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Earth Space Science

Scientists Discover Three Potentially Habitable Planets (mit.edu) 122

Scientists have discovered three Earth-sized planets that look ideally suited to search for signs of life beyond our solar system. A team of astronomers from MIT and the University of Liege detected three planets orbiting an ultracool dwarf star -- just 40 light years from Earth using a prototype telescope called TRAPPIST which is capable of looking at 60 nearby ultracool stars. NPR reports: The closest planet to the star orbits in about one and a half Earth days. From the planet's surface, the star would look like a reddish ball fixed to one spot in the sky. Scientists don't yet know the mass of the planets or what they're made of. Astronomers have discovered more than a thousand planets outside our solar system, but it's still rare to find ones that look promising in terms of habitability."These planets are Earth-sized, they are temperate -- we can't rule out the fact that they are habitable -- and they are well-suited for atmospheric studies," says Julien de Wit, a researcher at MIT.
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Scientists Discover Three Potentially Habitable Planets

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    We finally have a safe place for transgendered individuals to use the toilet.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday May 02, 2016 @12:10PM (#52028447)

    The earth needs a protective shell, before illegal aliens come from these worlds to take our jobs.

    Financing? Not a problem. Just make the aliens pay for it.

    • by Tablizer ( 95088 )

      Financing? Not a problem. Just make the aliens pay for it.

      They did, but we haven't figured out how to cash in Quatloo's yet. Trump may be a decent negotiator, but sometimes skips key details.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    detected three planets orbiting an ultracool dwarf star

    Ultra-cool? So the dwarf star is like Verne Troyer [wikipedia.org] - AKA Mini-Me?

  • by Anonymous Coward

    ultracool dwarf star

    Peter Dinklage?

  • That close to a white dwarf start it's not going to have an atmosphere or any life if what we know about white dwarf star creation is at all true.

    • by wierd_w ( 1375923 ) on Monday May 02, 2016 @12:25PM (#52028559)

      Perhaps not entirely true.

      If these were originally hot neptunes, then the death of the parent star would have blown most of the atmosphere off allright, but would leave enough behind to be interesting.

      Definately a study candidate. This class of planet is predicted, but has not (to my knowledge) been confirmed to exist yet.

      There is also the potential for orbital migration after the star loses its cool and blows its top like that-- Objects that are analogous to our kuiper belt objects having thier orbits disturbed by the nova, then falling in on oblique angles, and getting captured at lower orbits.

      If we have learned anything at all from the population of extrasolar planets detected so far, it is that systems like ours are the minority, so theories based on how our system evolved need questioning. In many systems observed to date, very large planets have transmigrated closer to the star they orbit, for instance.

      These objects need not be giant balls of glass, just because their star went nova.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        If we have learned anything at all from the population of extrasolar planets detected so far, it is that systems like ours are the minority

        That isn't remotely true. We don't yet have the technology to detect Earth-like planets around Sun-like stars within the habitable zone.

    • by Rei ( 128717 ) on Monday May 02, 2016 @01:04PM (#52028865) Homepage

      Brown dwarf, not white. They're not stellar remnants (white dwarfs), they're minimal stars. So minimal, in fact, that unlike red dwarfs they don't even burn 1H, they only burn deuterium.

      That said, last I read there's one problem with dwarfs and life: at least with red dwarfs, the habitable zone is so close to the star that the radiation levels at the surface would be hazardous. Which would mean that LAWKI would need to be underground or underwater. Not a huge imposition, but still of relevance.

      • by Anonymous Coward
        Depends on the amount of atmosphere and all doesn't it? TFS says that the star would be fixed at a single point in the sky - which is an ass-backwards way of saying "tidally locked" - so perhaps LAWKI it could evolve on the outward facing side - protected from radiation by a combination of the planet's mass and the atmosphere?
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Rei ( 128717 )

          There are lots of possibilities, yes.

          Then again, there are lots of possibilities everywhere. Including far more accessible locations in our own solar system ;) For example, we have Enceladus literally jetting out the contents of its ocean into space, just waiting to be collected - an ocean that models show is caused by rock serpentinization, meaning that it's being fed with minerals and hydrogen gas.

          I'm personally most curious about Titan (mainly for LNAWKI, though possibly LAWKI in the subsurface water l

      • In the case of brown dwarf, then there is the potential for a very thick atmosphere on the candidate planet.

        A venus hothouse atmosphere with a very dim star could result in temperate climate conditions. Just not very bright.

