Are We There Yet? Can We Be?

Courtesy of the European Southern Observatory
I'm not going to sugar coat it, yesterday's posts were short, rushed, and generally rubbish. There was a thing, and some stuff, and I wasn't able to put in my all. And science wise, despite my stated intention back in March to include more science related materials on the site, since then I've included less then I was before. This is entirely down to me being far lazier then I give myself credit for. So, today's posts hopefully will make up for the shortfall of "quality" from yesterday, and make up for my lax scientific output.

Exciting news from the ESO. Gliese 667C, one of a trinary star system located 22 light years away (that is literally within our stellar neighbourhood), had previously been confirmed to have three planets orbiting it, with one falling into the habitable zone. Now, a team of astronomers led by Guillem Anglada-Escudé of the University of Göttingen, Germany and Mikko Tuomi of the University of Hertfordshire, UK have combined the data of the Very Large Telescope with that from the HARPS in Chile, the W.M. Keck Observatory and the Magellan Telescopes, and announced that the system in fact has at least six, possibly seven planets. And most exciting is that three of these planets, all so called "Super-Earths," orbit within the habitable zone.

This is exciting for a number of reasons. First, it is the first observation of such a densely packed habitable zone anywhere in the universe. Our own solar system has three planets within the habitable zone (Venus, Earth and Mars), but only just. The continued exploration of extra-solar planetary systems continues to upend our previously conceived notions of what other star systems look like, and not only make our own 8 planet system look normal, but quite scrappy by comparison. Second, these are close. I mean, 22 light years might as well be 10,000 in terms of our ability to get there, but it's exciting that as we continue to look at stars that are right next door, the potential for planets that can sustain life is good news for both the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, and for the future of humanity, and our life in the stars.

Third, Gliese 667 is a very active system. Three stars, C of which is a third of the mass of our own Sun, and the dimmest of the three. According to the press release, "Viewed from one of these newly found planets the two other suns would look like a pair of very bright stars visible in the daytime and at night they would provide as much illumination as the full Moon." So these stars are packed close to each other, meaning there is a lot of data our telescopes are taking in, and a lot of readings that could distract from getting a lock on these planets. That we were able to look into there, and sort out exactly what was what speaks to our continued advancement. We are so good at hunting for planets, I feel like A&E should make a reality TV show about it. Add to that, these are low mass planets they've found here, meaning it is even harder to spot when there is only one star, and a single planet. This team of astronomers needs to be congratulated for their work.

Now, when are we leaving?

Via the ESO.
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About MR. Clark

Adopting the descriptor of "successfully unpublished author", MR. Clark began writing things on the internet in 2012, which he believed to be an entirely reputable and civilized place to find and deliver information. He regrets much.


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