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Weird Exoplanet Orbits Could Screw Up Alien Life

CmdrTaco posted more than 4 years ago | from the stupid-newton dept.

Space 161

astroengine writes "Life is good in the Solar System. We have Jupiter to thank for that. However, if the gas giant's orbit were a little more elliptical, there's every chance that Earth would become rather uncomfortable very quickly. Researchers looking at the zoo of exoplanets orbiting distant stars have simulated several scenarios of differing exoplanet orbits and find that many don't resemble our cozy Solar System. In fact, weird exoplanet orbits may be the deciding factor as to whether extraterrestrial life can form or not."

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161 comments

Save the aliens! (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32361296)

Dear friends,

The aliens of our galaxy have had a hard life. Please send donations to the buy-a-Jupiter-for-the-aliens fund. Your help is greatly appreciated.

Re:Save the aliens! (2, Interesting)

siloko (1133863) | more than 4 years ago | (#32361528)

In fact, weird exoplanet orbits may be the deciding factor as to whether extraterrestrial life can form or not.

Not sure the word 'fact' belongs in that sentence with the rest of the wild speculation. I do however want to donate to your fund but only when facts become the endpoint of extra-terrestrial flavoured cosmology and not the spark for futurology [wikipedia.org] !

Re:Save the aliens! (2, Informative)

mr_gorkajuice (1347383) | more than 4 years ago | (#32362332)

Not sure the word 'fact' belongs in that sentence with the rest of the wild speculation.

It's a fact that it may be the deciding factor.

Re:Save the aliens! (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32361584)

Sounds like another Gleisian subspace mail scam to me. Let me guess, your name is 'Reverend' Tsmünqtll e'Eiïgåk, and you represent the Space Pope and all the starving spawnlings left over from the Second Great Tri-Moon Conflict.

Re:Save the aliens! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32362568)

Ahem, hello Doctor! Nothing to see here! You can go back to whatever's left of Gallifrey now.

Re:Save the aliens! (1)

dumuzi (1497471) | more than 4 years ago | (#32361716)

I say we donate Uranus.

Re:Save the aliens! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32361852)

Maybe we should donate Neptune instead.

Dammit, what is that whooshing sound all around me!?!?

Re:Save the aliens! (1)

Exitar (809068) | more than 4 years ago | (#32362430)

Let's donate Pluto!
Maybe they won't notice it's not a planet!

Re:Save the aliens! (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32364776)

Dammit, what is that whooshing sound all around me!?!?


That's probably Uranus leaking gas....

Re:Save the aliens! (5, Interesting)

mcgrew (92797) | more than 4 years ago | (#32362220)

Has anyone considered that to them, we are the aliens? [slashdot.org] The link is a story about how our own solar system is uninhabited, and why.

Anthropic Principle (-1, Offtopic)

Gothmolly (148874) | more than 4 years ago | (#32361328)

We see the Universe the way it is, because if it was different, we wouldn't be here to see it.

Re:Anthropic Principle (1)

sznupi (719324) | more than 4 years ago | (#32361540)

That wording is still a bit unfortunate, almost itself...a display of what it warns against.

More simply, "what's known to us is perceived as the expected way of how things can be"

Re:Anthropic Principle (1)

icebike (68054) | more than 4 years ago | (#32365264)

We see the Universe the way it is, because if it was different, we wouldn't be here to see it.

On the contrary, we would be perfectly suited to survive in any universe that spawned us.

A few years ago, it was reported [newscientist.com] that without a moon life on earth would be impossible.

Now we are told any little difference in Jupiter's orbit would also render life impossible.

There seems to be a great tendency to suggest we live in a giant "Just So" story and could not exist in any other scenario, while at the same time we are finding life in the most inhospitable places imaginable.

"WE" might be a different "WE" if we evolved in slightly altered environments but never the less the belief that conditions must be just like earth for something nearly human in capabilities, chemistry, and societal structure is pretty close to the geocentric view of the universe so handily debunked by Copernicus.

"Weird"? (4, Interesting)

sznupi (719324) | more than 4 years ago | (#32361374)

If anything, all of this could be mean that our system is quite weird; at least on average.

And probably still wouldn't be a problem for "life" in general, considering there are several places suspected of harboring life in our own system, all of them quite "hostile" at first sight.

Complex life is another thing, of course... (or - we're frakked, because the aliens will turn out to be total badasses; due to evolving in very harsh conditions ;p )

Re:"Weird"? (3, Interesting)

Thanshin (1188877) | more than 4 years ago | (#32361442)

Complex life is another thing, of course... (or - we're frakked, because the aliens will turn out to be total badasses; due to evolving in very harsh conditions)

Or the opposite. Maybe they feel dizzy in stable orbits, like pirates in firm land.

Maybe their ships wobble on crazy trajectories, to keep them calm and at ease.

Re:"Weird"? (4, Funny)

camperdave (969942) | more than 4 years ago | (#32361988)

Maybe they feel dizzy in stable orbits, like pirates in firm land.

Ah! That would explain why they drink copious amounts of rum; to keep the land "unsteady".

