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Possible Habitable Planet Just 12 Light Years Away

Soulskill posted about 2 years ago | from the dibs-on-the-oil dept.

Space 420

sciencehabit writes "Astronomers have discovered what may be five planets orbiting Tau Ceti, the closest single star beyond our solar system whose temperature and luminosity nearly match the sun's. If the planets are there, one of them is about the right distance from the star to sport mild temperatures, oceans of liquid water, and even life (paper)."

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Where's the queue? (5, Funny)

eltardo (160932) | about 2 years ago | (#42333187)

I've got my own helmet. Where do I sign up?

Re:Where's the queue? (5, Funny)

valentinas (2692229) | about 2 years ago | (#42333281)

Helmet? What about a towel?

Re:Where's the queue? (0, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42333671)

Nah. Blue Paint and Size XXXXXXX Condoms.

Re:Where's the queue? (4, Funny)

Joe_Dragon (2206452) | about 2 years ago | (#42333305)

Cheyenne Mountain oops I said to much.

Re:Where's the queue? (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42333493)

Who is much?

Re:Where's the queue? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42333643)

He's talking about the Stargate, the big round thing that lights up, sort of flushes sideways, and lets you travel to other planets, other galaxies, and even across the universe in a few seconds.

Re:Where's the queue? (1)

Azure Flash (2440904) | about 2 years ago | (#42333667)

No he's not, he's talking about Cheyenne Mountain, the mountain under which is located the military base that houses the Stargate.

It goes the other way, too (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42333205)

If they're an inviting target to us, then earth is an inviting target for them. And maybe they're making as much a hash out of their physical world as we are of ours.

Re:It goes the other way, too (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42333287)

It sounds improbable, but you never know, so we should probably bomb the shit out of them. The only problem is that nuclear weapons of a sufficient power to absolutely destroy the surface of a planet are far too heavy to send over interstellar distances. It is time to build anti-matter bombs. You can also use the anti-matter to propel it with no need to stop. Its a win-win-lose.

Re:It goes the other way, too (4, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42333355)

Just send a B Ship full of your Republicans, climate denialists, gun nuts and all the other right-wingers around the world.

They can propel themselves there with bombastic hot air, and they'll fuck everything up enough that we'll never see that planet again. Of course, if the other guys have had the same idea, we'll need a strategy to deflect them. Pretending we're gay might seem like a good idea, but before you know it, they'll be "adopting a wide orbital stance" and stalk us forever.

Suggestions anyone?

Re:It goes the other way, too (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42333369)

We could send Obama out first, to make sure it's alright.
He's feeling guilty about gaping mental healthcare, then blaming guns for the blood on his hands.
Needs a little time away from the stress. A meal awaits at the restaurant at the end of the universe.
Buon Voyage!

Re:It goes the other way, too (1)

flyneye (84093) | about 2 years ago | (#42333391)

Just put him on the "Botany Bay" with a crew made up of Network Newsclowns.

Re:It goes the other way, too (1)

Genda (560240) | about 2 years ago | (#42333443)

Alliterative and Redundant, well played.

Re:It goes the other way, too (1)

flayzernax (1060680) | about 2 years ago | (#42333471)

Keptain Kirk would not like that...

Re:It goes the other way, too (1)

Genda (560240) | about 2 years ago | (#42333435)

Why stop there, lets send The entire Cabinet, Congress, The Senate and The Supreme Court so they all have one another to keep each other company... and if you can get Wall Street on the next bus, we should be pret-near perfect.

Re:It goes the other way, too (4, Interesting)

Arancaytar (966377) | about 2 years ago | (#42333441)

If that planet were inhabited by a technological civilization, we should have been detecting their twelve-year-old radio transmissions, faint as they might be.

Re:It goes the other way, too (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42333531)

Assuming they still use radio, or ever did.

