back to article PACK YOUR BAGS! Boffins spot Earth-size planet most likeliest yet to harbor alien life

Scientists have spotted a planet slightly larger than Earth orbiting a distant star that looks to be the best contender yet for hosting life as we know it. In a paper in the journal Nature, published today, the team lead by Jason Dittmann of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics described LHS 1140, a rocky exoplanet …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Piss off and surveille your own planet.

    This ones mine.

  2. frank ly

    Known to El Reg readers as ...

    ... the Deja Vu Planet. (You had to have been there, earlier today.)

    1. m0rt Silver badge

      Re: Known to El Reg readers as ...

      Click here to link to the alternate reality

  3. Paul Crawford Silver badge

    Gravity well problem

    While it is a pointless technicality given we can't get there in any foreseeable time or technology, it is worth a moment to consider that at 7 times the Earth's mass you could not escape its gravity well using chemical rocket engines.

    But if you made it there in the 1st place you would be using some nuclear system or something we have not imagined (or maybe just considered possible) yet, so a technicality really.

    For more on chemical engine limits: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/expeditions/expedition30/tryanny.html

    1. Peter2 Silver badge

      Re: Gravity well problem

      You could escape it's gravity well using chemical rocket engines easily enough. It's just the scale of engineering problem, you'd need a multistage rocket probably about twenty times the size of the Apollo V rockets, which is still much larger than anything we are using today. And you'd need to deliver the entire thing to an interstellar rocket, transport it over 40 light years and then land it on a high gravity planet without damage.

      Technically, we could do it with existing technology. Practically, people would get a bit upset at the price tag which could be called "prohibitive", but that's more politics about devoting a significant amount of GDP for a long time into something with no payback within anybodies lifetime with a huge risk of total failure.

      Just like we could terraform Mars into an earthlike planet. It'd take about 70 thousand years at any remotely reasonable cost, but we could do it using technology existing today.

      1. cray74

        Re: Gravity well problem

        You could escape it's gravity well using chemical rocket engines easily enough.

        Yep. For a planet with 1.4x Earth's radius and 7 times Earth's mass, you're looking at an escape velocity of 25km/s, give or take. 3.5x Earth's surface gravity will impose a modest increase in engine weight and a larger penalty in fuel for ~3-4km/s in gravity losses, versus Earth's 1km/s. That is feasible with chemical rockets, just challenging for any payload larger than one seat.

        Locals are encouraged to review the work of Dyson and his Orion launch system.

    2. bombastic bob Silver badge
      Happy

      Re: Gravity well problem

      7 times earth's mass - what would that be in 'gravity' exactly?

      maybe a nice place to 'work out' - Just 'Sayan'

      1. Rich 11 Silver badge

        Re: Gravity well problem

        7 times earth's mass - what would that be in 'gravity' exactly?

        Since they also say it's 40% larger than Earth, that must refer to its diameter. That would give the surface gravity as about 3.5g.

        Getting off the bog would be a major workout in itself...

      2. Pirate Dave Silver badge
        Pirate

        Re: Gravity well problem

        "maybe a nice place to 'work out' - Just 'Sayan'"

        Just don't tell the wife you're taking the kid, too. She'll get pissed.

    3. Lars Silver badge
      Pint

      Re: Gravity well problem

      And I would feel awfully heavy and unable to move.

  4. Zog_but_not_the_first Silver badge
    Coat

    Pack your bags?

    I'll pack their bags*, just to be on the safe side. I'll get their coats too.

    * The usual suspects - politicians, media bores, psycho managers etc., etc.

    1. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge
      Coat

      Re: Pack your bags?

      @Zog_but_not_the_first

      I'll pack their bags*, just to be on the safe side. I'll get their coats too.

      * The usual suspects - politicians, media bores, psycho managers etc., etc.

      These usual suspects do not need a habitable planet - just fire them off towards Sol and be done with them

    2. LondonGull

      Re: Pack your bags?

      And let's not forget the telephone sanitisers...

      1. DropBear Silver badge

        Re: Pack your bags?

        Do those still exist at all, by the way? Seeing as how the concept of a publicly used telephone seems to have gone more or less the way of the dodo bird a while ago...?

        1. Kubla Cant Silver badge

          Re: Pack your bags?

          a publicly used telephone

          Telephone sanitisers mostly cleaned phones in offices. I think they're unfairly vilified. The real culprits were the people who employed them - a bunch of snake-oil merchants selling a solution to a non-existent health risk.

          I dare say somebody used to clean public phone boxes, but you'd never have guessed.

