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Alpha Centauri Has an Earth-Sized Planet

Soulskill posted about 2 years ago | from the i-wonder-if-they-have-oil dept.

Space 152

The Bad Astronomer writes "Astronomers have announced that the nearest star system in the sky — Alpha Centauri — has an Earth-sized planet orbiting one of its stars. Alpha Cen is technically a three-star system: a binary composed of two stars very much like the Sun, orbited by a third, a red dwarf, much farther out. Using the Doppler technique (looking for very small changes in the velocities of the stars) astronomers detected a planet orbiting the smaller of the two stars in the binary, Alpha Centauri B. The planet has a mass only 1.13 times that of the Earth, making it one of the smallest yet detected.However, it orbits the star only 6 million kilometers out, so it's far too hot to be habitable. The signal from the planet is extremely weak but solidly detected (PDF), giving astronomers even greater hope of being able to find an Earth-like planet orbiting a star in its habitable zone."

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That sounds really cool (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41676131)

Let's use that as a setting for a sci fi movie and waste it on contortionist zombies and scientists who act like complete douchebag morons. Awesome.

Re:That sounds really cool (5, Funny)

jamstar7 (694492) | about 2 years ago | (#41676251)

Let's use that as a setting for a sci fi movie and waste it on contortionist zombies and scientists who act like complete douchebag morons. Awesome.

Seriously, dood, you gotta stop writing for SyFy Channel.

Re:That sounds really cool (2)

felixrising (1135205) | about 2 years ago | (#41677111)

Let's use that as a setting for a sci fi movie and waste it on contortionist zombies and scientists who act like complete douchebag morons. Awesome.

Did you have a hand in Prometheus?!

Re:That sounds really cool (5, Funny)

pellik (193063) | about 2 years ago | (#41677345)

Let's use that as a setting for a sci fi movie and waste it on contortionist zombies and scientists who act like complete douchebag morons. Awesome.

Seriously, dood, you gotta stop writing for SyFy Channel.

I don't get it. What does his comment have to do with wrestling?

Re:That sounds really cool (1)

flex941 (521675) | about 2 years ago | (#41679185)

There are some "Zombie Originals" too on the channel from time to time when wrestlers rest.

Re:That sounds really cool (5, Funny)

MachDelta (704883) | about 2 years ago | (#41676255)

Sounds good. Let's call it... Chiron. Or maybe Manifold 6?
Ooh, ooh, is it going to have telepathic worms?

Re:That sounds really cool (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41676373)

We should send seven leaders, who can't agree on anything, on a spaceship to go visit and check the place out.

we already knew this from Star Trek (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41676143)

We already know that Zefram Cochrane is going there sometime in the next century to retire and live out his life with a cloud being... probably Apple's iCloud

yes yes yes nope (0, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41676149)

Alpha Centauri Planet found. mass similar to earth, .6 million mile radius
Oh wow thats pretty cool. earth size planet maybe theres... nope.

Dear /S/cientists (5, Interesting)

DSS11Q13 (1853164) | about 2 years ago | (#41676151)

how do planets orbit binary star systems? I would think two stars would give the planets erratic orbits that would either send them into one of the suns or shoot them into space.

Re:Dear /S/cientists (0)

Kaenneth (82978) | about 2 years ago | (#41676179)

Any system of bodies is going to have a center of gravity. My guess (not having read TFA) is that this planet is many times further away from the binary stars than they are to each other.

Re:Dear /S/cientists (3, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41676219)

Any system of bodies is going to have a center of gravity. My guess (not having read TFA) is that this planet is many times further away from the binary stars than they are to each other.

From the PDF, it seems to be the opposite:

With a separation to its parent star of only 0.04 AU, the planet is orbiting very close to Alpha Centauri B compared to the location of the habitable zone.

Re:Dear /S/cientists (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41676435)

The stars are actually very wide spaced compared to the planet-star system itself. As a result, the planet is well within the gravity well of B. At a minimum AB separation is 11AU - well over 200 times the B-planet separation.

Orbit centred on A: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/e/ee/Orbit_Alpha_Centauri_AB_arcsec.png

Simulation plus table of info: http://www.solstation.com/orbits/ac-absys.htm

Re:Dear /S/cientists (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41676245)

Didn't read the summary, either -- it's orbiting one member of the binary, which means it's much closer than the binary separation.

Re:Dear /S/cientists (4, Informative)

harperska (1376103) | about 2 years ago | (#41676283)

Having RTFA (I know), this planet is very close in to one of the stars, in this case Alpha Centauri B. There are two possibilities for planets in a binary system, either orbiting close in to one of the stars, or far away from both. I think I remember reading once that Alpha Centauri A and B are far enough apart from each other that there is a good chance that planets in either star's habitable zone would have stable orbits.

