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Strange Mini Solar System Found

timothy posted more than 9 years ago | from the that's-where-my-relatives-came-from dept.

Space 373

starexplorer writes "In 1990, Penn State's Alex Wolszczan found the first exoplanets. But he never got much credit from mainstream researchers, because his planets (3 of them, roughly Earth-sized) orbit pulsars and hold no chance for harboring life. Now he's found a 4th object on the outskirts of the system, SPACE.com is reporting. Call it a planet, call it an asteroid, Wolszczan says, but call the setup a dark, eerie twin of the inner half of our solar system. Also in the same story, news of a brown dwarf just 15 times the mass of Jupiter that has a planet-making disk of stuff around it. Together, more problems for astronomers, who still don't have a basic definition for the word planet or a firm idea of what separates planets from stars."

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OMG (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11603687)

FIRST COMMENT O_O

Mini-Martians? (0, Troll)

RicJohnson (649243) | more than 9 years ago | (#11603690)

Mini Solar System? My God! Does this mean mini-me [austinpowers.com] is really an ALIEN?
I thought he looked a little different. I did not even know he had a green card.

Re:Mini-Martians? (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11603867)

Mod down -1: lame joke.

The shit that passes for humor around here is astoundingly dull. Put the word "mini" in a blurb, and you can bet your next paycheck some lame joke about "mini-me" will get modded up to +5 in 5 minutes flat. The parent even included a link - what a moron. How many stories have you seen where the top 4 or 5 moderated posts are obvious, unfunny jokes? Yeah, me too, way too fucking many. Anyone that moderated the parent post up should be bitch-slapped to oblivion. If you can't find some post more worthy, turn off you moderation priveleges. Jesus you people are lame. Funny? Funny!!?!! Are you fucking kidding me? Mini-me is an alien - har-de-fucking-har.

Please die.

Re:Mini-Martians? (0, Offtopic)

crummynz (818547) | more than 9 years ago | (#11604066)

People want to quickly get first post while retaining their self respect. So they post a quick joke that they made up, that way they dont have to spend a decent amount of time thinking up an interesting or insightful reply.

Re:Mini-Martians? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11603873)

This is not funny. This is silly.

Slashdot is really becoming a hotbed for rearing nerdy teens now.

Re:Mini-Martians? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11603878)

Mini Solar System? My God! Does this mean mini-me is really an ALIEN?
And is the official computer the Mac mini?

Frosty Piss (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11603694)

FP

I bet the Doctor already has a name for it... (-1, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11603698)

I shall call it... Mini-Me! Mwahahahaha! Mwahahahaha!

TMBG (5, Funny)

angst7 (62954) | more than 9 years ago | (#11603700)

I think They Might be Giants defined what it was to be a star fairly well.

"The sun is a mass of incandescent gas
a giagantic nuclear furnace..."

Re:TMBG (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11603722)

The sun is a mass of incandescent gas
A gigantic nuclear furnace
Where hydrogen is built into helium
At a temperature of millions of degrees

Yo ho, it's hot, the sun is not
A place where we could live
But here on earth there'd be no life
Without the light it gives

We need it's light
We need it's heat
We need it's energy
Without the sun, without a doubt
There'd be no you and me

The sun is a mass of incandescent gas
A gigantic nuclear furnace
Where hydrogen is built into helium
At a temperature of millions of degrees

The sun is hot

It is so hot that everything on it is a gas: iron, copper, aluminum, and many others.

The sun is large

If the sun were hollow, a million earths could fit inside. and yet, the sun is only a middle-sized star.

The sun is far away

About 93 million miles away, and that's why it looks so small.

And even when it's out of sight
The sun shines night and day

The sun gives heat
The sun gives light
The sunlight that we see
The sunlight comes from our own sun's
Atomic energy

Scientists have found that the sun is a huge atom-smashing machine. the heat and light of the sun come from the nuclear reactions of hydrogen, carbon, nitrogen, and helium.

The sun is a mass of incandescent gas
A gigantic nuclear furnace
Where hydrogen is built into helium
At a temperature of millions of degrees

Re:TMBG (3, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11603823)

Could you throw the extra apostrophes you put in the "it's" into the Sun? kthx bye

Re:TMBG (-1, Offtopic)

CrackerJack9 (819843) | more than 9 years ago | (#11604005)

what?!

it's = it is
its = possessive

I admit I can't find any "it's" in the post above, so either you don't know English too good or they changed their post....