Re:"Weird"? (1)

Thanshin (1188877) | more than 4 years ago | (#32362062)

Ah! That would explain why they drink copious amounts of rum; to keep the land "unsteady".

That'll be my official excuse from now on.

I didn't drink too much, I was just trying to imitate the wobbly land of my home planet.

Re:"Weird"? (3, Insightful)

Kjella (173770) | more than 4 years ago | (#32361474)

Complex life is another thing, of course... (or - we're frakked, because the aliens will turn out to be total badasses; due to evolving in very harsh conditions ;p )

I'm guessing where they evolved will make precious little difference, we've built tools to let us survive far more than our bodies could take. What's a little bone exoskeleton against a kevlar vest? I'm fairly sure it's only in Avatar you can fire a machine gun all over a beast's face and not have it become a bloody pulp.

Re:"Weird"? (2, Interesting)

sznupi (719324) | more than 4 years ago | (#32361706)

However, don't forget that the tools are also influenced by different circumstances.

If they, by using your example, would be naturally more armored (plus what's stopping them from also adding artificial armor, even to the point of modifying bone exoskeleton into a kind of composite armor that our modern tanks use?) - there could be pressure present to develop more effective weapons. If they would evolve in a place with 2g, they would be able to effortlessly carry a cargo equal to their mass when on Earth (that would be actually required for them to move comfortably - look at footage from the Moon ;p ). Who knows if their LEO figthers wouldn't tend to outclass ours in such case, meant to routinelly "fight" much deeper gravity well...

(all of this of course assuming we're on roughly equal footing, discarding the required huge technological advancement to get to us)

Re:"Weird"? (4, Interesting)

Wiarumas (919682) | more than 4 years ago | (#32361754)

But perhaps a badass exoskeleton life form wouldn't be that smart. Think of the Alien movies... they were highly evolved, but not really intelligent. Probably because they became such efficient killers that they never had to outsmart other animals. Which, as a result, would mean that unless we had to conquer a planet, we would never encounter such beasts. And if we did, I would hope that science would have had made enough advances allow us to effectively kill them seeing that we were able to overcome intergalactic travel.

Re:"Weird"? (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32361990)

I was always under the impression that the aliens were genetically engineered rather than evolved, in which case you probably don't want your elite killing machines to be smarter than you (although they demostrated great cunning). Predator, on the other hand, represents a naturally evolved alien race with intelligence.

Re:"Weird"? (4, Funny)

corbettw (214229) | more than 4 years ago | (#32362548)

I wonder if there's a way to handle creatures like that from far away? Like, in orbit. You know, just to be sure.

Re:"Weird"? (1)

Gulthek (12570) | more than 4 years ago | (#32362642)

Point #1: there's no such thing as "highly evolved". You and I (or the xenomorph) is no more highly evolved than an mold spore. We've all evolved in parallel to best fit into our respective environments, if we weren't then we'd be extinct.

Point #2: the xenomorph didn't evolve. It was a genetically engineered weapon ready to be dropped out of the bomb bays of the derelict alien spaceship, but something went wrong.

Pedantic. Yes.

Re:"Weird"? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32363240)

Point #2: the xenomorph didn't evolve. It was a genetically engineered weapon ready to be dropped out of the bomb bays of the derelict alien spaceship, but something went wrong.

[citation needed]

Re:"Weird"? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32363360)

We as the human species are highly evolved because we can manipulate the environment we live in, our brain and thought process are more complex. We are further down the evolution chain, and therefore "highly evolved" compared to other species such as mold spores.

Re:"Weird"? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32365340)

We're smarter (and better looking) but it doesn't mean we evolved any more.

Re:"Weird"? (4, Insightful)

mcvos (645701) | more than 4 years ago | (#32361490)

For complex life to develop, you need conditions that do regularly provide evolutionary pressure, without completely wiping out all life.

Asteroid impacts are fine and even very useful for wiping out stagnant populations (like the dinosaurs) and giving room for new species to develop into, but they shouldn't be so big that they demolish the entire planet, or occur so often that no life is possible on the surface of the planet. Jupiter plays a huge role in that.

But there are also other factors. I'm pretty sure that our big moon and the tides it generates are a big factor in creating ever changing environments that provide a lot of opportunities and evolutionary pressure for populations, and that's all caused by a devastating Mars-sized impact. But another one like that would easily wipe out all life here.

Weather, seismic activity, it all plays a role. I definitely think our planet has a good chance of being reasonably unique.

Re:"Weird"? (4, Insightful)

Absolut187 (816431) | more than 4 years ago | (#32361714)

The fact that earth's history was necessary for US to involve, does not mean that earth's history is necessary for THEM to evolve.

We are what we are because of the earth's history, not vice versa.

Re:"Weird"? (4, Insightful)

Mindcontrolled (1388007) | more than 4 years ago | (#32362066)

True, but highly elliptical orbits pose not only the problem of harsh conditions, but of rapidly changing, oscillating conditions. This becomes a problem for the evolution of a biochemistry because every complex chemical system is only stable in a rather narrow interval. If the oscillation is large enough, there might just be no stable biochemistry possible.