Re:Dear /S/cientists (4, Interesting)

wierd_w (1375923) | about 2 years ago | (#41676573)

What are the prospects for a single orbiting planet (let's exclude other objects) orbiting both stars in a figure 8 configuration, crossing the barycenter of the star's combined rotations?

(Eg, both stars orbit clockwise as seen from plane of rotation north, and orbit each other in an elipse. A planet orbits first one star, then the other, crossing the barycenter at the period of maximal approach of the two stars, moving from one star to the other like a dance partner in a ballroom routine.)

Assuming that the objects are free from outside gravitational purturbations, are exactly the right distance apart, and that the periodicity of the planet's orbits between the stars is exactly synchronized, would such a system be stable?

Re:Dear /S/cientists (5, Informative)

Vekseid (1528215) | about 2 years ago | (#41676663)

It'll get ejected - that configuration isn't stable.

For Alpha Centauri A and B, the 'stable zone' is out to roughly Jupiter's orbit from each star - plenty of room for both to have habitable worlds.

Re:Dear /S/cientists (2)

wierd_w (1375923) | about 2 years ago | (#41676991)

Oh, I understand it would be absurdly touchy, pretty much garanteed to not exist, and almost certainly not stable long term.

We could juice it up a little, and say that there is a very massive object that orbits both stars at a very large radius out, around the combined center of rotation. Say, a class M star, or a brown dwarf. This object will perturb the orbit of the hypothetical figure-8 planet. (We will assume that the planet is very far frrom the parent stars, say jupiter orbit equiv, and that the companion stars are very far apart as well. (The distance between the locked stars at closest approach is slightly greater than the greatest distance of the planet's orbit.) The timing of the 3rd, distant star is such that it provides the nudge to push the planet out of orbit of the first star, and into the orbit of the second. (Let's view it this way: the planet is moving in toward the barycenter clockwise from the northwest quadrant. For visualization purposes, we are locking camera rotation so that both stars are fixed on the X axis and periodically approach and recede each other. The 3rd massive body orbits clockwise, and is say, 5 degrees off the X axis at the point of transit, in the north east quadrant. As the planet transits, it would gain a shitton of momentum, and woult tend to get thrown out like a stone from a sling. However, the location of the 3rd massive object curves the tradjectory, preventing ejection. The planet then orbits the second star eliptically, and rotates much faster on its own axis. As the system returns to the point of closest proximity again, the 3rd object has exchanged places such that it is at the complimentary angle, the planet passes the transit point, is again caught by the gravitational influence of the 3rd star, and forced into orbit with the original partner again. The change in orbital rotation (clockwise-anticlockwise) caused by the figure 8 orbit, causes the rotation of the planet to radically drop, possibly tide locking with the first star. The system then repeats. Orbital momentum of the 3rd star is conserved by the wobble of the system barycenter as the planet enters conjection with each star relative to its location.)

The 3rd star would shepherd the crazy figure8 planet, keeping it from being ejected.

I might pull an orbital simulator and see if this can actually work.

Re:Dear /S/cientists (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41677337)

I have a feeling it could work, but as others and you said, it would be highly unlikely. The masses of the three bodies and the distance between the binary entities would need to be just right. Hypothetically speaking, if that could work then you could expand things to a planet and three stars that are equidistant, then four stars and perhaps at some point even accommodate multiple planets. Again, that's merely an idea, not to mention the fact that eventually the stars would be gone, but so will our sun, which our planet orbits. Of course, the greater the complication, the less stable the system as a unit could be. It's still fun to dream, though.

Re:Dear /S/cientists (2)

Vekseid (1528215) | about 2 years ago | (#41677459)

And that's just it - all stars involved are shedding mass in different directions, at varying rates. You might have instances where a single figure-eight of sorts gets performed, but that means there's been a capture and likely a subsequent ejection. But unless you actually want to engineer this somehow, and have a means of keeping it stable (planetary thrusters go!) - it won't be seen. If we ever find something like that the first assumption is going to be aliens having fun, and that's what Occom's razor is going to boil down to.

Re:Dear /S/cientists (1)

cyberdime (2750427) | about 2 years ago | (#41679415)

What are the prospects for a single orbiting planet (let's exclude other objects) orbiting both stars in a figure 8 configuration, crossing the barycenter of the star's combined rotations?

Why not just an ellipse? As it nears each star, the planet gets a gravity assist [wikipedia.org] that forces it into an extended comet-like orbit.

Re:Dear /S/cientists (2)

dotancohen (1015143) | about 2 years ago | (#41679429)

What are the prospects for a single orbiting planet (let's exclude other objects) orbiting both stars in a figure 8 configuration, crossing the barycenter of the star's combined rotations?