Re:TMBG (1)

spuzzzzzzz (807185) | more than 9 years ago | (#11604067)

We need it's light
We need it's heat
We need it's energy

Looks like he know English gooder than you do. And you can't edit posts on Slashdot.

Re:TMBG (2, Informative)

JabberWokky (19442) | more than 9 years ago | (#11603797)

TMBG didn't write that. It's a cover of an educational album.

--
Evan

Re:TMBG (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11603932)

Singing Science Records [acme.com]

The Ballad of Sir Isaac Newton is also not to be missed.

Re:TMBG (1)

calyxa (618266) | more than 9 years ago | (#11604033)

Jef! thanks, dude ;)

-calyxa

Re:TMBG (0, Redundant)

epiphani (254981) | more than 9 years ago | (#11603853)

As much of the song I can remember from memory. Maybe this will help tell the difference from stars and planets (was this a mistake, because im pretty sure astronomers should understand that..)

This sun is a mass of incandecent gas,
A gigantic nuclear furnace,
Where hydrogen is built into helium,
at a temperature of millions of degrees.

The sun is hot,
the sun is not
A place where we could live.
But here on earth, there'd be no life
without the light it gives.

We need its light,
We need its heat,
The sunlight that we see..
The sunlight comes from our oun suns'
Atomic energy.

Rinse, repeat.

Superman (3, Funny)

kevin-cs-edu (854636) | more than 9 years ago | (#11603719)

"Call it a planet, call it an asteroid or call it Wolszczan says, but call the setup a dark, eerie twin of the inner half of our solar system." It's Bizarro world, our solar system's dark, eerie twin.

Re:Superman (4, Interesting)

Rei (128717) | more than 9 years ago | (#11603746)

I would love to see some of these extrasolar systems; the more we see, the more variety it looks like there is in the universe. "Hot jupiters" which orbit right close to their stars and even possibly exchange matter; the heat swells them up to many times their normal size. Brown dwarfs which give their closest moons enough light to possibly harbor life, while burning their deuterium slowly. Supercomets - planet-sized cometary bodies with huge comas. Planets without stars. "Water worlds" - bodies like Uranus or Neptune in a hotter orbit. And all sorts of other things.

I hope some day humans can see them in person. :)

Re:Superman (2, Funny)

AndroidCat (229562) | more than 9 years ago | (#11603920)

No wonder no one is trying to talk to us: We're boring! "Never mind that one FZKK, life could never develop there."

Re:Superman (3, Insightful)

LBArrettAnderson (655246) | more than 9 years ago | (#11603976)

I think most people have an over-obsession with how things are "defined."

Together, more problems for astronomers, who still don't have a basic definition for the word planet

I'm sure the astronomers simply don't care. It's not a problem; definitions don't change anything.

Planets from stars? (4, Informative)

hobbesmaster (592205) | more than 9 years ago | (#11603732)

Someone please correct me if I'm wrong or over generalizing, but planet vs stars: stars have fusion, planets dont. Hence, a gas giant like jupiter is a planet but a brown dwarf is a star (there is SOME fusion going on, or there was in the past).

Planet vs planetoid is another matter altogether... I'd love to know if theres been a 'real' standard proposed - regardless of whether pluto/charon are planets/moon or not.

Re:Planets from stars? (5, Informative)

Scott7477 (785439) | more than 9 years ago | (#11603775)

As far as a definition I found this:

"Working Group on Extrasolar Planets
Defintion of a "Planet"

POSITION STATEMENT ON THE DEFINITION OF A "PLANET"

WORKING GROUP ON EXTRASOLAR PLANETS (WGESP) OF THE INTERNATIONAL ASTRONOMICAL UNION

Created: February 28, 2001

Last Modified: February 28, 2003

Rather than try to construct a detailed definition of a planet which is designed to cover all future possibilities, the WGESP has agreed to restrict itself to developing a working definition applicable to the cases where there already are claimed detections, e.g., the radial velocity surveys of companions to (mostly) solar-type stars, and the imaging surveys for free-floating objects in young star clusters. As new claims are made in the future, the WGESP will weigh their individual merits and circumstances, and will try to fit the new objects into the WGESP definition of a "planet", revising this definition as necessary. This is a gradualist approach with an evolving definition, guided by the observations that will decide all in the end.

Emphasizing again that this is only a working definition, subject to change as we learn more about the census of low-mass companions, the WGESP has agreed to the following statements:

1) Objects with true masses below the limiting mass for thermonuclear fusion of deuterium (currently calculated to be 13 Jupiter masses for objects of solar metallicity) that orbit stars or stellar remnants are "planets" (no matter how they formed). The minimum mass/size required for an extrasolar object to be considered a planet should be the same as that used in our Solar System.

