Nasa / Space optimize

Geek Trivia: Home away from home(world)

Which of the several hundred known and suspected planets outside our local solar system has enough characteristics in common with Earth that scientists believe it has a reasonable chance of supporting a recognizable form of life?

In recent weeks, astronomers have been going gaga over the first direct, visible-light image of a planet outside our solar system. While planet Fomalhaut b has been in the exoplanet record books for a while, this represents the first time that a telescope has been able to spot an extrasolar planet using direct imaging with the same wavelengths of light that us mere humans use to see everyday.

We're becoming pretty competent planet hunters, which means we just might start finding some potentially life-bearing worlds in the near future; or, at least, planets that could hold life in a form we'd recognize. And it has nothing to do with the fact that we actually got a direct-light glamour photo of Fomalhaut b, either.

You see, Fomalhaut b's relative proximity isn't what made it so easy to spot. Fomalhaut b was first discovered by observing the debris disk surrounding its parent star, which made pinpointing its likely location rather straightforward (though it still took several years). After that, it was merely a question of poring over Hubble Space Telescope images of the right area of around Fomalhaut and figuring out which speck of light was a planet.

What makes the Fomalhaut image so spectacular, besides being the first direct visible-light image of an exoplanet, is that Fomalhaut b is actually a pretty small, cool world, by known extrasolar standards. It has a mass between one-half to three times that of Jupiter (we're a little early in Fomalhaut's observational history to be more precise), and an estimated mean surface temperature of around 72 Kelvin. For comparison, Earth's mean surface temperature is about 287 K.

Until recently, the discovery of exoplanets suffered from an extraordinary selection bias, as highly massive, extremely hot, or extremely bizarre planets, most of which were gas giants were simply easier to detect using the indirect discovery methods at astronomers' disposal. Basically, they looked at a star and then looked for something weird, which usually led to finding a planet that was, well, very different from good old Earth.

In fact, we've yet to find anything that would strictly qualify as an Earth-like terrestrial planet outside our solar system. The best we can do right now is a modest collection of so-called Super-Earths, planets that are far less massive than gas giants, but are nonetheless several times the mass of Earth.

That said, there is at least one known exoplanet that has enough in common with humanity's homeworld that scientists believe it has at least a reasonable chance to support a form of life similar to that found on Earth.

WHAT EXTRASOLAR PLANET IS CONSIDERED MOST LIKELY TO SUPPORT A RECOGNIZABLE FORM OF LIFE?

Get the answer.

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Jay Garmon has a vast and terrifying knowledge of all things obscure, obtuse, and irrelevant. One day, he hopes to write science fiction, but for now he'll settle for something stranger -- amusing and abusing IT pros. Read his full profile. You can a...

13 comments
Brother Martin de Porres
Brother Martin de Porres

It's Koine Greek for Geodesic, as in Apocalypse of St John. That great big Gas Giant Diamond Core. 1500 miles diameter, with 12 hub points, like all respectable geodesic icosahedral spheres. Mind the pearly gates folks, they are spherical air-locks. The twelve foundations are concentric (onion) layers. One day our own Gas Giants will be Sculpted into Inter-Stella Voyagers. Father Jose Director of The Vatican Observatory, can fill you in on exra-terrestrial archive material. It's not them, who are out of communion,...it's us! All will shortly be revealed. Check out Revelations Ch 21 & 22. 22:8 Now I, John, am the one who heard and saw these things. When I heard and saw, I fell down to worship before the feet of the angel who had shown me these things. 22:9 He said to me, "See you don't do it! ;) I am a fellow bondservant with you and with your brothers, :) the prophets, and with those who keep the words of this book. Worship God." 22:10 He said to me, "Don't seal up the words of the prophecy of this book, for the time is at hand. It's OK... ANGELS ARE VERY FRIENDLY!...AND INCREDIBLY GOOD LOOKING! Happy Thanksgiving from H.H. Pope Benedict XVI,

Poodoo999
Poodoo999

"ANGELS ARE VERY FRIENDLY!...AND INCREDIBLY GOOD LOOKING!" Yes, but are they anatomically correct?

Roscojim
Roscojim

Umm...huh? Like Fozzie said in "The Muppet Movie", "Looks like we picked up a weirdo..." :-)

catpro-54
catpro-54

when I read his response......

Poodoo999
Poodoo999

Heck, if we're going to quibble about spelling, let's go for the grammar, too! The first paragraph has the phrase "us mere humans" which I believe should be "we mere humans" instead. If you take out the modifier (mere humans), the sentence should still make sense. Would you say "we use" or "us use"? I know nothing about astrology (see? told 'ya!) so I can't quibble about the rest of it.

Popoyd
Popoyd

Astronomy, not astrology =P which actually reinforces your point there. The first is a science, the second is... arguable at best. Sorry, couldn't help it =)

Deadly Ernest
Deadly Ernest

When I went to school I was taught you used the word 'a' before words unless they started with a vowel and then you used the word 'an' - so you buy a drill bit and an auger. I spotted in the first paragraph of page 2 today you wrote "...gives it an hospitable..." - at first I thought this may be a new teaching thing and asked my sister who teachers high school English - nope no change she knows of. So I now wonder if this is another of those regional things like how you people from the Americas can't spell words like colour or honour properly.

K Winn
K Winn

The article depends on the pronunciation, not the spelling, so it's "an hour," "a hospital," "an honor," etc. Words like "historic" where some people pronounce the "h" and others don't are up for grabs. Now for another word choice issue. "Everyday" means commonplace, not daily or regularly. If you intend one of those, then the phrase is "every day." Just remember the Glen Campbell song "(Such are) the dreams of the everyday housewife," and you'll know that "everyday" means something other than "daily."

swstephe
swstephe

Actually, it is "an" before anything that sounds like it starts with a vowel. Many words borrowed from French have "silent H", so they sound like they start with vowels and using "an" is appropriate. You would write "an hour" and "an honor", not "a hour" and "a honor", right? Hospitable is from French, so it is potentially valid, depending on how you pronounce it.

Nicholas.Newman@Skynet.be
Nicholas.Newman@Skynet.be

Yes but not all "h"s from French words are silent - some are "aspir?s". For example in "un handicap" one does not pronounce the "n" because the "h" of "handicap" is pronounced, although slightly. Hence "a handicap" rather than "an handicap". There are many other examples, one being "h?pital" with a silent "h" but "a hospital" because we choose to pronounce the "h". Also gender can come into it as "une" has its "n" pronounced in all cases. Further, many words which could be deemed to come from the French actually come from Latin in both French and English.

Deadly Ernest
Deadly Ernest

"'E's at an 'ospital." or "An 'orror." Yeah, I can see some sense in an hour based on the sound, although I was taught a hour. BTW: horror is is usually pronounced, in most English dialects with a 'h' sound like in 'huh' as 'h-orror' with an audible h; very similar to horse and house and how.