I asked this very question not long ago:
http://physics.stackexchange.com/questions/31201/might-a-planet-perform-figure-8-orbits-around-two-stars [stackexchange.com]

Re:Dear /S/cientists (2)

xigxag (167441) | about 2 years ago | (#41676317)

The planet is 6 million km from B, or roughly 10x closer than Mercury-sun.

A and B are roughly 3.5 billion km from each other, or roughly the Sun-Uranus distance.

So, no.

Re:Dear /S/cientists (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41676441)

hehehe uranus

Re:Dear /S/cientists (1)

Shavano (2541114) | about 2 years ago | (#41677905)

Any system of bodies is going to have a center of gravity. My guess (not having read TFA) is that this planet is many times further away from the binary stars than they are to each other.

No, that's not what TFA says. It says it is many times closer to one of the stars than it is to either of the others. The other two stars have only minor effects on its orbit.

Re:Dear /S/cientists (1)

wonkey_monkey (2592601) | about 2 years ago | (#41678793)

My guess is that you didn't read TFS either - the planet is orbiting the smaller of the binary pair.

Re:Dear /S/cientists (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41676189)

Close into the binary the field is going to be a bit convoluted, but as you tend to infinite radius the field lines just look like there's one big object at the centre of the system.

Re:Dear /S/cientists (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41676271)

TFS says this planet orbits one of the stars at a distance of 6million km i.e. 1/10 the orbital distance of Mercury. The stars are separated by 200-300 times that distance.

Re:Dear /S/cientists (4, Informative)

bjorniac (836863) | about 2 years ago | (#41676347)

It's rather the same way the moon orbits the earth. If you have a binary system, a planet can quite happily orbit very close to one of the two stars so long as the distance between the planet and the star it orbits is smaller than the distance between stars. The pair of stars will orbit their mutual center of mass, and the planet will orbit a single star.

Of course, the three body problem is an open question in physics, but if you make the assumption that one of the masses is much smaller than the other two it (which is the case for planets orbiting stars) it becomes quite solvable, especially if you're happy with numerical simulations of orbits.

A similar situation is possible if the planet is a long way from the pair of stars, and would then orbit their center of mass. That isn't the case here, but is certainly a feasible solution to the problem. You only really get orbits that are highly erratic when the planets orbital radius is over a quarter of the distance between the stars.

Throughout this I've assumed equal mass stars. Feel free to put a factor of M1/M2 in front of every distance I gave for non-equal mass stars.

Re:Dear /S/cientists (3, Informative)

MyLongNickName (822545) | about 2 years ago | (#41676579)

Not an erratic orbit at all. Picture Jupiter. If it suddenly increased its mass by a factor of 20, it might have enough mass to become a star, but would have virtually no impact on the orbit of Mercury, and very little on Earth or Venus. Just because a body becomes a star does not require planets to orbit both stars. In actuality, all planets orbit the center of mass of the solar system. In our solar system's case that resides inside the sphere of our sun.

Re:Dear /S/cientists (4, Informative)

MyLongNickName (822545) | about 2 years ago | (#41677819)

For those who care

Jupiter is about 0.0009 solar masses. Current models of nuclear fusion predict that if an object has mass of about 0.07 solar masses it will begin a fusion reaction. So Jupiter would need to swell to 80 times its current mass.

Re:Dear /S/cientists (2)

MyLongNickName (822545) | about 2 years ago | (#41677843)

More reading indicates that the center of mass of our solar system can be inside or outside of our solar system depending on the position of Jupiter relative to Saturn. I didn't know this before.... interesting stuff.

Re:Dear /S/cientists (1)

tyrus568 (644456) | about 2 years ago | (#41678155)

I take it you meant inside or outside our sun. I didn't know that either.

Re:Dear /S/cientists (1)

confused one (671304) | about 2 years ago | (#41676771)

There have been a number of planets found orbiting binary star systems. Kepler has identified a planet around a star in a binary pair, orbited much further out by another binary pair.

Re:Dear /S/cientists (1)

sFurbo (1361249) | about 2 years ago | (#41679247)

Either very close to one star (as in this case), so it is, in effect, orbiting one star, of vary far from the star, so it is orbiting the center of mass. I think both could be unstable, but so could any three-body problem, and that hasn't stopped our solar system from existing.

Re:Dear /S/cientists (1)

Tastecicles (1153671) | about 2 years ago | (#41679465)

All bodies in all solar systems orbit a common centre of gravity - which is not necessarily even within the central star. As planetary systems go, those in binary systems orbit the barycentre of the stellar system, unless they orbit too close to either of the stars in which case it becomes a Lorentzian body, which then orbits both stars in a semi-chaotic orbit describing a figure-8 of varying distance from both stars, with both stars becoming orbital axes.

