claim to have a candidate unless they see multiple dimming events. If so, the longest possible orbit they could have observed is 7 days, meaning the planets are extremely close to their stars. Even their moons would be inhospitable.

      However, as another poster pointed out, these systems may also harbor smaller planets in more favorable orbits. In fact, some researchers believe that smaller rocky worlds can only form with the assistance of disturbances created by the gas giants.

      In contrast, other researchers are skeptical that planets can form at all in the inner regions of the galaxy because of the high star density. Even if they did, they might not be able to harbor life because of all the radiation from said stars.

      As another poster pointed out, however, we don't necessarily know the limits of conditions that life may form. This is getting a rather fanciful, but perhaps high-temperature silicon-based rock monsters are real, like Season 4, episode 7 where Kirk fought the lava man with the Abe Lincoln avatar (just kidding, I made that up...or did I?).

      • Or a different planet passed by within the 7 day timeframe.

        Anyone feel like calculating how often a planet passes another one in our solar system?
    • The wobble method that they are using to detect these gas giants rely on the gravitational pull of the planet to affect the star. This means that the most readily detected planets will be the ones that produce a lot of wobble - gas giants close to their star especially. The fact that we're detecting so many in the beginnings of this science poses this question: are hot jupiters the overwhelming majority of planets out there? There is no reason to say this. We should wait until our methods of detection
    • by Strolls ( 641018 )
      Harbouring what form of life exactly.
      They're called "Dwellers". [iainbanks.net]

      Stroller.

    • Harbouring what form of life exactly.

      Probably the kind that would find us tastey...

    • by mcvos ( 645701 )

      But this just shows that there are lots of large gas giants. Maybe there's life on their moons...

      If I'm not mistaken (TFA isn't very clear on this, and it's an awful website anyway), these new planets are all extremely hot Jupiters, so there won't even be life on their moons.

      At least, that's what I wanted to reply. But a quick google showed that according to this [nationalgeographic.com], this [slashdot.org] and this [physorg.com], a hot Jupiter could actually mean that there are terrestrial planets in the same system.

      Ofcourse that's still an untes

    • It sounds extremely unlikely to me that we are such the only and ultimate instance of intelligent life in existence. There has to be others, some more intelligent than us.
  • ISR (Score:4, Funny)

    by Daemonstar ( 84116 ) on Thursday October 05, 2006 @12:15PM (#16322953)
    In Soviet Russia, space telescope looks at YOU!
  • by Wizzerd911 ( 1003980 ) on Thursday October 05, 2006 @12:15PM (#16322967)
    I think the best way to contact aliens and let them know we are here is to build a giant billboard about 10x bigger than the sun that says "Hey aliens, people live here" and park it right outside out solar system. That way when they're looking at us with their giant telescopes, they'd see it and know. I'm sure we could get pepsi to sponsor that billboard, they sponsor anything. As for us seeing other intelligent life, just watch for planets to spontaniously blow themselves up. I'm sure we'll almost do that a few times in the future looking at the past so logically some aliens have to do it.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by blueZhift ( 652272 )
      As for us seeing other intelligent life, just watch for planets to spontaniously blow themselves up.

      Sadly, that may not be a bad idea. So assuming that we do not ourselves generate this kind of signature, we may be able to see something in a decade or two. Looking for extraterrestrial nuclear detonations would probably make a fine grad school project!
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        Looking for extraterrestrial nuclear detonations would probably make a fine grad school project!

        Wouldn't that be kind of like listening for an ant fart 100 miles away when you're at a heavy metal concert?

        Lots of noise [wikipedia.org]

        Or were you being sarcastic?
      • by Mindwarp ( 15738 )
        <i>Looking for extraterrestrial nuclear detonations would probably make a fine grad school project!</i><br><br>GRB's (Gamma Ray Bursts) were first detected when U.S. satellites put into space to monitor the U.S.S.R. for nuclear detonations were pointed away from the Earth (they were testing the satellites detectors for false positives, and instead found gigantic gamma ray events coming from the edge of the observable universe.)
    • by Ruie ( 30480 )
      That way when they're looking at us with their giant telescopes, they'd see it and know. I'm sure we could get pepsi to sponsor that billboard, they sponsor anything.