  5. Brewster's Angle Grinder Silver badge

    "LHS 1140b is ten times closer to its star than the Earth is to the Sun..."

    So if, by some chance, the planet has hydrogen in it's atmosphere, then it's almost certainly phase locked. In fact any planet in the habital zone of an M dwarf is likely to be phase locked.

    1. Swarthy Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Re: Tidal Locking

      I was wondering about that. After it was not addressed in TFA, I figured that would be the result of "more telescope time".

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Always the zone never the star

    Haven't been able to find any good articles speculating on what size stars constitute their own "Goldilocks" size.

    Stars that are too big will not live long enough for life to evolve on any planets. Stars that are too small will bathe any planets in their habitable zone with too much radiation (via solar flares) for complex life to evolve.

    Somewhere in the middle is a "Goldilocks" size star. Combine that with the standard "Goldilocks" zone for some kind of Goldilocks^2 effect to come up with how interesting candidates actually are.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Anyone offering short breaks, say till the 9th June? I'm bored already and my bullshit meter has moved into the red and I don't think it's going to move out.

    Nice find though. I think it's important we keep looking because I do think we will crack the travel problem but will they be one way trips. I'm right in assuming that if we get close to the speed of light then 40 + 40 years would be a round trip?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      " I'm right in assuming that if we get close to the speed of light then 40 + 40 years would be a round trip?"

      Doesn't the theory of relativity have something to say about ageing when travelling at that speed? You would arrive back on earth at a point in time that was not 80 years after you left. IIRC time for a person on Earth would pass more quickly?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        (this space intentionally left untitled)

        Yes, that's correct. The time for the traveler would seem normal to them, they would (hopefully) cause a nice warp in space.time between here and there, make a quick jump, do some science, jump back, and everyone they knew would be dead. Still, could be worse, we could miss out on the interesting science brought back by the time-warping travelers!

        "1.4 times the size of Earth that has been clocked orbiting a red dwarf star in the constellation of Cetus."

        So, Cetus is the whale, and Red Dwarf is the mining ship... I got this. Smoke me a kipper, no fatties on my new planet! :P

        ATH+++

  8. ma1010 Silver badge
    Holmes

    Even if we could get there, somehow

    Even if we had a working "warp drive" (or whatever), I expect that the gravitational pull of the planet would make us all a mite uncomfortable. I mean, 200 lbs on Earth = around 1400 lbs there? If there were any intelligent inhabitants, we'd just have to wave to them from orbit.

    1. Your alien overlord - fear me

      Re: Even if we could get there, somehow

      Alas, 'orbit' would likely be very, very far away else we'd be caught in it's gravity and get a one way ticket to the bone crushing surface :-(

    2. Vector

      Re: Even if we could get there, somehow

      "we'd just have to wave to them from orbit."

      ...while they laughed at how fragile we are...

      1. Ian Michael Gumby Silver badge
        Boffin

        @Vector ... Re: Even if we could get there, somehow

        "we'd just have to wave to them from orbit."

        ...while they laughed at how fragile we are...

        Uhm... you do realize that if life existed at that amount of gravity, they would be much denser and squat.

        If anything they would probably be more akin to an alligator than a human and more aquatic since the buoyancy would help.

        Of course because of the heavy gravity... one could imagine the land based creatures would have a much shorter lifespan.

    3. Bill Gray

      Re: Even if we could get there, somehow

      Seven times the mass, but 1.4 times larger. So a surface gravity 7/(1.4^2) = about 3.5 times ours. Still something where you'd want to put arch supports in your shoes.

      But also a density 7/(1.4^3) = about 2.5 times ours, or a bit over 12.5 gm/cc. Iron comes in at 7.87, lead at 11.36. I haven't read the Fine Paper to see what error bars they give, but I'll take a guess that the planet is a little bigger and a little lighter than the given values, enough so to bring that density to a more reasonable value. Either that, or it has a core made of mercury (13.55) or gold (19.32) or uranium or something similarly exciting.

      1. southen bastard

        Re: Even if we could get there, somehow

        the red dwarf was a mining ship, and i like your analysis , so please accept a free ticket on a ship leaving soon

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Even if we could get there, somehow

        "...but I'll take a guess that the planet is a little bigger and a little lighter than the given values..."

        Yeah, those numbers don't seem plausible: 1.4 x size & 7 x mass means something more dense than an iron core, even if the core is relatively larger than Earth's. The problem is that you can fusion elements, from hydrogen upwards and still gain energy, until you reach iron but at that point further fusion, to produce heavier elements, costs energy and this only occurs at the end of a very large star's life and in relatively small amounts.