2) Substellar objects with true masses above the limiting mass for thermonuclear fusion of deuterium are "brown dwarfs", no matter how they formed nor where they are located.

3) Free-floating objects in young star clusters with masses below the limiting mass for thermonuclear fusion of deuterium are not "planets", but are "sub-brown dwarfs" (or whatever name is most appropriate).

These statements are a compromise between definitions based purely on the deuterium-burning mass or on the formation mechanism, and as such do not fully satisfy anyone on the WGESP. However, the WGESP agrees that these statements constitute the basis for a reasonable working definition of a "planet" at this time. We can expect this definition to evolve as our knowledge improves."

It looks like this is as close as we're going to get.

Re:Planets from stars? (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11603788)

There are things which are referred to as stars even though they don't have fusion, e.g. neutron star.

"..or there was [fusion] in the past"

My flesh is made out of stuff that had fusion in the past, does that make me a star?

Re:Planets from stars? (4, Informative)

Rei (128717) | more than 9 years ago | (#11603795)

It's not that simple. Do you say "If there was ever a single Dt-Dt reaction, it's a star", or do we require continuous reactions? It's hard to put an exact cutoff on the sequence from planets to main sequence stars.

All of the bodies get some heat from gravitational collapse as they condense. Once you get enough heat and pressure in a small enough area, you can get Dt-Dt fusion; when there is a "significant" amount, it's called a brown dwarf. However, a relatively small amount of hydrogen is deuterium. As it gets hotter and denser, you begin to get other types of fusion, and you end up with a main sequence star.

The planet/moon distinction becomes even harder when you can't tell exactly what's a planet or star. Once we get to some of these "huge jupiters", there will undoubtedly be debates as to whether there is a measurable amount of Dt-Dt fusion going on or not.

Re:Planets from stars? (1)

Tablizer (95088) | more than 9 years ago | (#11603877)

Further, some objects near the boundary may "ignite" on and off over time:

"Itsa star! No, now itsa dwarf, star, dwarf, still a dwarf, Star again!...."

The definitive definition (5, Insightful)

Profane MuthaFucka (574406) | more than 9 years ago | (#11603861)

A planet:
-is a non-fusor
-has sufficient mass to be roughly spherical due to gravity
-orbits a fusor
-isn't already referred to as any other type of object by convention
-isn't associated through orbital composition or other general characteristics with another general group of non-planet objects (i.e. Vesta, though spherical, is associated with other objects known as asteroids, which are not massive enough to be spherical, and are therefore not planets. Vesta also is not a planet, because of the previous rule. It is by convention known as an asteroid, therefore it's not a planet.)

My source for this definition is myself, and I deem it sufficient for sparking a major discussion, and possibly for other things as well.

Re:The definitive definition (2, Insightful)

Rosyna (80334) | more than 9 years ago | (#11603893)

-has sufficient mass to be roughly spherical due to gravity

Not sure if that would work. I could imagine a binary star system with a planet in between them as such with an erratic orbit that causes it to be stretched in an extremely egg shaped way.

It might need to be a more than binary star system to keep balance. IANAA.

Re:The definitive definition (1)

Madcapjack (635982) | more than 9 years ago | (#11603941)

And isn't an egg.

Re:The definitive definition (1)

Epistax (544591) | more than 9 years ago | (#11603966)

Just as long as you aren't claiming exclusivity. A fusor can orbit a fusor after all, making neither a planet, just pointing out that orbiting a fusor by itself doesn't mean much. Could a black hole be considered a fusor?

Mini solar system (5, Insightful)

Scott7477 (785439) | more than 9 years ago | (#11603735)

How can this professor not be considered mainstream?
He's on the faculty at Penn State! Sounds like he must have ticked off the wrong people at some point in his career. Maybe he needs to hire a PR person.
I would say that finding a planet orbiting any star would be significant news, regardless of whether said planet might harbor life.

ok? (1)

mixtape5 (762922) | more than 9 years ago | (#11603761)

I would say that finding a planet orbiting any star would be significant news, regardless of whether said planet might harbor life.

I would think this discovery to be significant news IF our 9 planets were the only ones we knew about, but there are tons of planets orbiting stars, the ONLY way one would be newsworthy is if it resembled our own or could harbor life.