Re:It goes the other way, too (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42333613)

Why would you say that? We are just now developing the technology to image planets this far away. This means that we can see something that has sunlight reflecting off of a disc that has a diameter of several thousand kilometers. This planet would be throwing off an incredible amount of energy into space. And if we are lucky we can see it as a pixel. But you think we should be able to see radio waves from random transmissions? Unless they are pointed right at us with an incredible amount of power, then no, we won't.

Re:It goes the other way, too (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42333693)

So why does SETI exist?

Re:It goes the other way, too (4, Funny)

gumbi west (610122) | about 2 years ago | (#42333695)

You're forgetting that we can see our own TV signals, sent out and then reflected back at us by an unknown source from 47 years ago [rimmell.com] . If a low quality mirror is enough to span 47 light years, than a direct view of something 12 light years away should be fine.

Re:It goes the other way, too (4, Funny)

gumbi west (610122) | about 2 years ago | (#42333697)

AGGGH just noticed the date on that article. I'm such a tool.

Re:It goes the other way, too (1)

Darkness404 (1287218) | about 2 years ago | (#42333637)

Depends.

Its highly possible that a technologically advanced civilization would have never really used radio waves. Or its possible that they are advanced, but not -that- advanced.

Imagine if we put a random sample of humanity on a different planet even as recently as 1700 AD. I'd imagine the 2 worlds would look quite different even though its only 300 years. The evolution of human communication is mostly an accident. There's no "line of technology", its quite possible that an advanced civilization skipped radio and used some completely different method of communication that we haven't even thought of and the two civilizations could be both as advanced.

thanks goodness (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42333215)

If it was any further I'd have to take a cut lunch.

"JUST" 12 light years? LOL. (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42333231)

Voyager 1 has been moving away from Earth for what, 37 years, and it is now at the edge of, if not beyond, the Solar System's farthest reaches. It is 11 billion miles away.

And yet -- and yet! -- it is only 0.17 light-years away. So, "just 12 light-years" is essentially forever until we have a major breakthrough in terms of sheer speed of space travel.

Re:"JUST" 12 light years? LOL. (1)

LingNoi (1066278) | about 2 years ago | (#42333267)

Um, actually wouldn't that make it 840 years away assuming voyager speeds?

Re:"JUST" 12 light years? LOL. (4, Interesting)

Dyinobal (1427207) | about 2 years ago | (#42333293)

When you're talking about interstellar distances "Just" is an appropriate term to put in front of a distance as small as 12 light years. At our current space flight capabilities it would take us ages to get there. How ever 12 light years is do able, in terms of physics and engineering. We would have to be willing to commit to a very serious project to build the ship though and I don't foresee any government willing to do that in the near future.

Re:"JUST" 12 light years? LOL. (5, Interesting)

Fluffeh (1273756) | about 2 years ago | (#42333401)

Keep in mind that Voyager, apart from some gravitational assists [wikipedia.org] , wasn't ever really made to "go fast". Even now, there are ways to send things moving much quicker such as the Ion Thruster [wikipedia.org] which although not NEARLY as powerful as a chemical rocket, is amazingly more efficient. The Weight to Thrust ratio is fantastic and could well be utilized to provide constant thrust for a long time. Once you exit the earth's gravity well, something like an Ion Thruster could over a number of years accelerate a craft to a much higher speed.

Re:"JUST" 12 light years? LOL. (1)

MichaelSmith (789609) | about 2 years ago | (#42333561)

Makes me wonder what you could accomplish with a huge bank of ion thrusters and a few fission reactors. I know that you really want to travel light when your thrust is low but I can't see a better way to send a manned mission to Titan.

Re:"JUST" 12 light years? LOL. (3, Informative)

LordLucless (582312) | about 2 years ago | (#42333627)

Even if it managed to get to a blisteringly fast .1c, you're still looking at longer than a human lifespan and generation ships.

Re:"JUST" 12 light years? LOL. (5, Informative)

mbone (558574) | about 2 years ago | (#42333513)

The math is wrong - Voyager I is 0.71 light days away, or 0.0019 light years away. It will take a lot longer than 840 years to get to another star.