        1. D@v3

          Re: mass vs density

          my thoughts on the 'its mass suggest something denser than an iron core' question are. What if, unlike us with our 70% surface water, it has something like, 10% surface water, and that extra 60% surface is something like a much more dense version of 'rock' than we are used to. Or, it's Core is just much 'larger' proportionately than ours.

          1. Bill Gray

            Re: mass vs density

            @D@v3: we're 70% _surface_ water, but by volume... if you assumed we average six km of water on the surface, and have about a 6000 km radius, that'd make us about 1/3 % water by volume.

            @LeeE: as I described, those numbers indicate something denser than _lead_, not just for the core, but for the entire planet. It'd need a core of something really unusual, like mercury or gold or osmium or uranium -- and a whopping big core, too, and still need some heavy stuff around it.

            The radius was determined by seeing how much the star's brightness dropped when the planet went in front of it (which wasn't much; the planet is a _lot_ smaller than the star, so it blocked barely enough light to be noticeable.) The mass was determined by measuring the radial velocity of the star relative to us: when the planet is moving away from us, the star is moving (very slightly, because it's a lot heavier) toward us, and when the planet moves toward us... you get the idea; measure the difference in speed between "moving toward" and "moving away", combine with an estimate of the star's mass and the distance between the star and planet, and you can get a mass for the planet.

            These are all fussy measurements we couldn't even have done a couple of decades ago, and we're still at the point where the errors are a good percentage of the quantities being measured. The most likely scenario is just that the radius was underestimated by, say, 10% (which would drop the density by 30%) and/or the mass was overestimated by a bit.

            Standard practice in a scientific paper would have been to say something along the lines of "the radius is 1.4 +/- 0.2 times that of the earth, with a mass 7.0 +/- 2.1 times that of the earth." The sigmas probably got dropped in the press release.

    4. no_handle_yet
      Alien

      Re: Even if we could get there, somehow

      Closer to 800 lbs. It's 7 times the mass but 1.4 times the radius. Surface gravity would be about 35 m/s/s or close to 4 times that of earth. Still, even turning over in bed will be a bitch. I'll wait for the next "most likely to harbor life" . Another will be along shortly.

    5. Pudders
      Coat

      Re: Even if we could get there, somehow

      Alas, 7 times the mass, but only 1.4 times our radius make for a very much denser body. Gravity drops at the square of distance so the 'surface gravity' will be nearer 3 times that of Earth's.

  9. Bloodbeastterror

    "most likeliest"...?

    I definitely am the only person who speaks/writes correct English. The standard of literacy on the web is absolutely shocking.

    1. TRT Silver badge

      Re: "most likeliest"...?

      The most bestest likeliest is LV426, which is where we are sending a terra-forming colony consisting of anyone who can't use English properly, but pretends that they can.

    2. imanidiot Silver badge
      Trollface

      Re: "most likeliest"...?

      Knowing El Regs style that was put there just to annoy us and get comments like yours! Congratulations, you took the bait.

  10. This post has been deleted by its author

  11. JLV Silver badge
    Boffin

    Of course, any life found anywhere would be super-duper exciting anyway.

    ... but should we add gravity to the goldilocks mix, at least for not-too-primitive life?

    7 Earth masses @ about same radius, means 6-7 g, no? At that level, wouldn't that preclude most non-flat lifeforms? Outside of water, at least? I could see lichen/moss growing, but no trees or grass as we know it. And animals would have limited legs and especially arms to manipulate/lift things with. Since weight goes up by cube of size, while structural strength goes up by square (that's why a 50' humanoid giant is impossible), you'd have very squat, small animals. And not to forget circulatory problems.

    Call me a dumb Earth-chauvinist, but I am having a hard time envisioning what would thrive at that gravity, outside of very primitive lifeforms.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Of course, any life found anywhere would be super-duper exciting anyway.

      "[...] but I am having a hard time envisioning what would thrive at that gravity, outside of very primitive lifeforms."

      Considering that humans are a collection of mostly primitive organisms like mitochondria and bacteria - then possibly some sort of slime mould could achieve a collective consciousness?

      1. Stoneshop Silver badge

        Re: Of course, any life found anywhere would be super-duper exciting anyway.

        then possibly some sort of slime mould could achieve a collective consciousness?

        Certainly possible; I've found stuff in my fridge that could sit in parliament without anyone noticing were it not for its physical appearance.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Of course, any life found anywhere would be super-duper exciting anyway.

      Eh, Red Sun + 7G. Is this Krypton?

    3. Neil Barnes Silver badge
      Flame

      Re: Of course, any life found anywhere would be super-duper exciting anyway.