Given that you need a reasonable amount of complexity to implement the basic necessities of life, in particular information storage, as well as a metabolism, I don't see much of an alternative to a carbon-based biochemistry. Carbon-based chemistry is the most versatile system, able to build a near infinite variations of molecules - this is a singular property among all the elements.

However, organic molecules tend to be not overly stable outside of a rather small temperature range. On the one hand, this is good for life, because it provides the necessary chemical reactivity and flexibility to make a living system possible. On the other hand, this severely limits possible habitats for extraterrestrial life. On the gripping hand, the conditions on Earth are not just favourable for any random biochemistry, they are favourable for the most complex class of chemical compounds possible. This does not exclude the possibility of other biochemistries adapted to other conditions, it does, however limit the set of possible conditions for life.

Re:"Weird"? (1)

Vekseid (1528215) | more than 4 years ago | (#32362162)

That does not remove Earth and other planets as valid data points. We know that Venus and Mars, if they had life at one point, don't have much now, for a variety of reasons we can only work to refine our data on.

At the same time, we can look at a number of extrasolar planets and come to similar conclusions by observation. While we can't really know until we find another world harboring complex life, we can look at an ever-increasing number of dead rocks to see what conditions are obviously unsuitable.

Re:"Weird"? (1)

BJ_Covert_Action (1499847) | more than 4 years ago | (#32363846)

We know that Venus and Mars, if they had life at one point, don't have much now,

I have to say that is an assertion rather than a fact. We have not discovered much life on Venus or Mars yet, but consider that we have only sent a small handful of probes and rovers to either. We may have mapped the surface of Mars from orbit, but that doesn't mean we would have discovered whatever potential life may be there. Consider the fact that many of the Earth imaging satellite systems have a very hard time resolving pictures of humans on the surface (really, even getting 30 meter resolution of visible data is extremely difficult). That said, having a couple of imaging satellites over Mars is hardly enough to rule out some kind of more complex life. Add to that the fact that Mars is pocked with numerous craters and canyons and such (both at the poles and the equator) and it becomes apparent that we still don't know that much about Mars. Hell, for an exercise, just try searching for images of Mars developed in the 1990's and then images developed in the 2000's. You will see a huge difference in the way the planet is depicted precisely because there was so much new information to be learned in that small span of time. Making the claim, therefore, that Mars doesn't have much life on it now is a very bold statement considering that our high resolution data of Mars is still very small at best. Frankly, we just haven't explored that planet enough to know whether or not there still is some kind of life on or below the surface.

Now, if we take a look at Venus, the data is even more limited. We hardly have any surface data of that planet. We hardly have any probes that have penetrated the atmosphere and beamed back detailed information. We don't have any rovers poking around there. To claim that there is not much life on Venus is simply a bold statement brought on by over-confidence in our scientific progression in the last fifty years or so. We still don't have much of a clue regarding the minute details of the Venusian surface so to claim that there isn't some form of complex life there is simply unfounded.

Re:"Weird"? (1)

sznupi (719324) | more than 4 years ago | (#32361844)

Question is - where is the "optimal" point for such evolutionary pressure? I don't think we can assume we have it (who even knows in which direction is our deviation), even if our limited data suggest we're quite close (and for exactly what kind of life? We can probably assume that for complex biological one, sure, even it exists for few hundred millions years only - the rest of the time being dominated by bacteria...which still rule this place; but is it for "intelligent" life? So far we seem to be quite self-destructive, triggering one of the biggest extinction events...)

Re:"Weird"? (1)

maxume (22995) | more than 4 years ago | (#32362808)

Ever since the cyanobacteria poisoned the atmosphere, life has been the biggest evolutionary pressure that life has had to face.

Re:"Weird"? (2, Interesting)

cowscows (103644) | more than 4 years ago | (#32363868)

I'm curious as to why you've referred to the dinosaur population pre-extinction as stagnant. I'm not suggesting that you're wrong, just interested in what that might mean.

Re:"Weird"? (1)

kitsunewarlock (971818) | more than 4 years ago | (#32361636)

Or we've evolved in extraordinarily harsh conditions without realizing it and the aliens think they have it easy.
"You guys only live for *how* many centuries each? And you require two people to pass on DNA to encourage evolutionary mutations so your spawn can adapt to future changes in your enviornment?!"

Evolutionary pressure (1)

currently_awake (1248758) | more than 4 years ago | (#32361662)

Necessity is the mother of invention = occasional environmental disruptions are the driver to complex life and intelligence. I think we have ice ages and meteorites to thank for intelligent life on earth. Without the need, why evolve past single cells?

Re:"Weird"? (1)

Absolut187 (816431) | more than 4 years ago | (#32361688)

Obviously "weird" and "extreme" are relative terms.
BUT, it seems reasonable to presume that inconsistency may be detrimental to formation of life.

Its one thing to evolve to adapt to an extremely hot location.
But its another thing to adapt to a location that fluctuates between extreme hot and extreme cold, etc. Not saying its impossible, but probably more difficult.