        • by Salgak1 ( 20136 )

          Mind you, that makes sufficient energy input for complex life-forms unlikely. . .

          And thus, Donald Trump will ignore it as "low-energy" (grin)

  • by pablo_max ( 626328 ) on Monday May 02, 2016 @12:18PM (#52028503)

    Well.. I better get going now! Should not take too long. What 170k years? That's not bad. We can use one of those new 1700 generations ships!

    • by npslider ( 4555045 ) on Monday May 02, 2016 @12:34PM (#52028641)

      No problem...

      "It's 235,100,000,000,000 miles to Planet X, we got a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes, it's dark... and we're wearing sunglasses."

      "Hit it!"

    • by OzPeter ( 195038 ) on Monday May 02, 2016 @12:37PM (#52028659)

      Well.. I better get going now! Should not take too long. What 170k years? That's not bad. We can use one of those new 1700 generations ships!

      Well if you are going to do that .. you could call the ship "Red Dwarf" for luck. Just be careful of any cats you bring on as pets.

      • Damn. That has got to be the most obscure TV references I have ever seen. I wonder if there are more than 50 people what would not have to google it.

        • Re:Only 40 years?? (Score:5, Insightful)

          by Holi ( 250190 ) on Monday May 02, 2016 @12:45PM (#52028717)
          When Red Dwarf is considered obscure on a site targeting nerds is when I really have to question how many nerds are actually here anymore.
          • by Ogive17 ( 691899 ) on Monday May 02, 2016 @01:17PM (#52028975)
            There are nerds of many types. Space/SciFi, computer hardware, computer software, robotics.. etc. You don't have to be an expert in every field to be a nerd.

            Besides my Fortan 90 class that I took in 1998 and very basic HTML that I learned from my Geocities webpage, I have very limited coding knowledge. Doesn't make me less of a nerd, just means I don't consume as much Mt. Dew or Doritos.
          • by OzPeter ( 195038 )

            When Red Dwarf is considered obscure on a site targeting nerds is when I really have to question how many nerds are actually here anymore.

            I bet that right now Natalie Portman is silently crying into her hot grits.

            Maybe we *are* all cows.

          • by Tablizer ( 95088 )

            We're just grumbly neckbeards: if you are not the right kind nerd, we flame

        • I must be one of the 50. I got it immediately.
        • by Dunbal ( 464142 ) *
          If you don't get obscure sci fi references you're probably just a security guard class 4 and don't belong here.
        • Damn. That has got to be the most obscure TV references I have ever seen. I wonder if there are more than 50 people what would not have to google it.

          I said "Damn." when I read that too. I couldn't believe it took that long for someone on /. to make a Red Dwarf reference.

        • by Trogre ( 513942 )

          You're joking right?

          More obscure than the Firefly references that popped up here a while ago? And that show ran for only one season.

    • by Tablizer ( 95088 )

      If we didn't have to spend so much on military machines, a nuclear-fueled star-ship that goes say 5% the speed of light is not that far-fetched.

      Still, 800+ years is rather far away from our perspective (slowing down is not trivial at those speeds).

      I wonder what kind of unmanned probes we could have by now if we didn't have to spend it on a military? If you don't have to worry about life-support and could afford redundant probes to deal with the risk of high-speeds, those things could be really fast, and we

      • by Anonymous Coward

        If we didn't have to spend so much on military machines, a nuclear-fueled star-ship that goes say 5% the speed of light is not that far-fetched.

        Still, 800+ years is rather far away from our perspective (slowing down is not trivial at those speeds).

        I wonder what kind of unmanned probes we could have by now if we didn't have to spend it on a military? If you don't have to worry about life-support and could afford redundant probes to deal with the risk of high-speeds, those things could be really fast, and we perhaps could be getting close-up data from the nearest star systems by now.

        If only we could fricken get along. This is why you humans can't have nice things.

        The main problem would be that keeping a single machine working for 800+ years is not actually a solved problem.

        Additionally the economic gain from interstellar missions will be vastly lower than negative net return we get from military spending (militaries are a lose money to avoid losing even more money proposition) even over the timeframe of a complete mission.

      • I wonder what kind of unmanned probes we could have by now if we didn't have to spend it on a military? If you don't have to worry about life-support and could afford redundant probes to deal with the risk of high-speeds, those things could be really fast, and we perhaps could be getting close-up data from the nearest star systems by now.

        Sorry, not even close.

        The estimate that I've seen for Project Icarus, which is one of the most thorough realistic concepts for interstellar exploration, was $100 trillion.

