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Alien life best sought on dying suns?

File:Sirius A and B Hubble photo.jpg

white dwarf - the faint spec at lower left of Sirius, Sirius B

At New Scientist (29 June 2011) we learn from Ken Croswell that “Dying stars hold the promise of alien life”:

WELCOME to Procyon B, a nearby star that’s light years away from the sun, and not only in distance terms. Unlike the healthy star we circle, Procyon B is dim and dying. Having thrown off its outer layers, it is puny compared with the sun. And it is so dense that were you able to scoop up a spoonful of its material, it would weighs tonnes. So unlike our sun is Procyon B, in fact, that those seeking extraterrestrial life have long overlooked the star’s potential.

University of Washington astronomer Eric Agol thinks we are too ready to dismiss such places. (You must log in to read the article. )

Agol is also featured in an MIT Technology Review, Physics ArXiv Blog post on the hypothesis that white dwarfs are habitable zones, providing much more detail:

most searches for exoplanets have focused on nearby stars like our own.

Today, Eric Agol at the University of Washington in Seattle points out that planet hunters may be missing a trick. He says that white dwarfs could be good targets for exoplanet searches.

He points out that they are as common as Sun-like stars, that the most common ones have a surface temperature of about 5000 K and that this should produce a habitable zone at distances of about 0.01 AU for periods in excess of 3 billion years. That’s long enough for something interesting to have emerged on these bodies.

What’s more, any Earth-sized planet orbiting at this distance ought to be easy to spot as it passes in front of the tiny disc of a white dwarf.

There is a caveat, however. As stars age, they form red giants that engulf everything within a radius of about 1 AU. So any planet orbiting a white dwarf in the habitable zone would have to have migrated there after the white dwarf formed.

That’s a little discouraging but it’s not entirely impossible. Many theories of solar system formation assume that planet migration plays an important role. “White Dwarfs, Habitable Zones and Other Earths” (3/17/2011)

File under: Hope springs eternal

File with: Okay, so Earth is rare, and who predicted that?

What’s SETI doing these days?

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3 Responses to Alien life best sought on dying suns?

  1. “File under: Hope springs eternal”

    Or file under: “here’s a hypothesis, now let’s test it by looking for planets transiting at this distance….just like CoRoT and Kepler are doing right now for more Sun-like stars. In other words: let’s do some science and get the evidence”.

    “File with: Okay, so Earth is rare, and who predicted that?”

    It is? Do you think we have enough evidence yet? All our techniques so far have preferentially favoured finding large planets close to stars (i.e. hot Jupiters), so even if Earth-like planets were much more common then we still wouldn’t have found them yet. Gonzalez may be shown to be wrong IN JUST A FEW YEARS.

  2. 2

    There is no life out there.
    I believe the universe is exactly whats it for.
    Human colonization.
    Evangelical Christianity teaches that if there had been no fall there would be no death.
    So mankind would not die and constantly reproduce so that by this date or a million years from now, the original plan, the earth would truly be snuggly.
    so it follows as a option that the great universe was after all to be used for homes for everybody just like in science fiction.
    Space would be conquored and colonized by people turning rocks into planets and taking with them biology in jars.
    Thinking with this as a option suddenly makes the emptyness and largeness of space as adding up.
    Its not just too know its there and look at.
    Its real estate potential .
    To me its a likely original plan. its for mankinds use as homes after all.

  3. Seriously, is there really any doubt as to where Hollywood gets some of it’s best material ???

    Is there also any doubt as to which side of the issue here that Hollywood stands on ???

    Robert, you are correct and the bible clearly shows that the issue of universal sovereignty will be settled here on Earth. Not Krypton, not Vulcan, not Romulus or any other mythological construct of Hollywood.

    One also has to wonder if the scientific community isn’t likewise influence by what Hollywood invents.

    Hmmmmmmm

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