Re:"JUST" 12 light years? LOL. (1)

GumphMaster (772693) | about 2 years ago | (#42333571)

One light year is approx. 63241 AU. Voyager 1 is about 120 AU distant receding at about 3.2 AU/year. That's about 19760 years to cover one light year (ignoring any speed changes)... 240000 and some change to go 12. It's currently only 0.0019 light-years distant.

Re:"JUST" 12 light years? LOL. (2)

Dan East (318230) | about 2 years ago | (#42333311)

And yet -- and yet! -- it is only 0.17 light-years away.

Voyager 1 is only 17 light-hours away from the sun. That is only around 0.002 light-years, not 0.17.

Also note that the Voyager craft only used standard chemical propellants during launch and slingshot affects around various planets to gain the momentum they currently have - they only needed enough thrust to visit the target planets within a reasonable amount of time. In fact, they didn't want them going too fast, otherwise they would have zipped past the planets even faster, reducing the amount of time available to gather data (which of course was the primary objective of the mission in the first place).

Imagine if they had an ion drive and had been accelerating continuously for those 37 years, which is certainly what any interstellar craft would be designed to do.

Re:"JUST" 12 light years? LOL. (2)

Black Parrot (19622) | about 2 years ago | (#42333337)

Also note that the Voyager craft only used standard chemical propellants during launch and slingshot affects around various planets to gain the momentum they currently have

Could you get more by slingshotting around the sun?

Re:"JUST" 12 light years? LOL. (5, Funny)

Chrutil (732561) | about 2 years ago | (#42333445)

Could you get more by slingshotting around the sun?

Yeah, but you'll end up in San Francisco in 1986 so it won't do you any good.

Re:"JUST" 12 light years? LOL. (2)

MichaelSmith (789609) | about 2 years ago | (#42333583)

Could you get more by slingshotting around the sun?

Yeah, but you'll end up in San Francisco in 1986 so it won't do you any good.

Just stay off the LDS.

Re:"JUST" 12 light years? LOL. (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42333645)

Could you get more by slingshotting around the sun?

Yeah, but you'll end up in San Francisco in 1986 so it won't do you any good.

I beg to differ. With foreknowledge of the major booms and busts in the stock market, anyone ought to be able to amass a sufficient fortune over time to develop the necessary technology for practical deep space travel.

Re:"JUST" 12 light years? LOL. (1)

Dan East (318230) | about 2 years ago | (#42333461)

Yes, which is why the fastest ever spacecraft (AKA man-made object) was Helios II, which orbited close to the sun back in the 70s. That craft achieved speeds four times faster than that of Voyager 1 (70 km/s versus 17 km/s). Certainly it makes sense to quickly pick up as much speed as possible while you're in the neighborhood of massive objects before heading out into deep space, where the ion drive would have to be used exclusively.

Re:"JUST" 12 light years? LOL. (4, Informative)

OneAhead (1495535) | about 2 years ago | (#42333689)

Um, that's not quite how orbital mechanics works. Helios II started off from the earth - that is, with a lot of potential energy in the sun's gravitational field. It was put into an elliptical orbit around the sun, so on its closest approach, part of that potential energy was converted to kinetic energy (hence the high velocity), but at the most distant point, it's all converted back to potential energy, and there's zero gain. It's a bit like bouncing a rubber ball off the floor: it's surely going to hit the ground at a high velocity, but it's never going to bounce up higher than it started - no free lunch. The reason why slingshotting between planets works is because they move relative to each other. To use the rubber ball analogy again, if you throw a rubber ball at the front of a truck that is rapidly approaching you, the rubber ball will come back with a higher velocity. What you did is subtracting kinetic energy from the truck, just like a slingshotting probe subtracts kinetic energy from a moving planet. The tricks we use to make space probes gain kinetic energy are not unlike bouncing a rubber ball repeatedly between moving walls. To use the sun for slingshotting, one would require a very massive object in a highly eccentric orbit around the sun as a "second wall", which our solar system unfortunately doesn't have. (Or should that be: fortunately for our existence?) One could try to use pluto, but I doubt it's massive, eccentric and fast enough to be worth it.