Re:ok? (1)

Scott7477 (785439) | more than 9 years ago | (#11603965)

I believe that at the time no other extrasolar planets had been found, so the scientific consensus had been "we haven't seen any so they don't exist."
Sure, now that other planets that bear more similarity to ones in our solar system have been found a planet orbiting a dead star wouldn't be exciting but back in 1990 this should have been newsworthy.

semantics (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11603736)

semantics seperates planets from stars from asteroids... Our language, not reality...

Then again, the earth is not like the sun... (2, Insightful)

kale77in (703316) | more than 9 years ago | (#11604006)

Definition by example is a good start in most fields of study: The Earth is a planet; the Sun is a star. Just because there are ambiguous boundary cases doesn't mean that these distinctions are only in language, "not reality".

Planet Definition (4, Funny)

FiReaNGeL (312636) | more than 9 years ago | (#11603739)

Astronomers don't have a planet definition? Here's one! Planets are round, asteroids aren't! How's that ? :)

Re:Planet Definition (1)

Tablizer (95088) | more than 9 years ago | (#11603771)

Astronomers don't have a planet definition? Here's one! Planets are round, asteroids aren't! How's that ? :)

Because some are "kinda round". Ceres, an asteroid, is roughly round (although we don't have a non-blurry look yet). If it is in-between, maybe we can call it a "plasteroid". If it is chopped in half by an impact, then call it a "hemi-roid" :-)

Re:Planet Definition (1)

Rei (128717) | more than 9 years ago | (#11603904)

And if it was made of cloth, we could call it a "fibroid"
And if it was triangular, we could call it a "deltoid"
And if it covered with spiders, we could call it an "arachnoid"
And if it were made of two parts, we could call it a "paranoid" (or perhaps a "schizoid")
And if it is heavily ionic, we could call it a "polaroid".
And if it is extraplanar, we could call it a "soulenoid".
And if it was shaped like a bull, we could call it a "toroid".
And depending on who settled it, we could call it a "cauasoid", a "mongoloid", or a "negroid".

Oy, I've got a million of them. Actually, based on the contents of /usr/share/dict/words, 2719 of them.

Re:Planet Definition (1)

dabigpaybackski (772131) | more than 9 years ago | (#11604078)

Because some are "kinda round". Ceres, an asteroid, is roughly round (although we don't have a non-blurry look yet). If it is in-between, maybe we can call it a "plasteroid". If it is chopped in half by an impact, then call it a "hemi-roid" :-)

"Plasteroid," huh? I like that. It describes the state in which I came home Friday night. Immediately thereafter, I became "vomitoid." Saturday morning, I had progressed to "hungovertoid."

Let's start with... something.Re:Planet Definition (1)

dj42 (765300) | more than 9 years ago | (#11603791)

http://dictionary.reference.com/search?q=planet At the very least, we could be using: "A nonluminous celestial body larger than an asteroid or comet, illuminated by light from a star, such as the sun, around which it revolves." Then you have the matter of size. A moon would be a natural planet satellite.

Re:Let's start with... something.Re:Planet Definit (1)

aussie_a (778472) | more than 9 years ago | (#11604054)

So what is pluto? A planet or an asteroid? What about all the other objects we're discovering outside of Pluto? What about independant "planets" (i.e. objects very much like mars)?

Re:Planet Definition (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11603921)

my balls are round, that doesnt make them planets, does it?

Re:Planet Definition (2, Funny)

dabigpaybackski (772131) | more than 9 years ago | (#11604088)

my balls are round, that doesnt make them planets, does it?

Your name wouldn't happen to be Galactus, would it?

Definition (5, Funny)

null etc. (524767) | more than 9 years ago | (#11603741)

...or a firm idea of what separates planets from stars.

Space. Quite a bit of it, I hope.

Oh, you meant what criteria separates planets from stars?

Well, I definitely would much rather live on one than the other. Is that a good definition?

Re:Definition (1)

techno-vampire (666512) | more than 9 years ago | (#11603828)

How about this for a definitiion? If it's had the title role or a main role in a major motion picture or hit TV series it's a star. If it just wanders around, it's a planet.

O/T Re:Definition (1)

maglor_83 (856254) | more than 9 years ago | (#11604068)

How about this for a definitiion? If it's had the title role or a main role in a major motion picture or hit TV series it's a star. If it just wanders around, it's a planet.

But then how do you define major and hit?