I'd leave well enough alone! (3, Interesting)

p51d007 (656414) | about 2 years ago | (#41676185)

If somehow we "made contact" with some "ET" type, and they had the means to get here "quickly", you think they would come in friendship? LOL, probably blow us up like the Klingons, Borg or some other crap. Just leave things alone will ya?

Re:I'd leave well enough alone! (3, Insightful)

MyLongNickName (822545) | about 2 years ago | (#41676891)

Why is this modded down? Stephen Hawking [neatorama.com] would agree.

Re:I'd leave well enough alone! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41679155)

If aliens exist nearby and they're sufficiently advanced for rapid interstellar travel and thus pose a threat, then they already know about us.

Re:I'd leave well enough alone! (2, Insightful)

sakari (194257) | about 2 years ago | (#41679911)

If somehow we "made contact" with some "ET" type, and they had the means to get here "quickly", you think they would come
in friendship? LOL, probably blow us up like the Klingons, Borg or some other crap. Just leave things alone will ya?

That's what the television and movies tell you, don't they? Do you ever wonder why most of them tell that ETs are here to attack us ?
To keep us in Fear and to believe that if someone would come here, this would be automatically justify a reason for us to attack them.

Think about how the US & Hollywood portrays terrorists in movies, TV -series and mainstream news. Same thing with Extraterrestrial Life.

Oh, and btw. Imagine, that if there are civilizations out there who are _exponentially_ more evolved, have the capability to understand 100,000,000 times more of every aspect of technology and life, why would they travel here slowly ? They would have most probably already mastered Quantum Teleportation and other technologies we are still dabbling around with, and therefore would already know how to transfer themselves physically to our realms if needed.

And if a lifeform has gained such high insights into life itself, it would have already meant that they had gone through the phase of understanding that killing themselves and others is not the way. So why would such a race attack us ?

And now, if there is a race that wants us as their slaves, wouldn't they just infiltrate themselves into our society instead of attacking directly? What's the point of just killing everyone and taking the planet ? Any race that could come from such far distances would have to technologically and socially so much more advanced, they must have thought about more advanced tactics also.

  And maybe this has already happened, and we are living in such a society where we are slaves to some certain bloodlines who are in contact with these beings .. think about kings & queens, why are always the same f*ckers in control and most of the society feels like slaves to them ? Think about this possibility.

Oh yeah, and one more thing, we already are in contact with ETs and Aliens, and have been for so long time already. Our society has suppressed this information for so long to keep us blinded from the truth. The communication happens telepathically and during meditative states of mind, or during dreams. Research the subject, the information is out there.

Quite a discovery... (1)

buckeyeguy (525140) | about 2 years ago | (#41676227)

... considering that if the distance estimate is right, its orbit is 1/10 that of Mercury. Better put on the SPF 1million if you go out on that rock.

Re:Quite a discovery... (1)

confused one (671304) | about 2 years ago | (#41676793)

If it's that close, it's likely tidally locked, or at least have a very slow rotation as does Mercury; so, the "dark side" should stay icy.

Re:Quite a discovery... (1)

NeMon'ess (160583) | about 2 years ago | (#41676969)

Exactly. What is the temperature on the side away from the sun? I'm guessing the atmosphere has been blown away by stellar wind. If not the convection could make it a furnace anyway.

Re:Quite a discovery... (1)

confused one (671304) | about 2 years ago | (#41677723)

Well, there might be a thin atmosphere composed of stuff boiling off the star facing side.

Uh oh... (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41676291)

Here come the people who think it's feasible to physically send people there in a few years... Guys, the Solar System is fucking enormous, and universe doubly fucking so. We can't do anything practical at these scales except gather information. We're not going there, we're not mining those planets. Ever.

Re:Uh oh... (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41677023)

lol, anonymous thinks the universe is twice as big as the solar system.

Man will never fly, and only a fool would think it possible to walk on the moon.

Re:Uh oh... (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41677251)

Man doesn't fly. We build machines that we sit inside of that can fly. Please describe the machinery required to traverse four light years of space, with absolutely no resources available from Earth once it's on its way, and is 100% fail safe and will get there either within a useful human lifespan, or describe a way to (on top of the machine from step 1) slow down life processes reversibly and safely.

That's the thing with all your "man will never fly" quotes. Someone BUILT a machine, using real materials, real energy sources and real engineering with a few YEARS.

Since the moon shots, the space loon brigade has had DECADES to show us something, ANYTHING, that manned space makes a shred of sense.

That's the thing. You think that because someone was wrong, you think anyone who predicts a negative outcome is wrong. But you skip the tiny little detail of you know, BUILDING what it is you claim is possible.

By your logic, any prediction that sounds wrong to you, for whatever reason, can be discarded.

Man will never extend his lifespan.

