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Some Habitable Planets Were Too Good to be True [VIDEO]

Jul 05, 2014 02:28 PM EDT
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Fantasy Planets
Two "goldilocks" planets recently identified by astronomers have been proven to not be as "just right" for life as was initially through. In-fact, they may not even exist at all according to a recent study.
(Photo : Pixabay)

Two "goldilocks" planets recently identified by astronomers have been proven to not be as "just right" for life as was initially through. In-fact, they may not even exist at all according to a recent study.

Accoridng to a study published in the journal Science the various signaling that is coming from a solar system around the red dwarf star Gliese 581 may not be indicating the presence of two potentially hospitable planets.

The discovery of these goldilocks planets is not unusual, but they are bound to come with a catch. At the end of last month, Nature World News reported that scientists from the University of New South Wales had identified potentially habitable Earth-like planets 16 light years away. The planet, GJ (Gliese) 832 c, dubbed "super-Earth" due to its massive size, appeared to have conditions that could support complex life. However, the researchers warned that the massive atmosphere of the planet could also serve as a heat trap- rendering the "super-Earth" too hot for life.

This was the second potentially habitable planet identified around a Gliese star, with a controversial GJ 581 d identified earlier. Now the very esitance of that planet is being called into question.

Even as relatively close as they are, researchers have to measure the nature of these worlds and even verify their existence based of various Doppler shifts in spectroscopic observations of Gliese 581. The theory is that the nature of these planets can be measured based on how they affect the star that they orbit.

However, according to researcher Paul Robertson from Penn State's Center for Exoplanets and Habitable Worlds, the telling shifts seen in Gliese 581 could be explained by internal star activity, not the presence of a hospitable world.

"This result is exciting because it explains, for the first time, all the previous and somewhat conflicting observations of the intriguing dwarf star," Robertson said in a statement.

Analyzing Doppler shifts of Glisese 581, Robertson and co-author Suvrath Mahadevan boosted the signals of three of the star's innermost planets while correcting data for star activity.

"The signals attributed to the existence of the two controversial planets disappeared, becoming indistinguishable from measurement noise," Mahadevan said.

According to the researchers, this shows that the goldilocks planets were likely just Doppler illusions, never existing in the first place.

"While it is unfortunate to find that two such promising planets do not exist, we feel that the results of this study will ultimately lead to more Earth-like planets," Robertson concluded.

He explained that correcting for such solar interference in the future will make the hunt for habitable worlds even more accurate.

The study was published in Science on July 3.


This animation was adapted from a d3 visualization by Mike Bostok <http://bost.ocks.org/mike/nations/>.

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