Tagged with "Planets"
Mystery Signals Suggest Habitable Earth-Like World Exists 22 Light Years Away Tags: Space Exoplanets

Mystery 'noise' could be an Earth-like world: Strange signals suggest habitable planet exists 22 light years away

  • Gliese 581d is in star's habitable zone and may be suitable for humans
  • Found in 2010, it was later dismissed as stellar bursts and not a planet
  • Now, scientists believe earlier analysis was based on inaccurate data
  • They say planet does exist and may provide hope for finding alien life

Astronomers believe mysterious signals - previously dismissed as stellar bursts - are coming from an Earth-like planet.

The Gliese 581d planet has conditions that could support life, and is likely to be a rocky world, twice the size of Earth.

Signals from the planet were initially discovered in 2010, but last year dismissed as noise from distant stars.

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Astronomers believe mysterious 'alien signals' - previously dismissed as stellar bursts - are in fact coming from an Earth-like planet. The Gliese 581d planet was initially discovered in 2010 (artist's impression pictured)

Now, a further study claims that the 2014 research was based on 'inadequate analyses of the data' and that Gliese 581d does exist.

Last year, Pennsylvania State University researchers said Gliese 581d - and its companion Gliese 581g - were simply a trick of the light caused by magnetic bursts from a local star 22 light-years away. 

The new British research, however, argues the method used by the Pennsylvania team was only suitable for large planets, and that it could miss small ones like GJ 581d.

The study, by Queen Mary University, London and the University of Hertfordshire, claims to use a more accurate model on the existing data.

'The existence (or not) of GJ 581d is significant because it was the first Earth-like planet discovered in the 'Goldilocks'-zone around another star and it is a benchmark case for the Doppler technique,' said lead author, Dr Guillem Anglada-Escudé.

'There are always discussions among scientists about the ways we interpret data but I'm confident that GJ 581d has been in orbit around Gliese 581 all along.

'In any case, the strength of their statement was way too strong.

'If their way to treat the data had been right, then some planet search projects at several ground-based observatories would need to be significantly revised as they are all aiming to detect even smaller planets. 

The Gliese 581d planet is likely to be a rocky world, twice the size of Earth. Pictured is an artist's impression of the planetary orbits of the Gliese 581 system compared to those of our own solar system

The Gliese 581d planet is likely to be a rocky world, twice the size of Earth. Pictured is an artist's impression of the planetary orbits of the Gliese 581 system compared to those of our own solar system

'One needs to be more careful with these kind of claims'

GJ 581d is believed to be the first planet outside our solar system in the Goldilocks zone around its star – an area not too hot and not too cold for life.

To find Gliese 581d, University of California, Santa Cruz astronomers originally looked for subtle changes in light caused by the gravity of an orbiting planet tugging back and forth on the star.

The strength of the tugging, they believed, showed them a planet was about three times as massive as Earth.

At the time, the discovery of Earth-like planets around Gliese 581 caught the public imagination.

Documentary-maker RDF and social-networking site Bebo used a radio telescope in Ukraine to send a powerful focused beam of information - 500 messages from the public in the form of radio waves - to Gliese 581.

And the Australian science minister at the time organised 20,000 users of Twitter to send messages towards the distant solar system in the wake of the discoveries.

Other exoplanets have previously been doubted, most notably Alpha Centauri Bb, the closest Earth-sized world to us, which some scientists claim could just be noise in the data.

Gliese 581 (the bright star shown in the centre), which is 22 light-years away, has three other confirmed planets, none of which lie within its habitable zone

Gliese 581 (the bright star shown in the centre), which is 22 light-years away, has three other confirmed planets, none of which lie within its habitable zone

 

Astronomers detect hints of two more planets in our Solar System Tags: astronomy planets solar system

Two Earth-sized planets could be hiding in the chilly margins of our Solar System, just beyond Neptune and Pluto. We just have to find them first.

BEC CREW   20 JAN 2015
 

Hints of two more planets lurking undetected way out near the edge of our Solar System have been found thanks to a new analysis of the belt of objects called the 'extreme trans-Neptunion objects’ (ETNO). 

A team of astronomers from the Complutense University of Madrid in Spain and the University of Cambridge in the UK studied the orbits of 13 such ETNOs, including the dwarf planet Sedna, and found that they weren’t moving as expected. Something appears to be altering their orbits, the team reports, and that ‘something’ could be a couple of hidden planets at least the size of Earth, if not bigger.

