Friday, October 1, 2010

Gliese 581, my new favorite Earth

Scientists have found a planet that's not so terribly different from this one.  Read the article.  It's about three Earths big, and is the right temperature to hold pools of liquid water.  Astronomer Steven Vogt makes a point in the linked article that there's no reason to believe that there is not liquid water on the planet.

I'm a skeptic, but I'm not threatened by the idea of aliens.  Like most things that normally fall under the umbrella of paranormal, aliens are an exciting idea, whether or not we're talking about advanced civilizations, or just a few ferns on some distant rocky ball.

Statistically, it's being said that there might be lots and lots of planets like this, being that this one was found after "looking at just nine nearby stars."  So if Earths are so common, maybe there are some cities full of quasi-people out there looking at our Earth in their telescope, just wondering.  Hell, maybe some of them have visited us already.  If the technology for such a feat is, in fact, possible (though I have no strong reason to believe that it is) then it's not outrageous to think that we've already been visited.  I'm not going too far down that logical road, though, because I've seen where it can lead.

I only have one issue with the linked article, and that's the last line.  I don't know if you can chalk it up to news sensationalism, or just an excited scientist speaking beyond the evidence (probably both). But, "It's pretty hard to stop life once you give it the right conditions," is a statement that is hard to back up.  It may be true, but it really may not be true, as well.  So far, we only have one example of life happening, and that's us and our family here on Earth.  That statement sounds like a skateboarder saying that everyone has an innate talent for skateboarding, or a drug addict saying, "If you can get some crack, you're going to smoke it."  Let's get a bigger sample before we start saying what's inevitable.

I'm excited about the discovery.  I might be on a high percentile of excitedness, in fact.  But let's not get carried away.  The facts are exciting enough without an expert making guesses.  Guesses that most people are going to take to heart, just because he's an expert.  Like I've said before, an expert is not an authority figure, and no number of PhDs gives someone the power to change the truth.

I'm not saying the statement is false.  I'm just saying we don't know if it's false.  But what if it turns out to be true?  Wouldn't that be something?


  1. I've got my fingers crossed for life on one of Saturn's moons, Enceladus. It's got water, it's got heat. That's all you need. (And a bit of luck, I suppose)

  2. Thought I already replied to this comment...

    Anyway, yes, I think even finding bacteria elsewhere in the universe would be stunning. All of the little statistics that people put together for the likelihood of intelligent life elsewhere would be skewed dramatically.

    This has actually been the trend over the past few decades. We didn't used to be sure that there were other solar systems with planets. Then we didn't know if there were earth-like planets. Perhaps in twenty years we'll be debating over whether any of the planets that contain intelligent life have iPods.

    It's all free-roaming speculation, but very exciting at least.