An erratic orbit could lead to severe fluctuation.

Re:"Weird"? (1)

ElKry (1544795) | more than 4 years ago | (#32362388)

But its another thing to adapt to a location that fluctuates between extreme hot and extreme cold, etc. Not saying its impossible, but probably more difficult.

I don't know about you, but where I live, we call them "summer" and "winter".

You're right, "extreme" is a relative term.

Re:"Weird"? (1)

Dragonslicer (991472) | more than 4 years ago | (#32362678)

But its another thing to adapt to a location that fluctuates between extreme hot and extreme cold, etc. Not saying its impossible, but probably more difficult.

I don't know about you, but where I live, we call them "summer" and "winter". You're right, "extreme" is a relative term.

A large number of species deal with the seasons by avoiding them, such as by migration or hibernation. In areas with greater variation, winters tend to be fairly dead.

Re:"Weird"? (1)

LWATCDR (28044) | more than 4 years ago | (#32361788)

Not really.
On earth life that becomes a total bad ass to use your words tends to come from a moderate climate.
If it is too harsh then nobody does anything but just survive.
Too soft and well no effort is really needed.

Re:"Weird"? (4, Informative)

PineHall (206441) | more than 4 years ago | (#32362134)

This fits the Rare Earth hypothesis [wikipedia.org] which argues that complex life is rare in the universe. So earth's situation is "weird" and unusual if the hypothesis is correct.

Re:"Weird"? (1)

happy_place (632005) | more than 4 years ago | (#32362278)

But this article suggests the origins of life, that's the very first living creatures, not diversification as we find on our own planet. It may be that very stable and nutrient rich solutions with very few variations are necessary to coddle the first stages of life into existence, after which evolutionary processes can start the whole "survival of the fittest" diversification of life, that causes life to evolve into an ability to dwell in more extreme climates. This would also explain why seas were a cradle of life, because even physical movement is restricted, and as competition evolves and the ability of life to move and compete increases, then life would be able to move into more "challenging" ecosystems, like faster moving, air-breathing land-based creatures.

Re:"Weird"? (1)

mldi (1598123) | more than 4 years ago | (#32362596)

(or - we're frakked, because the aliens will turn out to be total badasses; due to evolving in very harsh conditions ;p )

Depends what atmosphere the fight is in.

Re:"Weird"? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32362830)

the aliens will turn out to be total badasses

So basically a planet full of Keanu Reeves'?

Re:"Weird"? (5, Informative)

wiredlogic (135348) | more than 4 years ago | (#32362870)

If anything, all of this could be mean that our system is quite weird; at least on average.

Possibly, but not likely. Our current planet detection methods are skewed toward finding the oddballs with high mass and highly elliptical low orbital periods. They induce the most wobble and occlude the most light from their stars. As such, they are the easiest to find over short observation periods.

Re:"Weird"? (1)

49152 (690909) | more than 4 years ago | (#32362908)

If anything, all of this could be mean that our system is quite weird; at least on average.

While we still lack the capability to detect Earth like planets around Sun like sun systems I think it is meaningless to use empirical data to discuss if our own solar system is average or not.

The only planets we can detect are either gas giants and preferably close to their sun or smaller planets around red dwarfs.

Re:"Weird"? (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32364338)

It's almost like we were created, or something...

Re:"Weird"? (1)

MrLogic17 (233498) | more than 4 years ago | (#32364478)

> (or - we're frakked, because the aliens will turn out to be total badasses; due to evolving in very harsh conditions ;p )

See also "Death World" by Harry Harrison. Only the first book in the trilogy is any good.

Re:"Weird"? (1)

rickb928 (945187) | more than 4 years ago | (#32365272)

"or - we're frakked, because the aliens will turn out to be total badasses; due to evolving in very harsh conditions"

Hmmm...

Since anything other then *your* native environment will probly seem 'harsh', especially if you have the habit of visting all sorts of planets, visitors will probably show up here and either stay in their ships as they hose us with directed-energy weapons or spray us with whatever biological goo does us as they wish us to be done. Unlikely that they will land and walk out all crip and neat like Anna, but then again they may send cyborgs to interact with us. Disposal, assimilation or submission comes later, when they have enough data for an assessment, assuming they care at all.

But if they are somewhat more primitive, then we might get visitors that are in exposure suits, and we might be able to nick a few before they get the hang of it here.

Either way, leading with nukes and F-16s will not be our best shot. Smallpox might kill them off faster, and we can clean that up easier than worldwide nukes. Then it's the choice, do we kill the invaders and 30% of our population, or wait for a better strategy to come out of the Resistance?

ps - I'm not concerned at all.... It's just interesting.

Life adapts (3, Interesting)

Fractal Dice (696349) | more than 4 years ago | (#32361404)

If you lived on tropical shore where the climate was practically unchanging from day to day throughout the year, it would probably be hard to imagine life could exist in Canada.

Re:Life adapts (5, Funny)

Thanshin (1188877) | more than 4 years ago | (#32361468)

If you lived on tropical shore where the climate was practically unchanging from day to day throughout the year, it would probably be hard to imagine life could exist in Canada.