Disclaimer: the above explanation is obviously somewhat oversimplified.

Re:"JUST" 12 light years? LOL. (1)

Genda (560240) | about 2 years ago | (#42333477)

No, Spock won't be born for hundreds of years to calculate your trajectory and you could slingshot yourself back to the Flintstones...

Re:"JUST" 12 light years? LOL. (2)

Genda (560240) | about 2 years ago | (#42333537)

In point of fact, its all relative. You are using the orbital velocity of the planet plus its gravity, to transfer momentum to your Voyager craft. Or in your case, do the same with the sun, you would have to figure out what the relative solar motion is with respect to your destination star. There would be galactic rotation and other more local motions to be considered. Finally, the closer you get to the source of the gravity the bigger the slingshot, however if the source of your gravity assist is a ball of plasma with a million degree corona... you might wanna keep a reasonable distance, which might put a damper on the amount of gravity assist you'd ultimately be able to coax from the attempt.

You could try doing several loops around the inner planets to get a solid kick (some of the more recent planetary explorers used that trick.) However, if you're gonna attempt relativistically significant velocities, you're gonna have to use a mother Ion motor, or great big laser or an Orion engine, or something you can keep thrusting with for years while at the same time providing you with a meaningful ISP. Chemical reactions are simply too weak.

Re:"JUST" 12 light years? LOL. (1)

MichaelSmith (789609) | about 2 years ago | (#42333575)

Also note that the Voyager craft only used standard chemical propellants during launch and slingshot affects around various planets to gain the momentum they currently have

Could you get more by slingshotting around the sun?

Generally, if you are going to use your motor you should do it inside a deep gravitational field, so the sun will do fine for that.

Re:"JUST" 12 light years? LOL. (1)

mbone (558574) | about 2 years ago | (#42333623)

Could you get more by slingshotting around the sun?

Only if you are coming in from the outside the solar system. These gravitational slingshots exchange orbital momentum between the planet and the spacecraft. You could use the Sun to do that with the Sun and the Galaxy, but only if you were coming in on a galactic orbit.

(Now, you could get close to the Sun and unfurl a big solar sail and use that as a source of thrust, but that is different.)

Re:"JUST" 12 light years? LOL. (1)

PPH (736903) | about 2 years ago | (#42333315)

OK, use solar sails. Augment the thrust with heat emitted by RTGs, reversing the effect that is decellerating Pioneer [slashdot.org] . Make it a big heat source and design a round trip robotic* mission to survey the system.

*Robotic because we don't want it returning with a bunch of Reavers [wikipedia.org] from the unshielded core.

Re:"JUST" 12 light years? LOL. (2)

Cimexus (1355033) | about 2 years ago | (#42333327)

Um, not even close. Voyager is currently just under 0.002 light years away. Two one-thousandths of a light year.

Which of course makes your point even more pertinent. 12 light years, or even 1 light year, may as well be infinity.

(When you said it was only 0.17 ly away I was like "what, seriously? That's actually pretty good!". Then I realised that can't be right, as I know the DSN isn't waiting anywhere near 0.17 years for signals from Voyager.)

Re:"JUST" 12 light years? LOL. (1)

tmosley (996283) | about 2 years ago | (#42333361)

Second the last thought. I was getting my spacesuit on until I came to the same conclusion.

We'll have to see how the ion drives do.

Re:"JUST" 12 light years? LOL. (1)

tqk (413719) | about 2 years ago | (#42333349)

Voyager 1 has been moving away from Earth for what, 37 years, and it is now at the edge of, if not beyond, the Solar System's farthest reaches. It is 11 billion miles away.

