Star is crowded by super-Earths

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Scientists have identified three new planets around a star they already suspected of hosting a trio of worlds.


It means this relatively nearby star, Gliese 667C, now has three so-called super-Earths orbiting in its "habitable zone".

This is the region where temperatures ought to allow for the possibility of liquid water, although no-one can say for sure what conditions are really like on these planets.

Gliese 667C is 22 light-years away.

Astronomers can see it on the sky in the constellation of Scorpius (The Scorpion).

Previous studies of Gliese 667C had established there were very likely three planets around it, with its habitable zone occupied by one super-Earth – an object slightly bigger than our home world, but probably still with a rocky surface.

Now, a team of astronomers led by Guillem Anglada-Escude of the University of Göttingen, Germany, and Mikko Tuomi, of the University of Hertfordshire, UK, has re-examined the system and raised the star's complement of planets.

Written By: Jonathan Amos
continue to source article at bbc.co.uk

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    • If you leave tomorrow and travel at 50,000 miles per hour, you should get there in a cool 410,000 years or so.

      In reply to #1 by roxyrox:

      Cool. I bet it will be a long time before we get to have holidays there, though.

      • Send my descendants a postcard!

        In reply to #3 by crookedshoes:

        If you leave tomorrow and travel at 50,000 miles per hour, you should get there in a cool 410,000 years or so.

        In reply to #1 by roxyrox:

        Cool. I bet it will be a long time before we get to have holidays there, though.

      • In reply to #3 by crookedshoes:

        If you leave tomorrow and travel at 50,000 miles per hour, you should get there in a cool 410,000 years or so.

        In reply to #1 by roxyrox:

        Cool. I bet it will be a long time before we get to have holidays there, though.

        I’ll pack some anti-wrinkle cream.

      • In reply to #3 by crookedshoes:

        If you leave tomorrow and travel at 50,000 miles per hour, you should get there in a cool 410,000 years or so.

        Well, assuming we develop a working solution for suspending human beings for an indefinite amount of time and then revive them(quite out of out grasp today, but I guess it could happen), the time passed during the journey wouldn’t matter much for the passengers.

        A more important question, I think, is who exactly would fund such a huge undertaking and why, since there will be thousands of generations here on Earth before this ship reaches its destination, and even then nobody would know about it.

        I might be wrong and too pessimistic, but I don’t really believe humanity will ever travel to other solar systems, let alone make contact with other civilizations. I strongly believe there are many other populated worlds out there, I just don’t see any of them making contact with any other. But, who knows…

        • In reply to #11 by JoxerTheMighty:

          Well, assuming we develop a working solution for suspending human beings for an indefinite amount of time and then revive them(quite out of out grasp today, but I guess it could happen), the time passed during the journey wouldn’t matter much for the passengers.

          I don’t think humans will be covering those sorts of distances in one jump, but interestingly, if planets were to be colonised, seed banks with robot managers could be sent in preparation!

          A more important question, I think, is who exactly would fund such a huge undertaking and why,

          There is probably going to be mining of asteroids and comets, or some of the small moons. There are already plans.
          The objectives of the Robotic Asteroid Prospector (RAP) project are to examine and evaluate the feasibility of asteroid mining in terms of means, methods, and systems. This study decomposes the challenge of asteroid mining into four key efforts: -NASA

          There would not be the heavy fuel cost of lifting material off a planet once space operations were established. Space based industries could then fund further developments.
          Nuclear or fusion powered VASIMR rockets (see #7) can probably be refuelled in space using hydrogen extracted from water. There is plenty of ice out there.
          There is also plenty of potential solar voltaic and solar thermal power in the inner Solar System.

          since there will be thousands of generations here on Earth before this ship reaches its destination, and even then nobody would know about it.

          We can probably get to the nearest stars in about 40 or 50 years, within the next 200 hundred years, so could go further in steps one solar-system at a time, if suitable planets were found orbiting a sequence of nearby stars.