Re:Definition (1)

pronobozo (794672) | more than 9 years ago | (#11603971)

...or a firm idea of what separates planets from stars.
Space. Quite a bit of it, I hope.


space? but it's nothing? so is there actually anything separating them?
heh

okay that's enough now.

Definition (1, Redundant)

Tablizer (95088) | more than 9 years ago | (#11603743)

Together, more problems for astronomers, who still don't have a basic definition for the word planet or a firm idea of what separates planets from stars.

Rather than search for a scientific or mathematical definition, why not just go by marketing: If it looks pretty on a poster or mobile, it is a planet. If it gives a comfy warmth brightness, then it is a star.

Star vs Planet (3, Interesting)

imemyself (757318) | more than 9 years ago | (#11603749)

Would a star not be any object that makes light on its own(ie, not reflects it)? IANAA(Astronomer)

All these worlds are yours... (1)

mpesce (146930) | more than 9 years ago | (#11603782)

Jupiter emits many times more infrared radiation than it absorbs. So, by your definition, Jupiter would be a star - and it clearly isn't, 2010 aside...

Re:All these worlds are yours... (1)

J'raxis (248192) | more than 9 years ago | (#11603864)

Well, this is actually part of the whole conundrum. Jupiter is almost a brown dwarf. Some of these exoplanets that have been discovered, being much larger than Jupiter, are even closer to being brown dwarfs.

Once we discover enough of these things, it'll probably work out in the end to a smooth curve all the way from active stars to brown dwarfs to gas giants to terrestrial planets to moon-sized "planetesimals" to asteroids.

Re:All these worlds are yours... (1)

digitalchinky (650880) | more than 9 years ago | (#11604041)

I'm thinking if it emits large amounts of fire from all over its surface, (burny hot stuff) it's a star.

Stars generate energy (5, Informative)

Man in Spandex (775950) | more than 9 years ago | (#11603807)

At least according to Wikipedia [wikipedia.org]

Scientifically, stars are defined as self-gravitating spheres of plasma in hydrostatic equilibrium, which generate their own energy through the process of nuclear fusion.

Using this simple definition, it seems to apply to most stars out there? Correct me if I'm wrong or if the definition provided isn't accurate enough.

Re:Stars generate energy (4, Informative)

YU Nicks NE Way (129084) | more than 9 years ago | (#11603892)

That works quite well for objects above about 25 Jovian masses. (In isolation, yadda yadda yadda) At that size, the body is large enough to support sustained thermonuclear fusion of species other than D+D->He3. Such bodies quickly heat up, becoming true red dwarf stars.

Object smaller than about 13 Jovian masses never exhibit any sustained fusion. Those objects are planets if they orbit a star or a stellar remnant. (They are "sub-brown dwarfs" if they don't orbit a star.)

Objects that sit between the 13 and 25 Jovian mass boundaries are in a grey area. They do exhibit sustained fusion, but only of D+D pairs. There isn't much deuterium around, though, so they don't ever heat up very much. Moreover, since they never engage in H+D->T and H+T->He3 fusion, they don't engage in the fusion reactions which are the signature of "real" stars. These are brown dwarfs -- not planets, because they do heat themselves up with fusion reactions, but not stars, either, because they don't fuse H.

Re:Star vs Planet (1)

zippthorne (748122) | more than 9 years ago | (#11604076)

planets make light on their own too. The peak wavelength is in the infrared or longer generally however. The radiation flux from earth to satellites for instance is non-trivial heat transfer problem.

If i remember my astronomy class correctly, planet comes from a greek word meaning "wanderer" objects which are clearly not stars as they were not "fixed" in the sky. Even in the ancient world, the motions of planets could be observed. Using that definition is useless however, since moons, asteroids and even the sun should be included and earthlike objects sufficiently far away would be excluded.

Credit (2, Funny)

prakslash (681585) | more than 9 years ago | (#11603751)

At the 1990 Astronmy Conference.. And.. we would like to give credit to Mr. Wolz.. uhh.. Mr. Wolzz.. Mr. Wolzczka.. Aww. screw it.

Re:Credit (0, Troll)

porcupine8 (816071) | more than 9 years ago | (#11603887)

Flamebait? Aw, I thought it was kinda funny in a lame sort of way. But I have no mod points.

Re:Credit (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11603954)

Yes, but you're a pyramid pod-person.

Re:Credit (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11603968)

I think he's smart enough and earned the right for little shits like you to at least pronounce his name properly, he's earned it and you haven't.

hmm (1)

EGSonikku (519478) | more than 9 years ago | (#11603755)

I'm no scientist, but it doesn't seem that hard to me. Why not an object with an atmosphere = planet? If somthing orbits that planet and also has an atmosphere, lets call it a sub-{planet}. No atmosphere? if it orbits a 'planet' then call it a 'moon'. if it orbits nothing call it target practice.