Have you been in Canada? It's pretty hard to imagine life can exist there, wherever you're from.

I'm pretty sure they all migrated to some warmer place as soon as I left the country, only to return and scare the next tourists with stories about actually living there.

Re:Life adapts (1)

dumuzi (1497471) | more than 4 years ago | (#32361872)

I live in Canada. Our current weather forecast is for an inch of snow tomorrow (May 28th). Boo.

canadians live underground in the winter (3, Funny)

circletimessquare (444983) | more than 4 years ago | (#32361874)

seriously

in toronto and montreal, they started building malls underground, and linking them up, so now you can practically roam the entire downtowns of these cities, all underground

in the distant future, us heroic stoic freedom fighting american movie hero archetypes will have to face invasions of the evolutionary future: the fearsome greater northern Canadian Humanoid Underground Dwellers

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/C.H.U.D [wikipedia.org] .

Re:canadians live underground in the winter (1)

mOdQuArK! (87332) | more than 4 years ago | (#32362068)

So, they're trying to become Morlocks?

Re:canadians live underground in the winter (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32362140)

That's right. You Americans will start running as soon as we start using you for food.

Re:canadians live underground in the winter (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32362168)

I, for one, welcome our new Canadian Morlock Overlords. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Morlock [wikipedia.org] .

Re:canadians live underground in the winter (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32362800)

FAIL!

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/C.H.U.D.

Re:Life adapts (1)

DarthVain (724186) | more than 4 years ago | (#32365384)

Meh. I thought it was obvious. We are polar bears that have adapted to hunting Humans by mimicking their behavior. Over time we have come to look just like them, unfortunately many have also become jerks as a result.

Re:Life adapts (4, Interesting)

TheRaven64 (641858) | more than 4 years ago | (#32361658)

The problem is expecting life to continue to adapt if it lives on a tropical shore for millions of years, then the next year the sea freezes. A lot of factors have contributed to the evolution of life on Earth. Jupiter is large enough that it captures most large chunks of rock that could cause mass extinctions. A few have it Earth, but not nearly as many as without a large gas giant. If these happen too frequently, it's hard for the ecosystem to recover. We needed one thought to split off the moon. Without the tidal forces, the surface radioactivity would be much lower and mutation rates would be very low, meaning that evolutionary changes would take longer. Intelligent life might still have evolved, but it would have taken a lot longer.

Re:Life adapts (3, Informative)

delinear (991444) | more than 4 years ago | (#32362108)

I guess the tide serves a dual purpose, rising and falling tides will expose sea-dwelling life forms to the air, eventually a variant life form will evolve that can survive in both states, and that leads eventually to land dwelling organisms. On a world with no tide there'd be little opportunity for life forms to be stranded out of water in sufficient quantities for that mutation to take hold, or at least not in anywhere near the same timeframe.

Re:Life adapts (1)

Darkman, Walkin Dude (707389) | more than 4 years ago | (#32363416)

I don't know, I mean how many amphibious life forms are there around the sea shore now, crabs maybe? Compare this to the number of actual amphibians which are in or near lakes or rivers, without tidal influence but quite susceptible to drying up, and I think that the idea that plate tectonics play a much more important role than the tides becomes clear. When plates shifted around they changed the climate, causing hot and cold spells depending on how much of them was near the polar caps, pulling vast quantities of water out of the sea and thus glaciation or warm periods. Likewise currents shifted with continental drift, creating even more climatic instability.

Re:Life adapts (1)

BJ_Covert_Action (1499847) | more than 4 years ago | (#32363976)

You know, in all of these life on other planet stories, I've seen Jupiter touted as this savior planet because it prevents so many asteroid impacts here on Earth. That's all well and good for us, but who is to say that frequent asteroid impacts couldn't be an evolutionary pressure in and of themselves? I mean, perhaps a system that got bombarded by asteroids constantly would breed a lifeform that could go into some kind os suspended animation/hibernation period during the resulting sun blackout/dust cloud. Perhaps frequent asteroid impacts would breed a lifeform that thrives in the high heat environment immediately following such an impact, but that immediately goes into some kind of slow metabolism period to survive the following winter. Hell, maybe it would breed some other completely crazy kind of lifeform that used the impact event to eject itself into the upper atmosphere where it then coasted in orbit for years, gaining energy from it's stars radiation, before slowly deorbiting back to the surface to await another impact event.

I mean, sure, humans aren't particularly evolved to handle an asteroid impact. That doesn't mean that some other form of complex life isn't.

Re:Life adapts (1)

TheRaven64 (641858) | more than 4 years ago | (#32364468)

The problem is that evolution happens slowly. Asteroid impacts are a very abrupt change in the environment. They kill off a lot of species. A very slightly larger impact last time, and even the plants would have died, causing the atmosphere to lose its oxygen content and everything else to die within a few years.