Re:Uh oh... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41677361)

to traverse four light years of space

It simply needs to be long-lasting, and repairable en-route.

with absolutely no resources available from Earth once it's on its way

Make it big, contains adequate resources to support itself indefinately. An ecosystem.

and is 100% fail safe

Why? Nothing else we do is 100% fail safe. There is always risk.

and will get there either within a useful human lifespan or slow down life processes reversibly and safely.

Why? A generational ship is not a new concept.

Power source [Re:Uh oh...] (1)

Geoffrey.landis (926948) | about 2 years ago | (#41677505)

to traverse four light years of space

It simply needs to be long-lasting, and repairable en-route.

with absolutely no resources available from Earth once it's on its way

Make it big, contains adequate resources to support itself indefinately. An ecosystem.

The hard resource is energy. What's the power supply for a very very long voyage?

We really need fusion for this.

Re:Uh oh... (2)

aaaaaaargh! (1150173) | about 2 years ago | (#41679193)

Why? A generational ship is not a new concept.

It sucks, though, as it will invariably be overtaken by some dudes in a faster-than-light space yacht who make fun of the ancient crew. At least that's what my sci-fi reading experience tells me. :-)

Re:Uh oh... (2)

jamstar7 (694492) | about 2 years ago | (#41678175)

Since the moon shots, the space loon brigade has had DECADES to show us something, ANYTHING, that manned space makes a shred of sense.

And every time we come up with something, the JOEs shoot it down by saying 'We can't do that now, therefore we'll never be able to do it so don't even bother getting out of bed'. And Congress seems to listen to the JOEs, especially when they can game the system to pump and dump 'development money' into their districts as purest pork without having to come up with anything tangible with the money, rinse and repeat.

Apparently there's a message there... (4, Funny)

Gort65 (1464371) | about 2 years ago | (#41676321)

...for us about some space bypass or something. Seems important for some reason.

Temperature = 1500K (3, Informative)

kf6auf (719514) | about 2 years ago | (#41676333)

That sounds really cool. Or hot since, unfortunately, the close proximity to its star means that it probably has a surface temperature of 1500 K.

I guess I'd be more interested in a different-sized planet a bit further away from its star.

Re:Temperature = 1500K (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41676425)

Well, then, get to work finding one and quit whining on Slashdot.

Re:Temperature = 1500K (5, Interesting)

harperska (1376103) | about 2 years ago | (#41677847)

What makes this a big deal, is that prior to this it was an open question whether the Alpha Centauri system could support planets orbiting the individual stars or not. Now that it has been shown that planets can orbit the individual stars in this system, as opposed to orbiting outside both stars around the common center of gravity as is the case for most planets in binary systems, the probability of their being more planets including possible ones in the habitable zones of the stars just got a whole lot bigger.

Re:Temperature = 1500K (2)

v.dog (1093949) | about 2 years ago | (#41678181)

Then they really are the real small furry creatures.

Re:Temperature = 1500K (1)

IrquiM (471313) | about 2 years ago | (#41678965)

That's only ~1227C - that's not even enough to melt Manganese

On track for the 2154 colonization (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41676355)

From the Star Trek Database: Sol's closest stellar neighbor, a trinary that is only 4.3 lightyears away from Earth. One of its components' habitable planets was already colonized by Earth humans in 2154--possibly the planet where warp-drive inventor Zefram Cochrane took up residence later in life.

Re:On track for the 2154 colonization (1)

Teancum (67324) | about 2 years ago | (#41677645)

Of course many thought we as a species would have established permanent bases on the Moon [wikipedia.org] and even a manned spaceflight mission to.... Saturn. (or was that Jupiter?)

I'd personally put the likelihood of anybody from the Earth ever getting to the Alpha Centauri system or for that matter any star within about 15 light years of the Earth no earlier than the year 2500 A.D., if even that early. That even is assuming we find an Earth-sized planet in a habitable zone of a star with liquid water oceans anywhere within that range.

There might be an unmanned space probe that will be sent to one of these stellar systems by 2154 (not to arrive at that time... just get sent by some future successor to NASA). If it takes a century or two to make the trip, that wouldn't be a big deal. Hopefully successful nuclear fusion reactors will finally be a proven technology by that year.

Heil Sid Meier (1)

vgerclover (1186893) | about 2 years ago | (#41676363)

When can we start travelling over there?

We have to establish colonies with factions fighting each other! [gog.com]

Re:Heil Sid Meier (4, Funny)

cashman73 (855518) | about 2 years ago | (#41676551)

We better get moving! It's already 2012 and the game ends in 2050!