Re:hmm (1)

PornMaster (749461) | more than 9 years ago | (#11603773)

In your scenario, what's Mars? No atmosphere, doesn't orbit a planet, does orbit a star.

Re:hmm (1)

maglor_83 (856254) | more than 9 years ago | (#11603802)

In your scenario, what's Mars? No atmosphere, doesn't orbit a planet, does orbit a star.

Except Mars does have an atmosphere.

Re:hmm (1)

J'raxis (248192) | more than 9 years ago | (#11603886)

Ehm, Mars has a very thin carbon dioxide atmosphere. (Mercury, however, is virtually without an atmosphere.)

Re:hmm (1)

EGSonikku (519478) | more than 9 years ago | (#11603817)

Erm, last time I checked Mars had an atmosphere. Granted I haven't checked in a few years and I was pretty drunk at the time.....but i'm fairly certain it didn't go anywhere.

Re:hmm (1)

Preeminence (784375) | more than 9 years ago | (#11603857)

Mars has an atmosphere. Guaranteed planet, apparently. Mercury, however, does not. Big asteroid? I think not.

Re:hmm (1)

J'raxis (248192) | more than 9 years ago | (#11603899)

By this definition a planet like Saturn has thousands if not millions of moons. That is, there are tiny rocks in orbit all around Saturn that are asteroid size (a few metres) and shape, but by your definition they'd be "moons."

And what about all the objects that make up the rings?

Re:hmm (1)

ziggit (811520) | more than 9 years ago | (#11603922)

There are planets without atmospheres, ya know?

No chance of life? (4, Interesting)

suso (153703) | more than 9 years ago | (#11603756)

because his planets (3 of them, roughly Earth-sized) orbit pulsars and hold no chance for harboring life.

I wish people wouldn't say things like this. Humans barely have a grasp on what life really is and what conditions it can exist under, especially off our own planet. So how could we make a judgement that life couldn't exist around a pulsar, despite its homo-sapien threatening conditions.

Well I'd be very curious (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11603765)

What kind of life could exist in the conditions offered by a pulsar. If anything I suspect it would have to live underground.

Re:Well I'd be very curious (1)

Tablizer (95088) | more than 9 years ago | (#11603840)

What kind of life could exist in the conditions offered by a pulsar. If anything I suspect it would have to live underground.

Good point. Tidal forces between orbiting bodies, such as a planet and a big moon, can create enough heat to sustain primative life. But complex life probably needs a stronger source of usable energy. Tidal heat does not generate a consistent boundary between energy and non-energy.

A strong boundary between energy and non-energy (such as heat and cold) is what powers just about everything we know of that uses power, both life and non-life. No way is known for organisms to harness tidal energy in large quantities. Volcanos are not predictable enough to be used on a large scale, and evenly-spread heat underground lacks the boundary needed to harness lots of energy.

I suppose it is possible that complex life formed during the time a star burned bright (if it did), and after the star dies out, complex life may still exist in a subsurface ocean (Europa-like). But the chances of complex life having formed in such a situation itself is remote. It would probably have to be "imported" from a different situation.

Re:Well I'd be very curious (1)

thogard (43403) | more than 9 years ago | (#11604083)

What ever it is, it would need to deal with huge magnetic fields. The pulsar in the crab nebula puts out about 4000 times as much energy as our sun.

Re:No chance of life? (2, Informative)

canb (792889) | more than 9 years ago | (#11603869)

Acutally there are only two forms of life possible. Carbon based like our world or silicone based. And we know a lot about carbon based lifeforms and under what conditions it can be formed. It is even possible to create carbon based organic matter from inorganic when early earth conditions are recreated. These protoplasmas attach and under heavy radiation from the sun, genetic diversity forms and the rest is evolution. As for silicone based life forms, silicon-oxygen bond is much stronger than carbon-hydrogen bond and takes enormous amounts of energy to rearrange the atoms. Therefore it is much less likely, yet still possible.

Re:No chance of life? (2, Funny)

myowntrueself (607117) | more than 9 years ago | (#11603934)

"Carbon based like our world or silicone based."

Wow, so that explains the fact that virtually all female aliens, whether carbon or, er, silicone-based have large, prominent chest-bumps...