Regular small impacts would be fine. Killing off 90% of the population periodically can spur rapid adaptation, as we've seen in antibiotic-resistant bacteria, but you just need one impact that kills off 100% and it's game over. The more impacts you have, the greater the chance that one of them will kill everything.

Re:Life adapts (3, Funny)

Aurisor (932566) | more than 4 years ago | (#32363076)

Wait, there's life in Canada?

Weird Exoplanets (5, Funny)

Thanshin (1188877) | more than 4 years ago | (#32361414)

"Captain. The orbit in this exoplanet is a bit weird. Summer might get be a bit warm"

"Let's surf in the beach, warm? Or Today we all stay in the fridge, warm."

"Sir, it'll be Hold your rifle with extended arms so the metal drops don't make holes in your boots, warm."

Re:Weird Exoplanets (3, Funny)

Shakrai (717556) | more than 4 years ago | (#32361660)

Captain: Ok, let's beam down. I want the entire senior staff to join the party along with Ensign Smith [wikipedia.org] .
Ensign Smith: Fuck.

Re:Weird Exoplanets (2, Interesting)

Conspiracy_Of_Doves (236787) | more than 4 years ago | (#32361976)

I would pay good money to see a scene from the Enterprise's security lounge. Everyone huddled, quivering in their chairs in a sort of vertical fetal position, waiting for the dreaded PA to sound:

"Ensigns Smith and Jones, report to the transporter room for away team duty"

There would be wails of anguish and much gnashing of teeth.

And probably posters on the wall reminding people to make sure their Last Will and Testament is in order.

Re:Weird Exoplanets (1)

DarthVain (724186) | more than 4 years ago | (#32365420)

That and the reverence they all share towards Ensign Jimmy O'Toole the only red shirt to survive 5 away team trips. He would have a safety poster in the lounge with his face on it and a finger pointing with the text: WWJD?!

Hmmm, (4, Insightful)

Anon-Admin (443764) | more than 4 years ago | (#32361494)

First, Although the smaller inner planets would be hard pressed for life the moons of the gas giants orbiting closer to the sun could harbor life. There are only 8 (Or 9) planets in our solar system but there are over 300 moons.

Add to this that scientists seem to expect that life will only evolve on rocky earth like planets so it seems like a small chance. I know that the earth is the only example of life bearing planet that we have but to expect all life in the universe to exist in the same way that we do is narrow sighted. It would not surprise me to find out that there are fish swimming in a methane ocean on a distant planet in temperatures that would kill us.

Some day I fully expect to hear "It's Life, but not as we know it" and it not be a star trek reference. Well, Ok, how about only 1/2 a star trek reference. ;)

Re:Hmmm, (2, Funny)

thijsh (910751) | more than 4 years ago | (#32361680)

Slashdot: it's Life, but not as we know it...

Um yeah. (5, Insightful)

DaveV1.0 (203135) | more than 4 years ago | (#32361504)

Of course, the fact that we are finding these weird systems may simply be because they are the easiest to detect and all the stars with planetary systems like ours are thought to not have planets because we can't detect the planets using current methods and data.

Remember, Jupiter orbits the sun once every 12 years. So, if we were trying to detect our own solar system at 10 light years, how long would it take to detect Jupiter's effect on Sol's position?

Re:Um yeah. (5, Interesting)

confused one (671304) | more than 4 years ago | (#32361604)

You've hit the nail on the head. We're seeing these systems because either the gas giant is so close to the star that it obviously occludes the light and affects the radial acceleration of the star, or because their orbit extends far enough out from the star that it intersects with and modifies the surrounding debris cloud (think Oort).

Kepler and COROT are starting to return results. They'll need a decade or two to identify Jupiters and Kepler will need 4 or 5 years to identify an Earth or Mars.

Re:Um yeah. (1)

Barrinmw (1791848) | more than 4 years ago | (#32364336)

Wouldn't it be safe to say that almost all stars should have planets around them? I mean all stars form in almost the same way, big gas cloud coalesces down to eventually form a star. Our sun did that and was able to form 8 planets, many moons, many proto-planets, an asteroid belt and possibly the oort cloud?

Re:Um yeah. (1)

Angst Badger (8636) | more than 4 years ago | (#32363090)

Remember, Jupiter orbits the sun once every 12 years. So, if we were trying to detect our own solar system at 10 light years, how long would it take to detect Jupiter's effect on Sol's position?

Possibly never. One of the reason we can detect so-called "hot Jupiters" is not just that their orbital period is very short, but also because, being close to their parent stars, the gravitational attraction of the planet upon the star is very, very strong. Gravity falls off in proportion to the square of the distance, so a Jupiter-sized planet in a Jupiter-like orbit makes its star wobble a lot less than a Jupiter-sized planet in an extremely tight orbit.

Needless to say, this is going to profoundly bias one's results if you take this kind of inherently limited sample and extrapolate to stellar systems in general. To make the obligatory car analogy, this is like standing under a bridge and only being able to observe the vehicles that make the bridge shake a lot as they pass over. It will seem as if all vehicles are tractor trailers because you just can't detect the much larger number of small cars passing over.