Re:Heil Sid Meier (2)

cbhacking (979169) | about 2 years ago | (#41677669)

Err what? The game *starts* in 2100 (the Unity launches in 2060 and spends 40 years in transit). You may be thinking of one of the earlier Civ games. Alpha Centauri, depending on difficulty level, ends (you reach "mandatory retirement age") on 2300, 2400, or 2500. Each turn is one year, unlike typical Civ games.

Re:Heil Sid Meier (1)

EnsilZah (575600) | about 2 years ago | (#41676595)

Sorry, travel has been indefinitely postponed due to a copyright dispute.

Unfortunately (1)

AndyKron (937105) | about 2 years ago | (#41676447)

Unfortunately the United States can't even get off the planet anymore, and musicians out bid the USA for seats on the Russian rocket.

Re:Unfortunately (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41676493)

Almost as if manned space was never more than a stunt in the first place. Thanks, predictor of the WWW and all around genius [wikipedia.org] for pointing that out 65 years ago.

Re:Unfortunately (2)

Hal_Porter (817932) | about 2 years ago | (#41678613)

He failed to predict the danger of Nazi WMD though, and allowed a "missile gap" to develop

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vannevar_Bush [wikipedia.org]

The German V-1 flying bomb demonstrated a serious omission in OSRD's portfolio: guided missiles. While the OSRD had some success developing unguided rockets, it had nothing comparable to the V-1, the V-2 or the Henschel Hs 293 air-to-ship gliding guided bomb. Although the United States trailed the Germans and Japanese in several areas, this represented an entire field that had been left to the enemy. Bush did not seek the advice of Dr. Robert H. Goddard. Goddard would come to be regarded as America's pioneer of rocketry, but many contemporaries regarded him as a crank. Before the war, Bush had gone on the record as saying, "I don't understand how a serious scientist or engineer can play around with rockets", but in May 1944, he was forced to travel to London to warn General Dwight Eisenhower of the danger posed by the V-1 and V-2. Bush could only recommend that the launch sites be bombed, which was done.

Not a mistake his rather unjustly maligned namesake would have made.

Re:Unfortunately (5, Informative)

murdocj (543661) | about 2 years ago | (#41676623)

Not unfortunate, just a recognition of reality. At this moment in time, the science return for sending unmanned probes / orbiters / rovers vastly exceeds the return on sending humans. We'll continue to develop space capability and at some point it may make sense to send humans to Mars ... or maybe not.

And please do NOT invoke the whole "omg we have to get off this rock" argument. If an asteroid impact blew most of Earth's atmosphere and water into space and annihilated 99.999% of the species, Earth would STILL be easier to live on than Mars.

Re:Unfortunately (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41677313)

Calling that an "argument" is giving it far too much credit. "Adolescent angsty drivel" is more like it.

Re:Unfortunately (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41679597)

I think the official stance is "omg we have to get off this rock and other people should be forced to pay for it".

Re:Unfortunately (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41679711)

If an asteroid impact blew most of Earth's atmosphere and water into space and annihilated 99.999% of the species, Earth would STILL be easier to live on than Mars.

With the exception that there wouldn't be an Earth that sends a supply vessel over every two years.

Re:Unfortunately (2)

Tubal-Cain (1289912) | about 2 years ago | (#41679293)

Unfortunately the United States can't even get off the planet anymore...

Sure we can. [wikipedia.org]

Frist stoP?! (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41676945)

Hoabby. It was all bring your own FreeBSD at about 80 OFONE SINGLE PUNY

Re:Frist stoP?! (1)

Hal_Porter (817932) | about 2 years ago | (#41678701)

"The Narwhal bacons at midnight?"

Don't worry everybody. I'm just testing to see if it's a feral redditor. If it is I'll have to cut its head off and then burn the body to prevent an infestation.

I'd keep you kids locked up inside [gawker.com] until I give the all clear if I were you.

Who knows better? (1)

TheRealMindChild (743925) | about 2 years ago | (#41677009)

Using the Doppler technique (looking for very small changes in the velocities of the stars) astronomers detected a planet orbiting the smaller of the two stars in the binary

I understand how the Doppler effect actually works, I don't understand how it works on a scale of this magnitude, with one or two sources of reference and data that has been determined "scrubbable" (as in, "static noise", or data that doesn't belong in the analysis). How exactly is the speculation even tied to something worth a story?

Re:Who knows better? (1)

tp1024 (2409684) | about 2 years ago | (#41678017)

> How exactly is the speculation even tied to something worth a story?

It is tied to something worth a story by a scientific paper linked in the fucking article.

Re:Who knows better? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41678251)

Spectroscopy, especially of atomic lines, is a really precise science and can measure and account for very small changes in velocity. Too bad Mössbauer spectroscopy isn't usable in astronomy, as with an undergrad lab setup you can measure Doppler shift of a couple mm/s for gamma rays...