It's been running on empty since soon after it was launched. Consider what its velocity would be if it had been continuously accelerating for the last 37 years. We can do that now.

Re:"JUST" 12 light years? LOL. (1)

0111 1110 (518466) | about 2 years ago | (#42333385)

You do realize that Voyager was never intended for interstellar exploration, right? It is not any sort of pinnacle of what humanity can do and it was never intended to be.

We could probably get to at least 0.07c with nuclear pulse propulsion. Of course at that speed it would still take us over 170 years to get there. Plus the additional 100-200 years to build the ship and the off world infrastructure necessary to do so.

Re:"JUST" 12 light years? LOL. (1)

flayzernax (1060680) | about 2 years ago | (#42333479)

People keep saying what you are saying but I have seen lots and lots of white papers on nuclear engines, that while nasty in atmosphere, would be perfectly fine making a 12 light year trip take 40 years.

Re:"JUST" 12 light years? LOL. (1)

ceoyoyo (59147) | about 2 years ago | (#42333485)

If you want to go there. "Just" 12 light years is a lot better than 100 or 1000 if you want to look.

cancer threat (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42333237)

Yeah, but if we're considered a cancer on our planet wouldn't our spreading to another just be an evil thing?

Re:cancer threat (2)

tmosley (996283) | about 2 years ago | (#42333381)

By who, exactly? Hippies and Death worshippers? Fuck those guys.

Re:cancer threat (1)

tqk (413719) | about 2 years ago | (#42333409)

Yeah, but if we're considered a cancer on our planet ...

You may consider yourself a cancer. I consider myself an inhabitant.

Cortez had no intention of wiping out indiginous natives when he arrived in the New World. Feature. Serendipity. Ignorance is bliss. Yadayada. :-(

Re:cancer threat (1)

Arancaytar (966377) | about 2 years ago | (#42333517)

You can't have it both ways. If we're a cancer, we're incapable of good or evil.

Before you buy a ticket on board the Geographic... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42333245)

... you might want to stock up on ammunition for your Grendel gun.

Re:Before you buy a ticket on board the Geographic (1)

MichaelSmith (789609) | about 2 years ago | (#42333405)

Or learn some ecology.

Re:Before you buy a ticket on board the Geographic (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42333463)

Yeah, be careful where you dig, and look out for exploding bees.

Re:Before you buy a ticket on board the Geographic (1)

tqk (413719) | about 2 years ago | (#42333505)

... you might want to stock up on ammunition for your Grendel gun.

Or, shiny beads that the natives may enjoy trading for.

Just a thought.

Engage! (1)

MrEricSir (398214) | about 2 years ago | (#42333259)

Take us out of orbit, set the heading for Tau Ceti. Maximum warp. Engage!

Does it support watermelons? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42333265)

If so, then that means NIGGERS!

Nuke it. It's the only way to be sure.

Re:Does it support watermelons? (0)

tqk (413719) | about 2 years ago | (#42333529)

If so, then that means NIGGERS!

Are you aware that you're an ASSHOLE and an anachronism? Just checking. In the future, we won't have to suffer the existence of such as you, ideally.

So you're saying ... (2)

ezzthetic (976321) | about 2 years ago | (#42333277)

If there is life, it consists of paper-based organisms?

Lets start seeding the galaxy with life (3, Interesting)

detain (687995) | about 2 years ago | (#42333279)

Sure its not viable for us to go there ourselves but couldnt we start sending probes in the direction of planets like this with enough ingredients on them to help kickstart life on other worlds that can support it. It wont effect us but might help ensure life continues in the universe once we inevitably destroy our own planet.

Re:Lets start seeding the galaxy with life (1)

mutherhacker (638199) | about 2 years ago | (#42333375)

start sending probes in the direction of planets like this with enough ingredients on them to help kickstart life on other worlds that can support it. It wont affect us ...