    • It would probably be better to send an advance party of experts to set things up properly. Marketing executives and nutritional scientists come to mind. (Do we need telephone sanitizers these days?)
    • Go fast enough [wikipedia.org] and it'll be 40 years... as far as you're concerned.
  • Cyclotron (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Even if the radiation is comparable to Earth levels I wonder how the potential magnetic field will behave when the planet orbits its star in just a few days. Radio interference would probably be severe or not?

  • Lead researcher updates the original report stating, "After a technician realized they forgot to use the zoom button, an easy mistake considering the vast number of pretty lights and switches, an appalling discovery was made. The supposed planet has been re-identified". A short pause and a look of horror crosses the researcher's face, "That's no planet, it's a space station!"

    The entire research team agreed that they all had a bad feeling about the turn of events.

  • At that visible spectra, are you sure those are "habitable"?

    By what?

    Your eyes would burn out.

  • Let's not get TOO carried away.

    Venus and Mars are arguably in the 'habitable' zone in this system, and I don't see us busting down any doors exploring those like crazy. Sure, we've done some good work on Mars but budgetwise it's not a big priority...

    • by Anonymous Coward

      This is something that has always bothered me about our plans for space exploration as a species.
      Our choices amount to "find a way to warm mars which is way far from the sun and has barely any atmosphere left and no water", or "cool down venus".

      Considering the options available, why isn't "cool down venus" the more realistic of the 2?
      I could imagine that with the high sulphuric acid content of Venus's atmosphere sending a huge amount of sodium bicarbonate which itself could be harvested from comets https://

      • If the sun 'went out' today, it would take a thousands of years for venus to cool down.
      • Amarid plastic (poly amide) is thermostable at venus's surface temperature, and is theoretically capable of being biosynthesized.

        It turns into "goop" when mixed with strong acids (it does not have a melting point. it is spun into fiber after mixing it with HCl, which then evaporates in the spinning process, leaving fiber.), and would turn into a gelatinous sea on the surface of venus.

        The process would take millions of years, but would punctuate venus' otherwise purpetual cycle of greenhouse heating by effec

  • I'm guessing that this star is Zaphod Beeblebrox's vacation spot.

  • As I understand it, red dwarfs are the most numerous stars in the galaxy. (Also much longer lived, if the difference between 5 billion and 100 billion years matters to you.) Although they are smaller, cooler, and redder, if a planet is close enough, it will be in the temperature comfort zone for humans. But what kind of light would one see? Would it be perpetual sunset/sunrise? Would chlorophyll driven photosynthesis work?

    I'm also thinking it's all very academic because by the time humanity has the tech

    • Would chlorophyll work?

      Probably, just not ideally.

      The spectra best utilized by green plants on earth are "red" and "Yellow" light, respectively. These spectra represent the bulk of the useful spectra recieved on earth, and are why green plants appear green. (they absorb nearly everything in the red spectrum, and most of the yellow, reflecting blue and some of the yellow, making a green colored surface.)

      The bulk of the visible light around a red dwarf will be "red". Photosynthetic earth plants will be able t

  • Looks like we need to send some forced freedom their way! 'Murica, Fuck yea!
  • Oh. How wonderful. JUST 40 light years away. Fucking journalists. It might as well be in the next galaxy, we are never going there. Ever.
  • This is what a TRAPPIST looks like:

    http://sr1.wine-searcher.net/i... [wine-searcher.net]

  • Do any of these planets have an oxygen nitrogen atmosphere like Earth? That's a very important discovery (specifically oxygen); because oxygen is highly reactive and must be replenished to hang around in large enough quantities. To my knowledge, only life cracks the bond of oxygen free via photosynthesis.

  • Scientists don't yet know the mass of the planets or what they're made of.

    So in other words, scientists discover three planets which are "potentially habitable" in that we don't know enough about them yet to completely rule out the possibility.

  • What the hell is an 'ultracool dwarf star'? Is that cool as in awesome? This is a brown dwarf [wikipedia.org]. Not really a star at all. It has as much in common with Jupiter or Saturn as it has with a star. It is not large enough to fuse (standard) hydrogen into helium. Which is why it has that weird 2MASS designation based on the 2 Micron All Sky Survey instead of stellar catalog number like say Gliese 581 which is a real dwarf (or main sequence) star. Our star is also a dwarf star [slashdot.org] ffs. A yellow dwarf. 2MASS was a 2003 i

  • with Cardassians but without Kardashians.

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