"This excess of objects with unexpected orbital parameters makes us believe that some invisible forces are altering the distribution of the orbital elements of the ETNO, and we consider that the most probable explanation is that other unknown planets exist beyond Neptune and Pluto,” lead scientist, Carlos de la Fuente Marcos from the Complutense University of Madrid, told the Spanish Scientific News Service. “The exact number is uncertain, given that the data that we have is limited, but our calculations suggest that there are at least two planets, and probably more, within the confines of our Solar System."

Publishing their findings in two articles in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society Letters - available here and here - the researchers have estimated that if these planets exist, they would be located 200 astronomical units away from Earth, which is 200 times the distance between Earth and the Sun (one astronomical unit is the distance between the two).

The prospect of two more planets in our Solar System is pretty exciting, but there are problems with the proposal. Firstly, the team noted that the existence of these planets contrdicts current models on the formation of the Solar System, which only works if there are no planets moving in circular orbits further away from the Sun than Neptune, the Spanish Scientific News Service reports

But a recent discovery supports the possibility that planets could actually form at great distances from their star. Late last year, scientists using the new Atacama Large Millimetre Array (ALMA) of telescopes in Chile found a planet-forming disk more than 100 astronomical units from a star called HL Tauri. This star is younger than our Sun, but more massive, and the confirmed presence of a planet-forming disc some 100 astronomical units away from it makes a case for the possibility that planets could also form as far 200 astronomical units away from their star.

That said, de la Fuente Marco and his team have got their work cut out for them in proving that these two planets actually exist. They’re too far away to ‘see’ with current technology, so they need to continue finding evidence of their influence on what we do know exists in the edges of our Solar System. 

 

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Astronomers Find Evidence Of Two Undiscovered Planets In Our Solar System Tags: planets solar system science astronomy space Kuiper Belt orbits

November 16, 2014 | by Stephen Luntz

photo credit: Lexicon via wikimedia commons. The most distant of these outer solar system objects share a trait that hints at an unknown planet.

The possibility of a planet lurking in the outer reaches of the solar system has gained new ground, based on the orbits of recently discovered objects. There is a new twist to the latest evidence, however, with suggestions of not one but two large planets at mind-bending distances from the Sun.

The quest for a "Planet X" beyond Neptune has been going on for more than a century. Recently, two dwarf planets Senda and 2102 VP113 have been identified with orbits extending to distances hundreds of times further from the Sun than our own. 

Distant as these orbits are, they are too close to be part of the Oort Cloud, a collection of comets that mostly orbit at distances beyond 5000 AU.

Instead it is thought that these objects formed closer to the sun. The gravitational influence of a large planet is one explanation of how their orbits changed. The theory has its own problems – if we can’t explain how objects like these came to be orbiting at such distances, then it’s equally unclear how a theoretical planet came to be there.

Scott Sheppard, of the Carnegie Institution for Science, and the Gemini Observatory's Chad Trujillo noted a clustering in the orbits of the solar system’s most distant known entities, many of which they had discovered. Ten Kuiper Belt Objects, and minor planets Sedna and 2012 VP113, all have orbits that cross the plane of the solar system at angles that range from shallow to steep. 

Yet all of these distant objects reach their closest point to the sun just when they are near the plane the planets circle in. The scientists considered this unlikely to be a coincidence, and speculate it might be a sign of a planet influencing all of their orbits.

E. Otwell. The two most distant minor planets have very different orbits, but converge when closest to the sun.

In Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society Letters brothers Carlos and Raul de la Fuente Marcos of Complutense University of Madrid have taken this a step further. “The analysis of several possible scenarios strongly suggest that at least two trans-Plutonian planets must exist,” they conclude.

Even more recently, Lorenzo Iorio of the Italian Ministry of Education, Universities and Research has argued in the same journal that if planet X exists, it must be much further out than Trujillo and Sheppard proposed. How far it would need to be depends on its mass, but an unknown object twice as heavy as the Earth could not be less than 500 AU from the Sun, Iorio maintains.

Other astronomers are more cautious. David Jewitt of the University of California,  Los Angeles told Science News, "The outer solar system can be full of all sorts of unseen and interesting things,” Jewitt says, “but the argument ... for a massive perturber is a bit puzzling.” Jewitt notes that if the Kuiper Belt Objects in the Trujillo/Sheppard study have a planet keeping them in line, it may well be Neptune. Sedna and 2012 VP113 are too far out for this to be true for them as well, but it is far easier to explain two orbits as coincidences than twelve.

While the question may only be finally settled by the discovery of a large planet lurking in space, a number of teams have redoubled their efforts to find modest sized objects whose orbits might help us lend credence to, or reject, the theories proposed so far.

 

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