The Kepler space telescope (and several observatories on the ground) have pinpointed a plenitude of planets around other stars, but astronomers' knowledge of them remains fuzzy. A new European mission launching in five years will bring them into focus, figuring out their size, density and internal structure.
The new telescope is called CHEOPS, for CHaracterising ExOPlanets Satellite, although it is not shaped like a pyramid. Its targets will be nearby stars that are known to harbor planets. Like Kepler, it will use the transit method of hunting planets, looking for blips in star brightness to tell if something is orbiting around them. This will allow more accurate measurements of a given planet's radius.
Astronomers know the masses of several planets, partly through observations that measure how the planets affect the wobbling of their stars. Given a radius and a mass, you can figure out density, and this will give clues about the planet's internal makeup. This will help astronomers learn how other planets form, especially the rocky super-Earths.
Measurements like this will help characterize Earth-scale planets like the one around the Alpha Centauri system, which astronomers announced last week. CHEOPS is just one in a handful of super-precise, powerful telescopes slated to start observing in the next few years, which astronomers believe could finally pinpoint whether life exists elsewhere in the cosmos. For instance: "I think it is realistic to expect to be able to infer within a few decades whether a planet like Earth has oxygen/ozone in its atmosphere, and if it is covered with vegetation," Martin Rees, Britain's Astronomer Royal, told Reuters.
CHEOPS will orbit Earth in synch with the sun, flying around 500 miles above the planet. It's scheduled for launch in 2017.
All we have to do is find one planet "Earth Like" with somebody running about.
Then what do we do after that, "Say hello and identify we exist." What are all the consequences to such an action? Might they be more technology advance and come and concure Earth!
And if this Earth like planet just has simple life on it, do we have a right to settle there and dominate it and make it our own?
How many species on Earth do we cause to be extinct every day now, not intentionally? Would we justify in advance making extinct animals on this Earth like planet, just so we could settle there; what gives us the right?
Still, I am very happy this new telescope is being made. I hope it does see a nat scratch it's ass on some distant planet; more knowledge is better. ;)
Robot: Those are indeed some of the important questions we would need to ask.
If they are more technologically advanced than us...we don't really need to worry as much. If we can find them, they probably found us quite awhile ago. So, having not wiped us out, they either don't care about us, or are relatively kind. There's still some risk, and there always will be. However, we can not just try to hide in our little hole.
As for settling a planet with simple life: That's the really tricky one, and one that should take a considerable amount of actual discussion across the entire planet. There is a lot to consider.
For example, is it not simply a natural part of life for once foreign organism to be introduced to a system? While in the short term, it can be bad as it causes a large collapse in the ecosystem...in the long term it is stronger for it, creating a new series of diverse life that would have never appeared before, and removing the weakness of the previous life that allowed it to fall in the first place.
At the same time though, who knows what kind of impact we could actually have on such an extreme case. This isn't a rat making it to a small island on a fallen tree. All life on Earth shares an incredibly massive amount in common. If we introduce Earth life to a foreign planet, it might not be able to cope at all. Instead of ending up with a stronger system in the end, we may just completely eradicate all life on the planet. A simple bacteria in our stomachs could prove to be an untouchable plague for life on another planet.
Also, I wanted to point out that we do indeed cause some species to go extinct, but we have actually managed to make Earth the most stable it has ever been. Extinctions are currently at an all time low. We often think that the Earth is so nicely balanced, but it just isn't. It never has been, and likely never will be. Extinction, death, change, etc. are all the norm. Evolution actually requires the vast majority to go extinct, so the fittest can prosper.
There's a lot to think about here, but it's likely we have lots of time do so, thankfully. Even if Alpha-Centauri Bb turned out to be habitable for some crazy reason, it would take us thousands of years to get there with current technology. Unless there is some major breakthrough, we are easily looking at 100-200 years before our first probe reaches it.
CHEOPS also features a convenient garden hose attachment.
Just because a civilization is found across the cosmos and maybe higher intelligence and they have not harmed us yet, does not mean they won't. Similar to wars on Earth, it has to be paid for and the cost justified.
Check human history of war, prior to saying they would not war with us too, especially if they consider us inferior in some fashion, than the likelihood of being exploited goes up.
I do agree with you we have lots of time to think about it. But an extremely old cosmic race, experience in galactic travel might be on the way to visit us soon, mmmmm, say 21st December 2012...lol. You know, to hand out new Mayan calendars. I want the one with the Mayan goddesses, WoWzers!
Then again, a visit to us could be to wipe out humanity once again, as it has been foretold in biblical accounts...