      Call me a dumb Earth-chauvinist, but I am having a hard time envisioning what would thrive at that gravity, outside of very primitive lifeforms.

      Anything floating in water? They shouldn't have an issue. Except possibly with fire - bit of a bugger when the smoke's too heavy to get out of the way of the flame you're trying to keep going on a pond...

    4. DropBear Silver badge

      Re: Of course, any life found anywhere would be super-duper exciting anyway.

      A balmy 3-4Gs...? What's that compared to the 40Gs Barlennan and the other Mesklinites thrive in...? Interestingly, also around a Red Dwarf btw...

  12. RLWatkins

    stay away from red dwarf stars

    These stars are usually incredibly active, constantly flaring and ejecting big, huge wads of plasma. Are you *sure* you want to live there?

    1. FrogsAndChips Silver badge

      Re: stay away from red dwarf stars

      Did you read the article?

      this planet's star is quiet, and the team hasn't seen any flares while it has been observed

  13. Conundrum1885 Bronze badge

    Not always

    There seems to be a correlation between large planets in close orbits, and fewer flares.

    My estimates suggest that in fact the presence of interacting gravitational and magnetic fields causes the solar turbulence to be different and results in lots of small less harmful flares sort of like how the Moon prevents serious seismic activity.

    Also a sufficiently powerful geomagnetic field might make all the difference, the field from a "Super-Earth" might *just* be enough to permit complex life.

    Life will find a way. (Jeff Goldblum)

    I did wonder about whether intelligence might have evolved there, 200MYa Earth was very different so the possibility of complex non-mammalian life is feasible.

    They really might be small, grey and smart with chromatophores to give them natural cloaking abilities, large eyes adapted to the increased infrared and all sorts of other features.

    Perhaps Betty and Barney Hill got it wrong, the "Grey" homeworld is in fact a planet much like this one.

  14. DontFeedTheTrolls Silver badge
    Coat

    "Impossible to get to"

    Have you tried a fresh cup of really hot tea?

  15. oomwat

    That gives life a fighting chance to form.

    Was that it ... the only change ... I'm still intrigued as to why this got withdrawn ... and why it disappeared in such a visible way.

    Serious minds and all that ....

    1. Drewc (Written by Reg staff) Gold badge

      Story withdrawn. WHY?

      We broke an embargo inadvertently. This happens from time to time. In such cases, we archive and republish for the correct time.

      When we do this we archive the article and strip it out. This time we stripped out the article and then archived it - hence the public striptease.

      1. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken

        Re: Story withdrawn. WHY?

        Public striptease?

        You know the rules - pics or it didn't happen.

  16. davetalis

    Who needs planets?

    Why not build an O'Neill style space habitat instead? https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/O%27Neill_cylinder

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    hmm ...

    is this where Douglas Carswell is going next?

  18. Captain Boing

    Re: I don't get it

    @Axman said: "Why do exobiologist/astroboffins insist on the 'goldilocks zone' thing. We are, after all, talking about alien life.

    <snip>

    ... exoticophiles - things like bugs that use solvents other than water, thingymajigs that operate at cryogenic temperatures utilising superfluidity and superconductivity, gassy bags of ephemeral catalysts floating in Jupiter like skies, organised magneto-creatures feeding off of a star's chromosphere... I could go on and on and on."

    Simple. As your comment points out, the permutations are dizzying (and currently unknown to science). However, we DO KNOW it works with the "goldilocks" mix so lets start on a certainty to minimise the task. It happened here so is likely to have happened elsewhere.

  19. Inachu

    I want to know when we can start building using robots real space ships. Will not be hard a tall.

    Just use printing robots that read blue prints.

    The only downside will be our ancient thrust mechanical engines and missing gravity plating.

    We could build it today if we really wanted to. We already have 3D printers that can print metal to make metal cars parts for engines and body.

    Now we just need metalic see though glass to be 3D printed.

  20. adam 40 Bronze badge
    Pirate

    Artificial gravity on your spaceship

    it's bad enough keeping acclimatised to 1g, on this trip you'd have to start at 1g and generate up to 3g before you got there, cranking up the g's bit by bit until you're used to it.

    Also a few people would have to live in a centrifuge on earth for a few years to see if there were any ill effects. What if you got there and couldn't do anything after discovering "gravity sickness" or summat like that?

  21. John Savard Silver badge

    Story Still Here

    In the comments on another more recent news story, one about Firefox versus Chrome, people are claiming that this story was pulled from The Register. But it's still here, it's just not on the front page because other newer stories are there.

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