Monday, January 3, 2011

2010: A “host” of Rare Earths discovered?

Artist’s depiction of earth-like planet,  NASA.
From Science Central (okay, okay, Fox News), we learned in July that NASA’s Deep Space Camera has located a “host of earths”,
Scientists celebrated Sunday after finding more than 700 suspected new planets -- including up to 140 similar in size to Earth -- in just six weeks of using a powerful new space observatory.

[ ... ]

Astronomers said the discovery meant the chances of eventually finding truly Earth-like planets capable of sustaining life rose sharply.
Friend Ed Sisson writes to say,
This is a typical example of exaggerated reporting. The report is of planets that are earth-size. Size only. Factors not reported, but necessary to make them earth-like: size and nature of the star orbited; orbital location; rotation characteristics, including axis of rotation vis-a-vis the orbital plane, and speed of rotation; atmosphere & other elements composing the planet; magnetic field to ward-off life-damaging radiation; & other factors

Then they talk about "habitable." I suspect their definition of "habitable" means "humans can live on it if they have enough technology & energy resources." Under this definition, Mars is habitable. Perhaps even Venus.

Then they transform "habitable" into "place where life could have evolved."
The problem with this kind of thing is that it gets the ink and grants, but not the habitable planets. Which means that the NASA grant team must always be in the business of raising expectations on slender evidence, and maybe fudging a bit. Which increases the pressure to either find or fudge.

Well, it would be nice, but better we should take care of the planet we’ve got than count our exoplanetary chickens.