Mind you, this doesn't mean that these stellar systems don't represent the norm, and if we eventually detect systems like this in most of the places we look, they will turn out to be the norm even if we can't ever detect smaller planets. However, at this point, it's way too early to say.

Is it a surprise... (3, Insightful)

Chrisq (894406) | more than 4 years ago | (#32361512)

Is it really a surprise that Life on earth is ideally suited to the environment in which it has evolved for four billion years, but would find other environments difficult?

Re:Is it a surprise... (1)

Bicx (1042846) | more than 4 years ago | (#32361724)

Yes, who says life on other planets has to be similar to what we see on Earth?

Re:Is it a surprise... (3, Informative)

camperdave (969942) | more than 4 years ago | (#32362288)

Yes, who says life on other planets has to be similar to what we see on Earth?

Basic chemistry. You need to have chemical bonds which are stable, but not so strong that it takes vast quantities of energy to reform molecules. Carbon compounds and water soluble chemicals are where it's at, baby.

Re:Is it a surprise... (1)

Migraineman (632203) | more than 4 years ago | (#32363114)

That's fine, as long as you inflict earth's environmental conditions on your exoplanet. What happens if liquid water isn't available? Say, for example, the temperature is lower, or the atmospheric pressure is low. Water and carbon may not be the sweet spot anymore. Are you willing to make an arrogant statement like "There is no liquid water, therefore life is impossible"? I certainly wouldn't say something like that.

Liquid methane [wikipedia.org] is a candidate - we've observed it elsewhere. Same thing goes for ammonia [wikipedia.org] . Ammonia also has a dipole moment, making it polar like water.

Regardless, your statement about not taking vast quantities of energy to reform molecules is spot on. We definitely need to be looking toward the "simple" end of the periodic table [wikipedia.org] . Maybe Boron-based life with an Ammonia "water" cycle?

Re:Is it a surprise... (1)

Mindcontrolled (1388007) | more than 4 years ago | (#32363814)

Other solvents - yeah, possible. Other base compounds than carbon? Well, I won't say impossible, but at least extremely unlikely. Boron has a somewhat complex, but in fact rather boring chemistry (sorry for the pun). Life needs complexity, flexibility and adaptability in its underlying chemistry. Si *might* be a candidate, with a silane chemistry quite similar to that of carbon - might be stable enough at lower temperatures to form some kind of biochemistry. Apart from that, I don't see any likely candidate.

Re:Is it a surprise... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32362300)

We all do, because we're here. We're the only life we know about so it does make sense that life on other planets would have to be similar. At worst we're studying a subset of life.

Re:Is it a surprise... (1)

courteaudotbiz (1191083) | more than 4 years ago | (#32361726)

OTOH, I don't see how a form of primitive life can adapt to so much drastic and regular changes that are over a timespan of 1000 years, while some not so drastic and truly exceptional changes here have almost caused a total extinction of most species over that same timeframe.

Re:Is it a surprise... (1)

Danse (1026) | more than 4 years ago | (#32361822)

OTOH, I don't see how a form of primitive life can adapt to so much drastic and regular changes that are over a timespan of 1000 years, while some not so drastic and truly exceptional changes here have almost caused a total extinction of most species over that same timeframe.

When you consider that the overwhelmingly vast majority of species that have ever existed have gone extinct, it's not so surprising anymore. Only those that are adapted well enough to handle the environment get to continue on. Sudden environmental changes can wipe out species pretty easily.

Re:Is it a surprise... (1)

Chrisq (894406) | more than 4 years ago | (#32362060)

Exactly. I can envision some aliens saying "Many planets are uninhabitable because they rotate relative to the start they orbit. How could life survive such abrupt changes in light and tempearature"

Re:Is it a surprise... (2, Insightful)

noidentity (188756) | more than 4 years ago | (#32362026)

Is it really any surprise that life on Earth has evolved to not bother considering whether its views are self-suited, or truely objective, and thus has trouble grasping that its way of life isn't the only one?

Not really (1)

Any Web Loco (555458) | more than 4 years ago | (#32362174)

Not really, no. [wikipedia.org]

Re:Is it a surprise... (1)

CAIMLAS (41445) | more than 4 years ago | (#32362434)

Not really.

However, it is potentially surprising that the orbits of other planets within the solar system could impact the ecosystems of each other in a significantly appreciable fashion.

Ironically, there is a school of thought that says the orbits of the planets in our solar system has only recently stabilized - ie, within recorded human history. It's not well supported and I have no idea about the scientific backing, but there is argument that the legends of old - of the gods fighting in the skies - is actually referring to chaotic planetary orbits. "Mars", the god of war (and by other names in different cultures) was the most chaotic; I forget the specifics of the others, but...

The argument goes that the craters and canyons on the rocky planets and planetoids (mars, the moon, earth) were not caused by erosion, but electrostatic discharge - between closely passing planets exchanging ionosphere polarity - resulting in the large arcs of scarring. Supposedly, these planetary exchanges are what the ancients saw, resulting in their impressions of powerful, angry gods. It wasn't until later, when the planetary orbits stabilized, that more "benevolent" gods started to pop up in folklore. This somewhat coincides with the whole "heavenly gods" or that the gods were stars.