      With that attitude, don't go asking why Earth is listed "see Pepsi" in next edition of Hitchhikers guide.

  • by GungaDan ( 195739 ) on Thursday October 05, 2006 @12:22PM (#16323099) Homepage
    Fuck my accountant. I'm getting an astronomer.

    • Re:16 -- billions (Score:4, Insightful)

      by iamlucky13 ( 795185 ) on Thursday October 05, 2006 @02:05PM (#16324825)
      Nice. But getting past the joke for anyone who may be confused:

      If you observe a field of 100 stars and find that 16 of them have planets, then it is not unreasonable to speculate on the extension that 16% or so of all stars have planets. Thus from a galaxy with 200 billion stars, billions of them may have planets.

      Furthermore, none of this precludes the possibility that more stars may have planets than don't.

      Unfortunately, however, Worldcom didn't really have more cash than their independent auditors found, but that's another story.
  • Let's see ... 200 to 400 billion stars in our galaxy. Gee, you'd only need 1 in 200 stars to have a planet for there to be billions of planets. That doesn't seem like a stretch considering how many binary stars there are (5-10%) that there might be other chunks of stuff floating around stars.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by mooingyak ( 720677 )
      Even lower -- 1 in 200 if every star has only one planet. If we go with an average of 5, then it's just 1 in 1000.
  • by davidwr ( 791652 ) on Thursday October 05, 2006 @12:26PM (#16323179) Homepage Journal
    Oh wait, that's the 1-AU-wide super-sized Snickers bar.
  • by Rhyth ( 1009697 ) on Thursday October 05, 2006 @12:26PM (#16323187)
    16 new planets deep in the Milky Way, leading them to conclude there are probably billions of planets spread throughout the galaxy
    Could this not have been inferred by the fact there are seven others in plain sight?
    • Yes, it can be inferred from that, but it cannot be proven the way scientists like to.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by kfg ( 145172 ) *
      Could this not have been inferred by the fact there are seven others in plain sight?

      Yes, yes it could. The inference even makes a perfectly dandy working hypothesis for testing.

      But test it; it might be wrong. I'd be surprised if it were, but the surprises are where the real science happens. Where you encounter things you did not expect and are forced to upgrade your models to account for them.

      It can even be infered that because one of the seven planets that is in plain sight has life that out of billions of
  • I'd like to know how they extrapolated the existence of billions of planets based on possibly detecting sixteen. Seems like a bit of a leap. Of course, I hope they're right, as the fraction of stars with planets would increase and this is one of the parameters in the Drake equation.
    • This is one of those things where just about anyone even mildly educated about how we think our solar systems formed would say, "Well, duh, planet formation seems pretty standard, so with hundreds of millions of stars out there, there should be billions of planets."

      As long as you assume that the circumstances that lead to the creation of our solar system were not particularly unusual or unique (arguably a reasonable assumption), then basic common sense points towards similar things happening for many of the
  • Thank you, Carl.

    "Cosmos" was a kickass show.
  • files for what, divorce, tax credits?
    • by Intron ( 870560 )
      Read the whole sentence. It won't be around until 2013, so clearly it filed for an extension!

      Oooh. That reminds me. Oct 15th is coming up.
  • It seems like they're waiting for lots of proof before we assume there are many other planets out there. Why not start with the assumption that our solar system is nothing special and that most stars have planets around them? I mean if you have to start with one assumption or the other why not assume this is common instead of assuming it's rare? Any scientific reason behind this sort of thinking? I can see the difference between PROVING there are many planets and predicting, but from what I've read bef
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      It's because you can't draw conclusions from a sample size of 1. Suppose that you've spent your whole life in a blue room. You know there are other rooms out there- but can you assume that they are all blue? Can you assume that most of them are blue? Even if there are other blue rooms, would they be the same shade (Cerulean, let's say) as yours?