It won't affect us? Here's a way it could affect us: The life we seeded grows, fast! It grows up faster than we expected and evolves at an exponential rate. Within 200 years it develops a space program then decides to pay us a visit with huge guns.

Re:Lets start seeding the galaxy with life (2)

0111 1110 (518466) | about 2 years ago | (#42333419)

It was that sort of reasoning that almost prevented the Tau Cetians from seeding life here. Luckily cooler heads prevailed and here we are.

Re:Lets start seeding the galaxy with life (1)

detain (687995) | about 2 years ago | (#42333491)

I would say the spreading and continuation of life in the universe is worth the risk, even at the possible cost of our eventual downfall.

Definitely NOT Earth 2 (1)

AbsoluteXyro (1048620) | about 2 years ago | (#42333285)

Pretty impossible to say if the planet is habitable, but at 4 times the Earth's mass it definitely isn't Earth-like. The search continues...

Re:Definitely NOT Earth 2 (1)

tmosley (996283) | about 2 years ago | (#42333393)

Eh? Not necessarily. If it is less dense, it wouldn't be all that different.

Re:Definitely NOT Earth 2 (1)

Cockatrice_hunter (1777856) | about 2 years ago | (#42333507)

Gravity is based on mass, not volume. Density has nothing to do with it

Re:Definitely NOT Earth 2 (1)

0111 1110 (518466) | about 2 years ago | (#42333541)

No, but your distance from the massive object does and that depends on the density of the planet. We can make some educated guesses based on the density of the Earth, Mars, Venus, Mercury, and from the moons in our system, but it is still no more than a guess.

Re:Definitely NOT Earth 2 (1)

Chris Burke (6130) | about 2 years ago | (#42333551)

Density has a lot to do with surface gravity. You can approximate (or if we assume a perfectly spherical planet of uniform density, exactly represent) the gravity of the planet with a point mass at the center of the planet.

How far away you are from that point mass while standing on the surface says how much surface gravity there will be. Thus volume matters.

Re:Definitely NOT Earth 2 (1)

Woogiemonger (628172) | about 2 years ago | (#42333451)

Pretty impossible to say if the planet is habitable, but at 4 times the Earth's mass it definitely isn't Earth-like. The search continues...

To be specific, according to Stephen Dole and Isaac Asimov ( Planets for Man ), the max habitable gravity is 1.5g. If I'm 180 pounds, 4g would mean I feel like I'm an unsightly 720 pounds. Get in ma' belleh! :D

Re:Definitely NOT Earth 2 (1)

halltk1983 (855209) | about 2 years ago | (#42333579)

That is only the case if it is the same size as earth. If it is larger the effective weight will be lower.

Re:Definitely NOT Earth 2 (4, Informative)

mbone (558574) | about 2 years ago | (#42333591)

Gravity is GM / R**2. Mass is proportional to R**3, which means that Gravity is proportional to R, if the density is the same. Inverting that, Gravity is proportional is M**(1/3), so 4 times the mass is 1.587 times the gravity (for a constant density).

So, I wouldn't rule it out.

Re:Definitely NOT Earth 2 (1)

ceoyoyo (59147) | about 2 years ago | (#42333545)

A planet with four times Earth's mass but the same density would have a surface gravity of about 1.6g. Not so different. There are lots of people balancing 1.6 times my mass on similar sized feet.

I'll go! (1)

tqk (413719) | about 2 years ago | (#42333289)

I'll go. Please? No reservations here, just sign me up. Beem me up, please.

beam up no we have a gate you walkthough to get (1)

Joe_Dragon (2206452) | about 2 years ago | (#42333307)

beam up no we have a gate you walkthough to get there.

Re:beam up no we have a gate you walkthough to get (1)

tqk (413719) | about 2 years ago | (#42333453)

I'll go. Please? No reservations here, just sign me up. Beem me up, please.

beam up no we have a gate you walkthough to get there.

Even better. Is Sam there? Hell, I'll settle for Rodney.

Kaplah (to seriously mix a metaphor)!

