Published: 20:00, 6 March 2015 | Updated: 02:28, 7 March 2015
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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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
'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
NASA scientists have determined that a primitive ocean on Mars held more water than Earth's Arctic Ocean and that the Red Planet has lost 87 percent of that water to space.
A primitive ocean on Mars held more water than Earth’s Arctic Ocean, according to NASA scientists who, using ground-based observatories, measured water signatures in the Red Planet’s atmosphere.
Scientists have been searching for answers to why this vast water supply left the surface. Details of the observations and computations appear in Thursday’s edition of Science magazine.
“Our study provides a solid estimate of how much water Mars once had, by determining how much water was lost to space,” said Geronimo Villanueva, a scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, and lead author of the new paper. “With this work, we can better understand the history of water on Mars.”
Perhaps about 4.3 billion years ago, Mars would have had enough water to cover its entire surface in a liquid layer about 450 feet (137 meters) deep. More likely, the water would have formed an ocean occupying almost half of Mars’ northern hemisphere, in some regions reaching depths greater than a mile (1.6 kilometers).
The new estimate is based on detailed observations made at the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope in Chile, and the W.M. Keck Observatory and NASA Infrared Telescope Facility in Hawaii. With these powerful instruments, the researchers distinguished the chemical signatures of two slightly different forms of water in Mars’ atmosphere. One is the familiar H2O. The other is HDO, a naturally occurring variation in which one hydrogen is replaced by a heavier form, called deuterium.
By comparing the ratio of HDO to H2O in water on Mars today and comparing it with the ratio in water trapped in a Mars meteorite dating from about 4.5 billion years ago, scientists can measure the subsequent atmospheric changes and determine how much water has escaped into space.
The team mapped H2O and HDO levels several times over nearly six years, which is equal to approximately three Martian years. The resulting data produced global snapshots of each compound, as well as their ratio. These first-of-their-kind maps reveal regional variations called microclimates and seasonal changes, even though modern Mars is essentially a desert.
The research team was especially interested in regions near Mars’ north and south poles, because the polar ice caps hold the planet’s largest known water reservoir. The water stored there is thought to capture the evolution of Mars’ water during the wet Noachian period, which ended about 3.7 billion years ago, to the present.
From the measurements of atmospheric water in the near-polar region, the researchers determined the enrichment, or relative amounts of the two types of water, in the planet’s permanent ice caps. The enrichment of the ice caps told them how much water Mars must have lost – a volume 6.5 times larger than the volume in the polar caps now. That means the volume of Mars’ early ocean must have been at least 20 million cubic kilometers (5 million cubic miles).
Based on the surface of Mars today, a likely location for this water would be in the Northern Plains, considered a good candidate because of the low-lying ground. An ancient ocean there would have covered 19 percent of the planet’s surface. By comparison, the Atlantic Ocean occupies 17 percent of Earth’s surface.
“With Mars losing that much water, the planet was very likely wet for a longer period of time than was previously thought, suggesting it might have been habitable for longer,” said Michael Mumma, a senior scientist at Goddard and the second author on the paper.
NASA is studying Mars with a host of spacecraft and rovers under the agency’s Mars Exploration Program, including the Opportunity and Curiosity rovers, Odyssey and Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter spacecraft, and the MAVEN orbiter, which arrived at the Red Planet in September 2014 to study the planet’s upper atmosphere.
In 2016, a Mars lander mission called InSight will launch to take a first look into the deep interior of Mars. The agency also is participating in ESA’s (European Space Agency) 2016 and 2018 ExoMars missions, including providing telecommunication radios to ESA’s 2016 orbiter and a critical element of the astrobiology instrument on the 2018 ExoMars rover. NASA’s next rover, heading to Mars in 2020, will carry instruments to conduct unprecedented science and exploration technology investigations on the Red Planet.
NASA’s Mars Exploration Program seeks to characterize and understand Mars as a dynamic system, including its present and past environment, climate cycles, geology and biological potential. In parallel, NASA is developing the human spaceflight capabilities needed for future round-trip missions to Mars in the 2030s.
Worldwide neuroscience research conducted under Obama's BRAIN project, as well as similar research sponsored by the European Union exceeds $1 billion combined. The goal is nothing short of decoding the human brain. While there are many embedded initiatives associated with this type of research, the production of artificial intelligence that can rival or even surpass humans is at the forefront.
One recent development aims to move beyond mere computational horsepower and incorporate the principles of Darwinian evolution in order to naturalize the process of robot evolution.
This initiative has become evident in the European Union's cloud network called RoboEarth where robots can do their own research, communicate with one another, and collectively increase their intelligence by mimicking family and cultural learning.
This drive for embedding evolutionary principles into robotics formed the cornerstone of the next phase of research begun at the University of Wyoming's Evolving Artificial Intelligence Lab, seen in the video below, where the stated goal is to introduce survival of the fittest to hopefully break through current evolutionary barriers toward fully intelligent robots.
As you heard, willful procreation is a natural outcome. This has been echoed by George Zarkadakis, an artificial intelligence engineer, who believes that intelligent robots will move toward procreation as they desire to produce superior offspring. Through a simple software swap, new intelligence could be created, as well as the likelihood of other upgrades like virus protection. Incidentally, the organic component of this is also being researched by geneticists as downloadable DNA via our own human Internet.
Just as we humans wish that our own children become healthier, more intelligent and longer-lived versions of ourselves, so too will increasingly self-aware robotic systems. The research at the University of Wyoming has embraced this potential.
Further commenting on the potential of the "mutations" and code swaps, lead researcher Jeff Clune stated:
We’re trying to harness the power of evolution. It’s an extremely creative and powerful design force. Can we use that process to evolve robots? We can harness it, and when we do, evolution comes up with something smarter than humans can design.
We want to engineer robots that rival nature and are as agile and smart. (emphasis added)
However, robots that rival their human counterparts is exactly the scenario that is being warned about. Some of the many unintended consequences erupting from a superintelligence have been articulated by Nick Bostrom. The response to a "rival" humanity by this superintelligence could involve operational enslavement or eradication, just as it has among animal and human groups throughout history. Despite such tech luminaries as Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk being moved by Bostrom's research and existential concern, research continues apace.
A similar program from Michigan State University "uses genetic algorithms operating on a mathematical framework called Markov networks to model a large population of robot 'brains' working on a particular task, like finding the exit to a maze. The brains that perform the task best have the largest number of simulated 'offspring.'" Researchers point to the ability to easily speed up the process of natural selection, which could theoretically produce intelligence and consciousness in the relatively near term. Team leader, Chris Adami, specifically cites the ability to equip a new robot brain with the results from "hundreds of thousands of generations."
Once equipped, robots can illustrate marked evolutionary principles such as cooperation and, eventually, self-awareness.
Adami believes that evolving robot brains in complicated worlds that force them to interact with each other is the best path toward self-aware intelligence. "When robots have to make models of other robots' brains, they are thinking about thinking," he said. "We believe this is the onset of consciousness."
Adami then issues a rather tepid dismissal of those who are worried about what these conscious robots would exactly wish to accomplish:
Thinking robots will be extraordinarily useful, Adami says, adding that humanity should have no reason to fear a rise of the machines. "When our robots are 'born', they will have a brain that has the capacity to learn, but only has instincts. It will take a decade or two of exploration and training for these robots to achieve human-level intelligence, just as is the case with us," he said.
At best, we see that there is certainty about the birth of conscious and self-aware robots operating on the principles of survival of the fittest ... and that humanity has a hopeful stay of execution date in a decade or two.