      Even assuming that we are not unique, there is a big difference between thousands of stars with planets and billions of stars with planets.
  • life?? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by bcrowell ( 177657 ) on Thursday October 05, 2006 @12:57PM (#16323733) Homepage
    The slant on the slashdot summary is kind of goofy. Actually, the central bulge of the galaxy is a lousy place to look for life [wikipedia.org]. There's a good book about this: Rare Earth: Why Complex Life Is Uncommon in the Universe, by Ward and Brownlee. It looks to me like the author of TFA went out of his way to highlight the life angle, which wasn't that significant, and then the slashdot submitter highlighted it even more, as if it was the main point.
    • Re:life?? (Score:4, Interesting)

      by jeffsenter ( 95083 ) on Thursday October 05, 2006 @01:27PM (#16324257) Homepage
      Yeah I used the life angle to get it posted, but there is a little bit of substance to this increased chance of life thinking. Even though the central bulge is not the best place to find life, finding plenty of planets in the central bulge, where large scale planet formation was somewhat in question, suggests that planets are formed around stars everywhere, not just in our galactic neighborhood. If planets are formed everywhere as opposed to just in select parts of the galaxy there are more planets generally and planets present in parts of the galaxy that are more hospitable to the formation of life.

      It is not just the area of the galaxy around earth that has planets. Planets are probably helpful for the formation of life. More planets more chances for life.
    • Actually, the central bulge of the galaxy is a lousy place to look for life.

      True: it's full of lethal radiation. But keep it quiet. Imagine what would happen if the puppeteers got wind of this!

  • by redelm ( 54142 ) on Thursday October 05, 2006 @01:07PM (#16323931) Homepage
    The problem with multi-species science fiction is that it assumes contemporaneous (nearly synchronous!) technological development. Yet development is entirely an artifact without obvious time-based causes. And seems to proceed very swiftly on the geologic time scale.

    SETI's odds are very poor on this score.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward
      There's a theory that no lifeform will evolve to become significantly more intelligent or technologically advanced than humans, because at the level of intelligence we've reached an increase doesn't offer us an evolutionary advantage. We're already able to survive and breed, and indeed dominate the planet. And as a society gets more advanced in terms of technology, its members require less and less intelligence to survive and breed. This will eventually lead to a slow decay in intelligence which slows or st
      • I don't know about this. Certain lifeforms might want to engineer themselves to be more intelligent than nature made them, and have innate qualities that make them continually strive to improve, rather than become lazy and decay like humans. Look at the Asgard in SG-1.

        Just because humans are lazy doesn't mean everyone else will be the same way. But I think you're right about humans: we're headed for stagnation, or even worse, another Dark Ages.
    • by caudron ( 466327 )

      SETI's odds are very poor on this score.

      Without commenting on SETI's chances of success (because that's just idle speculation for both of us) it's worth noting that your claim implicitly assumes a natural denoument in technologically advanced species. You seem to be advocating that there is naturally both a start and a stop to advanced species.

      Not to sound too "Law and Order" about it, but I object. Facts not in evidence. We have no idea what happens when a species advances beyond the point at which we a

    • The problem with multi-species science fiction is that it assumes contemporaneous (nearly synchronous!) technological development.
      Most yes, but not all. Babylon 5 for one had its whole plot revolve around the fact that the species were NOT on the same technological level.
  • how meny of them have stargates on them?
  • but... (Score:3, Funny)

    by joe 155 ( 937621 ) on Thursday October 05, 2006 @01:28PM (#16324269) Journal
    How come we'll believe someone when they say that there are billions of planets in the galaxy, but when we're told that paint is wet we have to touch it - just to make sure
    • by Woldry ( 928749 )
      Well, I'm inclined to touch the planets too - just to make sure. But alas, my arms aren't that long. :-)
    • by Skreems ( 598317 )
      I don't have to touch it... maybe this is just your own personal problem?
  • The latter having been mentioned in a few responses. Tieing it in to other slashdot topics of interest - if we recieved signals from alien planets, that were copywrited tv broadcasts (or their equivalent), what would be the legal stance on recordings and selling?

    Would DRM be an issue?
    • if we recieved signals from alien planets, that were copywrited tv broadcasts (or their equivalent), what would be the legal stance on recordings and selling?