Re:No chance of life? (5, Funny)

vwjeff (709903) | more than 9 years ago | (#11604051)

Acutally there are only two forms of life possible.

According to whom?

The only life we can be certain of is our own. Even then I sometimes wonder if I really exist. I guess I must because I am posting this, or am I?

Re:No chance of life? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11603957)

Ok- a revision. There is as much of a possibility of these planets harboring life as there is of you losing your virginity.

Hows that for a judgement call, butt tard?

I made an amazing discovery in the bathroom... (-1, Offtopic)

mrnutz (108477) | more than 9 years ago | (#11603780)

I found a free-floater and a brown dwarf in my toilet!

Smallest planet (2, Interesting)

maglor_83 (856254) | more than 9 years ago | (#11603781)

From the article:
In one of the discoveries, an object just one-fifth the size of Pluto was called the smallest planet ever found outside our solar system

If it's one-fifth the size of Pluto, wouldn't that make it the smallest planet ever found anywhere?

Re:Smallest planet (1)

Rosyna (80334) | more than 9 years ago | (#11603929)

You assume Pluto is a planet. That's where a lot of this controversy stems from. There are many suggestions for what makes a planet and Pluto often falls outside of the definition. If Pluto is reclassified as a moon or extra solar space junk, then this "Smallest planet" probably would be as well.

How insensitive! (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11603786)

..a brown dwarf just 15 times the mass of Jupiter..

Please, "African American little person with a weight problem" is a little more appropriate and a lot less offensive, don't you think? Sheesh.

Well Obviously (5, Funny)

Madcapjack (635982) | more than 9 years ago | (#11603789)

Well Obviously this old dying star system is the original home of our species. We're just the descendents of the marooned colonists who found that their pyramid space-ships had suddenly (and quite inexplicably) turned to stone.

Go figure.

Classification (0)

DrLudicrous (607375) | more than 9 years ago | (#11603825)

I think that two distinct definitions should be recognized here. One is the vernacular definition, the one that we use in everyday speech. For the most part, planet is taken to mean a spherical object orbiting a star with a minimum limits of mass, radius, etc, i.e. the nine planets (though Pluto really doesn't belong there) of our solar system, and like objects in other solar systems, orbiting a star.


The scientific definition, however, is a completely differe matter. I think it would be useful to classify objects methodically (I am sure this already being done). This lends itself to clear nomenclature for communication between scientists, as well as a way to incorporate new classes of objects as they may be hypothesized or observed. For instance, a clear distinction could be made between planetary (from the ancient Greek for "wandering") objects that are luminous and those that are not. It might be necessary to distinguish those that are luminous due to thermonuclear processes and those that are not. This would mean classifying stars as planets, but should there really be a distinction? Are they not all objects floating out there in space?

Any suggestions for a classification scheme, or does anyone out there know of a standard currently in use? The responses should be interesting!

I am picturing... (3, Funny)

spankey51 (804888) | more than 9 years ago | (#11603843)

A small gathering of Mini Coopers around a campfire in europe... Or something...

Quick Reference Chart (1)

dustinbarbour (721795) | more than 9 years ago | (#11603856)

It's all a matter of size. Stars have enough mass to begin fusion. Planets have enough mass to become 'round' and orbit a star. Asteroids orbit stars but aren't 'round'. Moons orbit planets and are 'round'. Blah blah blah. So on and so forth. It's bloody easy. Man.. I should be an astrophysicist!

Re:Quick Reference Chart (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11604069)

Mars' moons are about as round as you are knowledgeable.

Stupid question: (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11603858)

I thought stars were big nuclear furnaces, and planets weren't.

Okay, so it's not phrased in the form of a question, but you get what I'm asking.

What separates them? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11603882)

What separates planets and stars? Just plain ol' incompatibility hopefully. [cheston.com]

No, thanks... (1)

eomnimedia (444806) | more than 9 years ago | (#11603912)

I'm holding out for the "iSolar System Shuffle."

Why on Earth does the name matter? (4, Interesting)

TechyImmigrant (175943) | more than 9 years ago | (#11603913)

We started out with a limited number of names for things. Planets, stars, the sun. They we found some more things like comets and asteroids.

Now we've found lots of things that come in between, requiring a different form of classification. The only problem is that people are trying to squeeze the definition of things we know about into a limited naming set.

To name something doesn't mean we understand it and being unable to name something doesn't mean we don't understand it.

People should stop worrying and be happy that we can describe these objects to a higher level of detail than can be described using the existing names we had for things floating in space.