Sure (2)

viperidaenz (2515578) | about 2 years ago | (#41677147)

A very close and very fast orbit produces weak but detectable movements of its star. But what if the planet were moving much slower and was much further away? Would that not mean the star would move even less, and slower as well? How does this give more hope to detecting planets in the habitable zone? Its 25x closer to its star than Earth. It's also 13% heavier than Earth and Alpha Centauri B is 9% lighter than the Sun. If my napkin calculations are correct, this planet has ~700x more gravitational effect on its star than Earth has on ours.

Obligatory: (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41677237)

This IS Beta Centauri Five!!! Beta Centauri Six exploded, six months after we were left here. The orbit of the planet shifted. ADMIRAL Kirk never came back to check on our progress...

Or...

So, found an Earth-sized planet, did you? Real close too, neh? When are you leaving?

Re:Obligatory: (2)

Geoffrey.landis (926948) | about 2 years ago | (#41677521)

This IS Beta Centauri Five!!! Beta Centauri Six exploded, six months after we were left here. The orbit of the planet shifted. ADMIRAL Kirk never came back to check on our progress...

Amusing, but, no, Alpha Centauri B is not Beta Centauri. Beta Centauri is a completely different star, about 300 light years away.

http://www.astro.wisc.edu/~dolan/constellations/hr/5267.html [wisc.edu]

UVB x 3 (1)

dimethylxanthine (946092) | about 2 years ago | (#41677287)

I wonder what factor protection they use over there. Oh wait, it's only 6 Mkm away from Cen B.

Understatement of the Year (5, Interesting)

BlackGriffen (521856) | about 2 years ago | (#41677329)

"it's far too hot to be habitable."

That's an understatement. From the ArsTechnica article on the alpha Centauri planet [arstechnica.com] :

"But don't start building the colony ship just yet. With a 3.3 day orbit, the planet is only 0.04 Astronomical Units (1 AU is the typical distance from the Earth to the Sun). That makes this planet blazingly hot, at about 1,500 Kelvin."

Re:Understatement of the Year (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41678621)

If calling 1,500 kelvins "far too hot to be habitable" is the understatement of the year, then I'll call it merely "too hot to be habitable" and win the award!

And us space bloggers feel like chumps (5, Interesting)

Nyrath the nearly wi (517243) | about 2 years ago | (#41677395)

Space bloggers (like me) who are signed up with the ESO news feed got word of this overnight. But the story was under embargo. You do not break the story until the embargo lifts or the ESO and Nature magazine gets very angry at you.

But some loud-mouth in Croatia violated the embargo. We were patiently waiting for the embargo to lift, biting our collective tongues, when mouthy jumped the gun.

We got an email from the ESO about an hour ago that said:

"I just spoke to the Head of Press at Nature, Ruth Francis, and we have agreed to LIFT THE EMBARGO on the Alpha Cen story IMMEDIATELY due to an unfortunate leak. You may run your stories."

Nature and ESO lift exoplanet embargo early following coverage by Croatian news outlet [wordpress.com]

Re:And us space bloggers feel like chumps (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41679589)

Why did they even have the embargo ? The news wasn't really that much of a big deal and they could have just come out with it without all the cloak and dagger stuff..

The way it was handled made it seem like they were going to announce definite proof of life whereas this is just meh.... whatever.

Footfall time (1)

Dave Emami (237460) | about 2 years ago | (#41677603)

Here come the baby elephants [wikipedia.org] .

There Could Be Habitable Planets Also (2)

crunchygranola (1954152) | about 2 years ago | (#41677709)

It is entirely possible that there are undiscovered planets in the habitable zone. It is the planets closest to the star with the shortest orbital periods that are the easiest to discover, either because generate frequent perturbations that can be detected in the data set, or are the most likely to cross the stellar disk (when using the brightness fluctuation method).

Re:There Could Be Habitable Planets Also (1)

Shavano (2541114) | about 2 years ago | (#41677921)

It is entirely possible that there are undiscovered planets in the habitable zone. It is the planets closest to the star with the shortest orbital periods that are the easiest to discover, either because generate frequent perturbations that can be detected in the data set, or are the most likely to cross the stellar disk (when using the brightness fluctuation method).

Then sign me up! If there's a star in the habitable zone, we'll colonize it when we get there. If there's not, we should have advanced enough technology by that time to move the planet we've already discovered anywhere we want it.

Re:There Could Be Habitable Planets Also (1)

wonkey_monkey (2592601) | about 2 years ago | (#41678835)

If there's not, we should have advanced enough technology by that time to move the planet we've already discovered anywhere we want it.

Yeah, but they've been saying planet-moving technology is five years away since the 60s.

But what we want too know is ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41677877)

Does it have fungus and mind worms?

Rings Around Uranus? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41678159)

Hey Bad Astronomer: someone told me that there are rings around Uranus.