      Laws are only applicable if they can be enforced, so this all depends on how fast these aliens can send some Battlecruisers and Star Destroyers over here.
  • by Ranger ( 1783 ) on Thursday October 05, 2006 @01:31PM (#16324345) Homepage
    I'm curious how this will help nail down some of the parameters for the famous Drake Equation [wikipedia.org] N = R* * Fp * Ne * Fl * Fi * Fc * L.This new guestimate will help narrow down f sub p, the fraction of stars that have planets, and go some distance to narrowing down n sub e, the number of planets that can support life per star. As our resolution power increases the better able we will be able to come up with better guestimates.

    The answer might be zero anyway. After proposing the equation Fermi pointed out if intelligent life is so common, where are they? A space faring civilization travelling at 1% the speed of light would cross the galaxy in ten million years. Relative to the age of the Milky Way Galaxy, ten million years is a very short period of time. This is called the Fermi Paradox [wikipedia.org]. Where are they?

    I think we just don't know enough yet and we haven't been looking for very long. I think our technology will help us give a more accurate answer to the Drake equation within the next 100 years. We may even find evidence of life on other worlds when we can detect free oxygen on worlds in habitable zones light years away. And that could happen within the next decade or two.

    For those people who say the aliens are already here, I would ask would an intelligent space faring civilization travel hundreds of light years just to kidnap some redneck farmer and give him an anal probe and then make crop circles in his fields? I suppose if it was some alien fratboy hazing ritual they would.
    • I think I can say that N must be greater than zero given the mere fact that I think.

      It could, of course, be negligibly small...but if it was zero, there'd have been no one around to write the equation it in the first place.

    • Or they could have some kind of "prime directive." Or they could consider us too primitive to bother with, the same way we might not bother with a colony of ants. Or they might have been here a long time ago, done whatever research they wanted, considered the planet uninteresting, and taken it off their list of tourist destinations. Or their thought processes might be so completely different from ours that they don't even recognize us as alive, or us recognize them as alive. Or they might not feel compelled
  • Why James Webb ST? (Score:3, Informative)

    by helioquake ( 841463 ) on Thursday October 05, 2006 @01:44PM (#16324559) Journal
    The 16 are planet candidates at this point, until verified by spectroscopic measurement of their parent stars' wobbles, which probably can't be done until the James Webb Space Telescope files in 2013.

    A detection of Doppler motion due to planetary perturbation is miniscule. It could take an accuracy of less than one km/s, or more likely a few dozen meter per second. It is extremely hard to make a high resolution spectroscopic instrument for a space satellite to meet that criterion. Calibrating out all the uncertainties in the motion of the satellite would become an issue as well. That said, I don't think the James Webb ST would do much in this topic.

    Besides, the designers for JWST don't strongly desire to have a spectrographic instrument on board the JWST. It may end up as a purely imaging mission, which is extremely boring for physicists.

    The verification is better done with adaptive optics + Echelle grating at V, R or IR band from ground.
  • i am not an astronomer. never taken an astronomy class. rank amateur here.

    but i do know that we're far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the western spiral arm of the milkyway galaxy. there are a lot of stars in the sky, but they're really just pretty pinpricks that you can play connect-the-dots with. sure, they provide a little light, but not much.

    so i wonder what it would be like on one of those planets orbiting suns in the galactic core. would the relative proximity of so m
    • would the metabolism and life cycle of the flora and fauna there be accelerated relative to us...?
      What does that mean? Is a shrew accelerated relative to a human? Is a penguin accelerated relative to a sloth?
  • I think finding life on moons of large planets (like Jupiter) is going to be more likely than finding life on planets. Already we can see in our own solar system a number of moons that it looks like have ice on the outside and many more that have ice and likely water on the inside from geothermic processes warming the ice into water.

    The most common form of life in the universe will likely end up being one that survives well under water near thermal vents. These are much more shielded to the many harsh probl

I cannot conceive that anybody will require multiplications at the rate of 40,000 or even 4,000 per hour ... -- F. H. Wales (1936)

Working...