Re:Why on Earth does the name matter? (4, Funny)

T-Ranger (10520) | more than 9 years ago | (#11604052)

Hence forth, all space boddies will be known as "thingies".

What separates planets from stars (5, Funny)

pronobozo (794672) | more than 9 years ago | (#11603928)

"who still don't have a basic definition for the word planet or a firm idea of what separates planets from stars."


One is on fire and one isn't.

Now hand over my research grant.

Solar? It's not Solar at all, morons (2, Interesting)

RubberDogBone (851604) | more than 9 years ago | (#11603948)

Well, I am glad to know that our astromomers are idiots. Makes me feel better.

The term "mini solar system" is wrong. Solar -the word- is derived from Sol, the name of that thing we call "the sun" (cue CD7 joke about Sun, long a source of amusement) aka that great big yellow ball thing.

It is Sol. If you didn't know it had a name, blame your teachers.

Our happy family of planets is the Solar System. Because we all belong to Sol. There is one Sol and one Solar System in the entire universe.

This newly discoved system of planets is orbiting ANOTHER STAR which is not named Sol and has nothing to do with Sol. I guess calling it "strange star system" would have invoked too many B-grade actors or something.

This may (probably will) be ruled a troll... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11603959)

but what impact does this have on anyone except the 7 people on this planet that are paid to explore the galaxy? It's not like some new planet found is going to change what beer I'll buy tomorrow night. I'm still going to the same watered down operating systems for CS kids, life will go on and this is "news" isn't going to change anything, this does not matter.

When intelligent life is found, then I'll listen. When we make contact, then I'll pay attention.

Other Planets in Galaxy May Have Layer of Diamonds (1)

AndroidCat (229562) | more than 9 years ago | (#11604016)

WASHINGTON (Reuters) [reuters.co.uk] - Some planets in our galaxy could harbor an unexpected treasure: a thick layer of diamonds hiding under the surface, astronomers reported on Monday.

No diamond planet exists in our solar system, but some planets orbiting other stars in the Milky Way might have enough carbon to produce a diamond layer, Princeton University astronomer Marc Kuchner said in a telephone news conference.

How about that then? (Never mind what diamonds would be worth if you could get to those worlds and haul back planet-loads. De Beers would be honked, I'm sure! I'll be dispointed if there isn't a slight wobble in diamond prices tomorrow.)

Re:Other Planets in Galaxy May Have Layer of Diamo (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11604103)

well, I'm not a girl so diamonds really don't do it for me.

Distinct names (1)

netkgb (200102) | more than 9 years ago | (#11603975)

We don't need to know what the difference is between a planet or asteroid. It's like debating over the boundary between what is classified as 'life'. It's all continuous, not discrete.

Hubble!? (1)

Hobadee (787558) | more than 9 years ago | (#11603995)

Isn't this just 1 more reason to keep/replace Hubble? What is wrong with NASA anyways?

Re:Hubble!? (1)

Kraemahz (847827) | more than 9 years ago | (#11604080)

Short answer? Money.

definition of a star (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11604084)

A planet that's on fire.

Duh.

It shouldn't be that hard. (5, Interesting)

Corbin Dallas (165835) | more than 9 years ago | (#11604100)

problems for astronomers, who still don't have a basic definition for the word planet or a firm idea of what separates planets from stars.

It's not as sexy as having a word like "planet", but all this confusion could be eliminated with a basic classification system that took into account distinguishing characteristics besides just it's mass.

As an example, one could define these objects through two primary attributes: The body's mass and the mass of that which it orbits. As I don't have exact mass data at hand, this example will use the following over-simplifications:

S = Solar Mass
G = Gas Giant Mass
R = Rock Planet Mass
M = Minor Mass ( appx Phobos to Pluto )
A = Asteroid Mass
D = Debrit ( 1m or smaller )

Of course, the real system would use exact scientific measurments rather than these crude examples.

Earth = SR ( Rock Planet Mass orbiting a Solar Mass )
Jupiter = SG ( Gas Giant Mass orbiting a Solar Mass )
Pluto = SM ( Minor Mass orbiting a Solar Mass )
Titan = GR ( Rock Planet Mass orbiting a Gas Giant Mass )
etc
etc

You could even create a symbol to represent the galactic center, which could be used in relation to stars and other free roaming bodies. Binary stars can be represented using SS, since they're orbiting each other.

Anyway, the point is that you can not come up with solid definitions of these bodies on mass alone. Take into account other major factors as this example does.

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