Is this true? If so, I suggest that you make an appointment to see the doctor!

*Snigger*

Doudoune Moncler France (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41678469)

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OF course (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41678549)

There is nothing to say there isn't an earth mass planet in the Goldilocks zone of either star. We just don't have the tech to be able to detect it yet.

To: Centauri Prime. Attn: Londo Mollari (1)

snap2grid (630315) | about 2 years ago | (#41678685)

We no longer need to develop the not-quite-impossible-anymore warp drive. Just wait to buy jump gate technology from our good and dear friends.

Problem with discovering further-out planets... (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41678781)

- the orbital period is way longer (let's say 1 year) ... so I guess you'd need at least 1 year and then some of observation data (albeit with a lower sample rate) to make sure you really found something and it's not a fluke.
- this is even worse if you go for observing passes of the planet in front of it's host star (as the possibility of the pass from our perspective decreases with distance, and also the time between passes increases).

Ah! Home sweet home (1)

SmallFurryCreature (593017) | about 2 years ago | (#41679091)

Ah! Home sweet home, I do miss it sometimes but the journey back is a pain in the ass.

What's the use (2)

Rexdude (747457) | about 2 years ago | (#41679215)

We're stuck here for good, destined to just keep looking at extra solar planets via telescope and speculating about whether they could support life as we know it. The nearest star, Proxima Centauri, is 4.3 light years away. The farthest man made object is just roughly 17 light hours [twitter.com] from home after 35 years of travel; so forget about sending spaceships physically to the stars unless someone invents warp drive. It's laughable to talk of Alpha Centauri when no one in power is showing interest in returning to the moon, let alone Mars.
And leaving aside that, we're stuck with the reality of NASA facing budget cuts despite its overall budget being a drop in the ocean compared to what's been spent on war in the last 10 years.
Space exploration should've been incremental, start with a lunar refuelling base at the pole where there's water ice that can be broken down into hydrogen and oxygen for rocket fuel, and use that as a staging area for further exploration. Build a spacecraft for travelling to Mars in LEO stage by stage, and send a bunch of robots to assemble a modular base well before the first humans are sent (Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars series describes this approach).

While Curiosity, Opportunity & Spirit are testimony to NASA's engineering prowess, it still can't beat an actual geologist (areologist?) on Mars with a field laboratory who's able to directly analyse rocks and figure out what it was like in the past.

Want some perspective? Just the annual airconditioning budget for the US Army in Iraq/Afghanistan far exceeds [npr.org] that of NASA's.

Re:What's the use (1)

ledow (319597) | about 2 years ago | (#41679635)

Let's be honest - Voyager was never intended to be a transport to get to Alpha Centuri. It's designed to be a low-power "poodle-along" slowcoach to get to the outer planets, not to get much further, and to take it slow because it takes DAYS to send back an image that it's captured and anything faster moving wouldn't provide enough useful data.

The problems of scaling up and speeding up aren't insurmountable but are HUGE, I grant you. But considering that 51 years ago no man had ever gone into space whatsoever, that's pretty quick progress to keep an eye on.

And we all KNOW that the space programme is being seriously held back by other matters at the moment and if we *wanted* to we could fund it ten times better (e.g. the US pays more to air-condition its military facilities in the Middle East than NASA's entire budget, for instance).

So, even being conservative, if we assume there's a proper incentive (i.e. there's a habitable planet on our closest star), some funding appears for it, we can use vaguely modern technology and have the aim to just "get there" and take a photo of it (not even land necessarily), and let's say that in 30 years we launch something towards it (non-human-bearing) that's capable of moving at 10 times Voyager's speed.

That's a launch in 2040-ish - long enough away to seem futuristic even to use, and long enough way that our technology now would appear then to be like 1980's technology does to us now (when computers BARELY entering a handful of MHz and coming into homes - your top-of-the-range PC would be the equivalent of a ZX Spectrum in 2040).

Then we're honestly talking contact with an extra-solar planet sometime this century. That's a HUGE step. Much larger than setting foot on the moon or doing whatever on Mars. That's something completely outside the Solar System which is a scale never before imagined compared to all previous human endeavours (except, possibly, Voyager by then).

That's pretty damn close, and pretty damn good, and pretty damn realistic, and pretty damn achievable, and pretty damn likely I could even be around to see it happen (depending on what happens with medical science in that time), but certainly my children or (absolute worst-case) grand-children would definitely see it.

Colonising it? Terraforming it? Stripping it of resources? We can do all that to Mars etc. in the meantime if we really want, to get the hang of it. But we could easily make physical contact with any planet on Alpha Centauri that's in a safe-enough orbit, take photos of the star and planets directly, etc. before my daughter pops her clogs.

That's pretty damn impressive.

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