          I might be wrong and too pessimistic, but I don’t really believe humanity will ever travel to other solar systems,

          I think interplanetary travel within the Solar System must come first. Interestingly there are comets/asteroids and possibly even unknown planets in our Solar System, orbiting as far away as about a quarter of the way to the nearest star!

          let alone make contact with other civilizations. I strongly believe there are many other populated worlds out there, I just don’t see any of them making contact with any other. But, who knows…

          I think if there is extra-terrestrial intelligent life, it is probably very widely spaced out across the galaxies and universe. This would make contact or communication difficult. Even in our own Milkyway galaxy, many star systems are in areas very hostile to Earth-life, or lacking the basic elements needed for life.

          • In reply to #12 by Alan4discussion:

            In reply to #11 by JoxerTheMighty:
            We can probably get to the nearest stars in about 40 or 50 years, within the next 200 hundred years, so could go further in steps one >solar-system at a time, if suitable planets were found orbiting a sequence of nearby stars.

            Well, that is certainly something interesting and a thing to look forward too…if my calculations are correct, nearest star is about 4 light years away, so a vehicle reaching it in 40 years would have an average speed of 0.1c. That is, ~30,000km/sec. According to this

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

            speed record for a spacecraft is 50,000km per hour. That is going to be quite a leap…also, isn’t it true that, at this kind of speed, even the tiniest particles could cause catastrophic damage to the spacecraft? How do they plan to deal with that?

          • In reply to #13 by JoxerTheMighty:

            .if my calculations are correct, nearest star is about 4 light years away, so a vehicle reaching it in 40 years would have an average speed of 0.1c.

            If you look at ICARUS @7 they are hoping to better 0.12c.

            speed record for a spacecraft is 50,000km per hour. That is going to be quite a leap..

            Once they get big Vasimr nuclear or deuterium fusion drive electric plasma rockets running continuously, the old “quick bust of speed and drift”, chemical rockets, will look very slow over long distances.

            .also, isn’t it true that, at this kind of speed, even the tiniest particles could cause catastrophic damage to the spacecraft? How do they plan to deal with that?

            I’m not sure, but particles in space are really wide apart. Earth along with shuttles capsules and the ISS fly at about 40,000mph. and have not had serious damage, although some damage has been done. http://www.isset.org/nasa/tss/aerospacescholars.org/scholars/earthmars/unit4/meteoroid-impacts.htm
            Tracking systems seem to be the best answer, although for very high speeds that could be a challenge.
            Even flying in crowded areas, like in, and near, Saturn’s rings, space probes have passed without disabling impact damage.
            http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yDzIZlPwpgA

  1. We need to get something up in space that can measure the spectrum of a single planet. I presume the key is a giant detector, though I don’t know how big.

    I understand the main sign of life on earth visible from other planets is a superabundance of methane that could not sustain without life.

    There is quite a variety of life that could create methane, but that discovery should free up some resources to find out just what kind of life it was.

    I would be so happy if life, ideally intelligent life, were found elsewhere. It would kick the stuffing out of our species conceit.

    • In reply to #6 by Roedy:

      We need to get something up in space that can measure the spectrum of a single planet. I presume the key is a giant detector, though I don’t know how big.

      The biggest futuristic proposal is ICARUS PATHFINDER to use the gravitational lensing of the Solar-System with a probe as an eye-piece and relay station in interstellar space.

      This is part of the ICARUS / Daedalus study to build an interstellar probe powered by a VASIMR rocket or fusion drive.
      http://www.bis-space.com/what-we-do/advocacy/interstellar-travel

      The Project Daedalus study had a science payload mass of 450 tons and this required 50,000 tons of fusion fuel to push it to over 12 percent of light speed reaching its target star in half a century.

      http://www.nasa.gov/vision/space/travelinginspace/future-propulsion.html

      One possible way to change that would be the Variable Specific Impulse Magnetoplasma Rocket (VASIMR). Not only would VASIMR allow for faster space travel, it would have some pretty incredible side benefits, as well. For example, NASA researchers believe that VASIMR would be able to travel to Mars much more quickly than a contemporary chemical-powered rocket, and then, once there, to refuel on Mars for the return flight to Earth. The VASIMR engine could also even help protect astronauts from the dangerous effects of radiation during their trip. In the less-distant future, VASIMR could even help keep the International Space Station (ISS) in orbit without requiring extra fuel to be brought up from Earth.

