Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Life Emulates Fiction

So, apparently scientists have finally found a really Earth-like planet. It's a rocky planet (as opposed to the Jupiter-esque gas giants the vast majority of the exoplanets are) in the "habitable zone", where its orbit is not too close to the sun or not too far, and it apparently has enough gravity to retain an atmosphere.

What really grabbed me was this:

One side of the planet is always facing the star, much as one side of the moon constantly faces Earth. This means that the far side of the planet is constantly in darkness. The most habitable region of the planet would be the line between the light and dark regions.

One of my favorite video games is Metroid Prime 3: Corruption, an adventure game in the first person where you explore levels, finding power ups to better your weapons or proceed farther in the game, scanning enemies and other items of interest for awesome info*, solving puzzles, and shooting hostile life forms that are trying to kill you. One of the planets that you explore is called Bryyo, and one of the scannable log entries about it says:

Federation scouts discovered the planet Bryyo ten years ago. The planet's alignment makes most of its surface uninhabitable: 48% of the world is always exposed to the sun, with another 48% shrouded in permanent night. The remaining 4% lies in an equatorial ring of fertile jungle, where the bulk of Bryyo's bioforms dwell.

...so yeah, scientists have found the real-life Bryyo. Prime 3 came out in 2007 and was being developed for three years before that. Real life emulates fiction.

This quote in the article, though, made me roll my eyes:
"Our findings offer a very compelling case for a potentially habitable planet," said Steven Vogt, an astronomer at the University of California, Santa Cruz. "The fact that we were able to detect this planet so quickly and so nearby tells us that planets like this must be really common."

It's called dumb luck. Events in space are pretty much random occurrences, it doesn't mean anything if a system relatively close to ours just happened to catch or form a body in the right orbit. Besides, what about the previous exoplanets people have discovered? Nearly all 400 of them were massive gas giants. Just talking about probability using this sample (which, admittedly, could be biased towards the larger bodies due to detection methods), that means that the vast majority of the planets out there are gas giants. Finding a rocky planet is a stroke of luck, nothing more. Assuming that there are a lot of "planets like this" simply because this one happened to be relatively close to ours or that we "found it so quickly" is like assuming that our planet is the center of the universe and has far more influence on surrounding systems than it really does.


Anyway, yeah. Possible habitable planet. That makes the sci-fi fan in me squeal!


*I'm not kidding. I'm pretty sure players don't need to know that the statue they're passing is that of B-stl, Child Hero of Agon, who died in the first Dark Aether raids, like, 200 years ago, to beat the game, but the developers put it in as scan data anyway! Little touches like that really make the game's universe feel more real.

1 comment:

Austin Wedding Photography said...

I'm looking forward that there's going to be the second earth. But I hope I'm still alive when that happens.