Considering that human technology is at least a few thousand years behind where it should have been, It is likely that more advanced civilizations have already found us and are keeping an eye on us. They will know our history and our empty words will mean nothing to them. They may not attempt to communicate or even allow themselves to be discovered by us.
These aliens might have already decided what they will do if we try to extend our poor behavior into space.
The greatest threat to humans in space is likely to be humans themselves.
An alien looking at humans sees a species with an abysmal track record.
No cooperation, endless conflict, slow progress in all areas, no hope for coexisting with aliens, generally delusional, highly dangerous and prone to unprovoked violence.
1) Isolation and Quarantine
Warning: Quarantine is about to be broken.
Great. I`m also looking forward to the new European GAIA telescope to be launched next year. It will chart an incredible 1% of our Galaxy with pin point precision. That`s some 1 Billion stars. With such extreme precision it is anticipated to discover tens of thousands of planets and dozens if not hundreds of earth sized worlds. The recent discovery by European astronomers of a planet in the Alpha Centuari system also was top notch. A planet so close gives real hope for more close planets in more earth like orbits. Star Trek here we come!
Whats hilarious to me is that every system must be brimming with planets. Being able to see a planet transiting the star is an unlikely combination of its orbit lining up perfectly with its sun, and our line of sight, yet the number of planets observed grows daily. The odds of us being the only planet with sentient life is zero in my opinion. Near the center of the galaxy there has been time for two stars to be born and die, some civilizations could be potentially billions of years old. And realistically, with that amount of time the other stars must have been tempting.
Valid point Robot, but consider this, maybe they are waiting for a ripe opponent. Bit boring to fight something that you could crush in an instant.
And on a galactic scale, wars would be a little... stupid. What's to fight over? Asteroid belts have all the minerals and metals people would need, and they can colonize planets for Biomasss.
Pretty much will be "Hey, bout time yall showe up!"
Get your facts first, then you can distort them as you please.
I did toss my random thoughts, response and questions of what humanity would do, should we actually find living planet and one with intelligent life.
But I would think it would be a fascinating article for PoPSCI to poste with highly respected scientist of the actually PLAN should such an encounter actually happen. I really like to know the logical thought process. Has a guideline of sorts already been thought about? In the world, we do have an extreme amount of technology pointing towards the cosmos. What would we do, should we come across intelligent life? What is the official plan?
And what is the USA plan, say if a cosmic visitor lands one day on the White House lawn and comes a knocking? Is there an establish protocol or are we just going to wing it?
(1) Any civilization out in space is either primitive or very far away, as modern societies throw off a great deal of "noise." Since most of that noise (radio waves) travels at light speed and we have been listening for years (SETI) - the event horizon for advanced life in the universe is always and rapidly expanding.
(2) Any society developed enough to get here would be developed enough to (A) not need Earth for resources, since none of the base chemical components of our planet are particularly rare to the universe and (B) not worth the resources needed to get here and take them.
(3) Any society that does take to the stars would be exspansivistic in their approach to the universe. You don't go to the trouble to access space without plans on how to harvest and utilize it. That said, if they showed up here, their reaction would me more akin to that of you seeing a bug. If it is gross, kill it, if it is harmless, leave it alone - but not worth actually caring about.
So, if the alien overlords did show up, they would likely just ignore us and consume the planet for resources (Hitchhiker's style or not, who knows? - Don't Panic). That, or they would take the other planets as resources and leave our one little rock here for our little slimy selves to grow on.
I don't think its fair to say that humans are somehow war-mongering, or destructive and that an alien race would somehow see them as such.
Odds are that an Alien Race is ALOT older than us, (think about where we fit into the history of life on our own planet, time wise.) or alien life is very, very primitive, I'm talking non-sentient life.
If they are intelligent, and that far ahead of us in development. They would have to gone through their technological adolescence like we are doing now, and since they are still kicking. They obviously didn't blow themselves to pieces or poison their planet. No matter the chemical make up, life's development from primitive to an advanced technological civilization will have growing pains and mistakes. If their is e.t. life, I doubt man is unique in this.
Oh yeah, kick ass telescope :)
That is exactly the mistake I'm afraid humans are making. We assume everyone will be as bad as we are at least some point in their past, therefore they will understand.
What if they have never been dumb enough to war among themselves? What if they just are not in the mood for our crap?
If they wipe every human from the face of the earth it would not take more than a few hundred years to repopulate with a more progressive species. So what is so special about us to make us worth saving?
If they come here it will be too late to promise we will change.