      VASIMR is a plasma-based propulsion system. An electric power source is used to ionize fuel into plasma. Electric fields heat and accelerate the plasma while the magnetic fields direct the plasma in the proper direction as it is ejected from the engine, creating thrust for the spacecraft. The engine can even vary the amount of thrust generated, allowing it to increase or decrease its acceleration. It even features an “afterburner” mode that sacrifices fuel efficiency for additional speed. Possible fuels for the VASIMR engine could include hydrogen, helium, and deuterium.

      The use of hydrogen as the fuel for the VASIMR project has many side benefits, according to researcher Franklin Chang-Diaz. In addition to being the director of the Advanced Space Propulsion Laboratory, Chang-Diaz is an astronaut who has flown into space on seven missions, more than any other NASA astronaut. “We’re likely to find hydrogen pretty much anywhere we go in the solar system,” he said. What this means is that a VASIMR-powered spacecraft could be launched with only enough fuel to get to its destination, such as Mars, and then pick up more hydrogen upon arrival to serve as fuel for the return trip home. Another benefit of hydrogen fuel is that hydrogen is the best known radiation shield, so the fuel for the VASIMR engine could also be used to protect the crew from harmful effects of radiation exposure during the flight.

      Electrical power sources for the VASIMR engine could include such things as a nuclear power system or solar panels. For long-range flights, Chang-Diaz said, the best option is nuclear power. “Nuclear power is definitely a must if we’re going to go to Mars,” he said. This means that VASIMR could be integrated with NASA’s recently announced Project Prometheus proposal to develop nuclear power generators for spaceflight.

      A small VASIMR rocket engine is currently being tested on the International Space Station.

      There is also:-
      http://www.popsci.com/technology/article/2012-05/100-year-starship-effort-launches-first-round-funding

      An ambitious effort for an interstellar travel planning organization officially kicked off this week, after DARPA awarded $500,000 to form the 100-Year Starship initiative. Former astronaut Mae Jemison, whose proposal was selected earlier this year, will lead the new independent organization. The goal is to ensure that the capability for human interstellar travel exists within the next 100 years.

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      @OP – Gliese 667C is 22 light-years away.

      This is currently too far away, but could be reached in stages in coming centuries, if suitable bases in other star systems could be found along the way.

      • In reply to #7 by Alan4discussion:

        In reply to #6 by Roedy:

        We need to get something up in space that can measure the spectrum of a single planet. I presume the key is a giant detector, though I don’t know how big.

        The biggest futuristic proposal is ICARUS PATHFINDER to use the gravitational lensing of the Solar-System with a prob…

        Thanks Alan, informative as usual.

    • Doesn’t Titan have lots of methane though, without known life? Or am I mixing up scale. Sorry I’m not terribly familiar with atmospheres!

      In reply to #6 by Roedy:

      We need to get something up in space that can measure the spectrum of a single planet. I presume the key is a giant detector, though I don’t know how big.

      I understand the main sign of life on earth visible from other planets is a superabundance of methane that could not sustain without life.

      The…

      • In reply to #8 by BigDyTerminator:

        Doesn’t Titan have lots of methane though, without known life? Or am I mixing up scale. Sorry I’m not terribly familiar with atmospheres!

        There are lots of organic compounds in the outer Solar System. Titan has possible methane lakes, methane rain and methane rivers. They are unlikely to be associated with life, because reactions are really slow at -170°c.

        http://www.esa.int/Our_Activities/Space_Science/Cassini-Huygens/Hydrocarbon-lake-on-Titan

        The feature lies in Titan’s cloudiest region, where frequent convective storm clouds have been observed by Cassini and Earth-based astronomers. This is presumably the most likely site of recent methane rainfall.

        It is possible that some of the storms in this region are strong enough to make methane rain that reaches the surface. Given Titan’s cold temperatures, it could take a long time for any liquid methane collecting on the surface to evaporate, so a methane-filled lake could persist for a long time.

        Despite earlier predictions, no definitive evidence for open bodies of liquid has been found on Titan. Cassini has not yet been in a favourable position for using its cameras to check for glints of light from possible liquid surfaces in the south polar region.

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