Holy Mother of Satan (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42333455)

You mean the TSA is already double fisting space travelers too?

I, for one.. (1)

Luminary Crush (109477) | about 2 years ago | (#42333333)

...welcome our new Tau Cetian overlords!

Well... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42333335)

Since it's "only" twelve light years away, I propose we send subby out there to check. I'll buy you the best 3D printer you want, let's see if you can print out a warp drive to get there.

These are some big IFs (4, Interesting)

ethanms (319039) | about 2 years ago | (#42333353)

Even if the planets are inside the habitable zone, they would need to be the correct consistencies... Venus and Mars are in the zone here, but neither has life or is natively habitable. Yes, we're attempting to discover if Mars may have HAD life, but as far as we can obviously tell, it has none now...

So it's fun and interesting to search these types of star systems and planets--and I think it's absolutely worthwhile to focus a SETI program on them to try to determine if there are any stray signals we can pick up--but otherwise this really is not much more than dreaming and guessing.

Assuming SETI finds no signals, but we do believe there a couple of planets into the habitable zone, then I think it would make some sense to attempt a probe mission there... but it could be a while before we're at the technology level we'd need...

I think our current speed record in space is about 150,000mph ... which is ~1/5000th the speed of light. So while 12 years seems do-able from a speed of light point of view, there is no (present) method to send a probe there in a reasonable amount of time... I'd say reasonable would be a ~36 years to get there, plus another 12 years for the return signal... so roughly 50 years from launch to first data... meaning it would likely be a two, maybe three, generation program from a NASA engineer point of view.

We'd need something capable of:
a) Traveling at least 1/3rd the speed of light (roughly a quarter billion miles per hour)
b) A power source capable of lasting at least ~40 years or more with enough juice available near end of life to complete its mission
c) Capable of complete autonomy in 100% unknown situation
d) Possibly requiring the ability to actively correct its course en route, and maybe even detect and avoid collisions

Re:These are some big IFs (2)

0111 1110 (518466) | about 2 years ago | (#42333487)

Your idea of "reasonable" seems somewhat arbitrary. I would posit 0.03c as reasonable enough. Four hundred years or about 7 generations. Still alot closer than the 666 years it would take to get to Gliese 581.

Re:These are some big IFs (3, Interesting)

ceoyoyo (59147) | about 2 years ago | (#42333595)

An Earth-like planet orbiting Tau Ceti could be examined telescopically in fair detail. If it's confirmed, it would be a great target for one of the extrasolar planetary imaging telescopes people are starting to design. It might even be possible, with refinement of current techniques, to get a rough spectrum from it with current telescopes.

Gravity? (1)

Anachragnome (1008495) | about 2 years ago | (#42333395)

From the article...

"It's the fourth planet--planet e--that the scientists suggest might be another life-bearing world, even though it's about four times as massive as Earth."

Correct me if I'm wrong, but doesn't that mean that the gravitational pull on surface dwellers would be four times that of Earth? That would complicate any colonization plans...

That got me thinking though--how, exactly, do we deal with high-gravity environments? One tactic could be to use generational acclimatization--our first colonization target planets would be marginally higher gravity planets, followed by the next higher gravity planet and so on. This would allow each successive generation to acclimate to the next colonization target planet. It might take a dozen colonized planets to get some of humans adapted enough to survive such a planet as the one discussed in the article (wild-ass guess), but it puts things in the realm of possibility. This has the added advantage of allowing each colony the option of sending colonists back to the previous colony OR the next in the colonization list.

Re:Gravity? (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42333539)

Correct me if I'm wrong, but doesn't that mean that the gravitational pull on surface dwellers would be four times that of Earth?

Not necessarily. You forget that both mass and distance play a role in gravitational attraction. Therefore, given a larger radius, it could in fact have a comparable or identical gravitational attraction on the surface, though the exact numbers vary depending upon the density and distribution of material in the various layers of the planet. Assuming identical density distribution, it would require a radius twice that of Earth to have identical gravity on the surface. At the same time, the rotation speed of the planet plays a not insignificant role in the perceived gravitational attraction, as the rotation would constantly be throwing surface dwellers outward with a small force, negating gravity's inward pull.