Seems like a possibility, at any rate: it would certainly explain why our ancestors made that (to us) absurd assumption of the stars (ie planets) being terrible gods which war in the sky (as opposed to just shiny lights in the night sky).

I found a link on the topic. I recall reading an additional one which delves more into the mythological/cultural reasoning, but can't find it right now.

Re:Is it a surprise... (1)

CAIMLAS (41445) | more than 4 years ago | (#32363172)

Uh, link:

http://www.holoscience.com/views/view_mars.htm

THE deciding factor? (1)

jdgeorge (18767) | more than 4 years ago | (#32361826)

Either the difference between "a" and "the" completely eludes our submitter, or the submitter completely fails to comprehend, you know, what the heck he's talking about.

I know, it's Slashdot... I should expect it to be both. If only there were some way to complain about the editors and moderators for this....

Please (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32361914)

Why do these people consistently think that they can prove/disprove extrasolar life based on next to no information, and what little information they do have is based mostly on unproven theoretical models. Until we actually send a probe/go there or develop some awesome telescopes capable of imagining the actual planets at a few megapixles all of this conjecture is moot. I would compare it to someone taking a photo of a rock in their back yard with one of those $10 digital cameras from the checkout, looking at the picture and saying "that rock is completely sterile" because it looks desolate and cold, when that same rock examined under a microscope would almost certainly reveal bugs, bacteria, moss and other life almost immediately.

The Blame Game (3, Funny)

theVP (835556) | more than 4 years ago | (#32361916)

Sure, so now when the world ends, we'll just blame it on Jupiter! "Hey, Jupiter, why'd you lose weight?" "Hey, Jupiter, how come you eat so much?" "Hey, Jupiter, what happened to that cute red spot? Did you get it removed? Because I really thought it was sexy." Why don't we just leave Jupiter alone, and quit being so judgmental?

Such planets exist in Sci-Fi too (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32362310)

Vernor Vinge - a Deepness in the Sky

On a planet whose atmosphere freezes on a 500-year cycle. Nice read.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Deepness_in_the_Sky

Don't worry (1)

gzipped_tar (1151931) | more than 4 years ago | (#32362362)

If Solaris can do it, other exoplanets can probably do it too.

Umbrellas (1)

fireheadca (853580) | more than 4 years ago | (#32362692)

Obvisouly, our gas giants are nothing more than alien umbrella forcefields collecting star dust.

Other large exo planets are just other umbrellas cast into the solar wind.

It makes sense now, doesn't it? It's a fact then.

WTF? (1)

Hognoxious (631665) | more than 4 years ago | (#32362700)

From the linked article: (it says it twice)

Ups And c and d

WTF?

There's an app for that... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32362810)

http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/exoplanet/id327702034?mt=8

Re:There's an app for that... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32362874)

brilliant

Apparently only Humans exist anywhere (1)

Stregano (1285764) | more than 4 years ago | (#32363254)

This is something I see when I read articles about life beyond Earth all the time. The conditions for human survival are not possible, so it gets marked as "No possible way there could be life here and if there was life here, it was not complex".

I understand we know what we see, but I also think it is a very narrow and almost egotistical view and way of seeing things. Earth and our life is not the only life on any planet. We are not the only planet with life. I have no proof of complex life on other planets, but you would have to be out of your mind to assume that this is the only planet with life on it.

We compare everything to what is on Earth, but at the same time completely ignoring the fact that not every single planet is Earth.

It might be very possible for an entire complex species to exist on another planet without water. Maybe they require something else, something very different to us, like Helium or something.

With how much of a small percentage of the galaxy we have mapped, thinking that the conditions on Earth are what is needed for every single other complex lifeform just seems very egotistical. One of those, "If it is not like Earth, it can't happen".

Drake's equation keeps evolving (1)

gmuslera (3436) | more than 4 years ago | (#32363722)

give it enough time, and will became self-aware. And then we will realize that the very equation for finding intelligent life in the universe is the intelligent life that we were searching for.

Re:Drake's equation keeps evolving (1)

currently_awake (1248758) | more than 4 years ago | (#32365398)

The drake equation calculates the number of life bearing planets in the galaxy. Even if you make very conservative choices on the drake equation you've still got a lot of planets that should have intelligent life. So the question is why haven't they contacted us yet? And the usual answer is their tech is incompatible with ours, that they don't use primitive radio waves anymore. Or they are stuck in a pre-hi-tech civ (human cultures run in cycles, most pre-western civs hit a plateau around ancient greece or ancient rome and stopped advancing. Or their president cancelled manned spaceflight for budgetary reasons. Or they heard us and got scared listening to war of the worlds so they shut up before we heard them. The bottom line is we'll never know till we send out interstellar probes to look.

That explains what I read yesterday (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32364448)

"I spent my life savings on a month in the tropics to recover from the deadbeat job I was just sacked from, but my exoplant just decided to go elliptical a trillion miles from the sun. FML"

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