Re:Gravity? (1)

tmosley (996283) | about 2 years ago | (#42333547)

Not unless it had four times the mass AND the same diameter (ie it was 4x as dense). 4X larger and less dense would make it similar to Earth gravity.

Re:Gravity? (1)

compro01 (777531) | about 2 years ago | (#42333607)

Correct me if I'm wrong, but doesn't that mean that the gravitational pull on surface dwellers would be four times that of Earth?

Only if it's the same radius as Earth. Surface gravity on a planet scales roughly with mass/(radius^2)

Re:Gravity? (1)

ceoyoyo (59147) | about 2 years ago | (#42333619)

Assuming a density approximately that of Earth, the surface gravity would be about 1.6 g. As the mass goes up the radius goes up too, so surface gravity doesn't scale linearly with mass.

Dibs. (1)

PacRim Jim (812876) | about 2 years ago | (#42333465)

Dibs.

Just? (1)

mosb1000 (710161) | about 2 years ago | (#42333527)

We could conceivably make the trip in 12,000 years. Nothing to it!

Don't pack. (1)

macraig (621737) | about 2 years ago | (#42333565)

What part of the definition of "possible" wasn't clear?

There's only one way to "travel" (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42333573)

quantum entanglement and avatar "particles"

Instead of fooling around w/ String Theory... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42333593)

Theoretical physicists should be working on developing warp drive. And yes while in theory developments in string theory could lead to warp drive, the institutional rejection of anything in the physics field that even gets close to Faster than Light travel lest it release the field from the straightjacket that is the Special Theory of Relativity makes that highly improbable.

Hell yeah (3, Insightful)

Swampash (1131503) | about 2 years ago | (#42333609)

Team member Chris Tinney, an astronomer at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia, acknowledges the problem. "It's certainly very tantalizing evidence for potentially a very exciting planetary system," Tinney says, but he adds that verifying the discovery may take 10 years, and the scientists didn't want to wait that long. "We felt that the best thing to do was to put the result out there and see if somebody can either independently confirm it or shoot it down."

Subtext: we don't care if we're proven wrong, so long as we learn something.

BECAUSE SCIENCE, BITCHES.

Tau Ceti is 2 X as old as our sun (1)

Streetlight (1102081) | about 2 years ago | (#42333611)

According to the article, Tau Ceti is two times as old as our sun which makes it somewhere around eight billion years old. If the planet formation there followed the same evolution as ours, that may mean these planets are also around eight billion years old and if intelligent life formed after about four billion years after planet formation like here on earth, then intelligent life on the fourth planet is four billion years old if it hasn't destroyed itself. It would be interesting to see how they solved the same problems we're confronted with here. We surely could learn something from such an old, experienced civilization.

It's also my understanding that suns like ours and Tau Ceti will turn into a red giant after about eight billion years and destroy close in planets and then cool down. ATau Ceti may be near the end of its life, and colonizing the fourth planet may not be the best idea.

Re:Tau Ceti is 2 X as old as our sun (4, Interesting)

Shavano (2541114) | about 2 years ago | (#42333707)

The listing I saw said Tau Ceti is about 5.8 billion years old and about 0.78 solar masses. Lifetime of main-sequence stars goes like 1/M^3, so Tau Ceti's lifetime is about twice as long as our sun's. It will be still be looking pretty healthy when our sun has got all bloated and ugly.

Spaceward Ho (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42333659)

Ooo! Tau Ceti -89.7F 1.01G

The Many (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42333701)

Maybe we can build an artificial intelligence [wikia.com] that will synthesize some organics, send them to Tau Ceti V [wikia.com] , let them evolve for four decades, and take over our faster-than-light ship.

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