Possible life in our galactic back yard

— 2:53 PM on August 22, 2001

Well, we've always suspected it was probable, but proof has been fleeting. Even this story at Discovery News plays the flip flop game of, "We found it! Well . . . maybe."

The system is 47 Ursae Majoris, which houses a star not unlike our own. The system is around forty-five light years away, or roughly 263,956,320,000,000 trillion miles away. To help put that into perspective, I believe that would be roughly equivalent to travelling from the sun to Pluto some seventy-two thousand times. In the scheme of space's great vastness, something Hawking believes may have no true end, it's not all that far. The center of our own Milky Way by comparison is some twenty-six thousand light years away or 152,508,096,000,000,000 quadrillion miles. Now that, folks, is a serious trip.

This is the first system found that houses gas giants in the "outer" region of the star's territory. Such a discovery provides hope—alongside considerable debate, since solar systems have no hard and fast rules. "For the first time, we have a star with two gas giant planets that are far away from the star, and we know there isn't a gas giant planet in the inner regions of the star," Fischer told the Post. "From our perspective, this space is empty. But when you ask, 'What can you hide in this space?' You could hide Earth. This is the only star that has a big empty zone in the habitable region around a star, the place where water could exist."

Astronomers were quoted as saying it was possible the large planets around Ursae Majoris could crowd out smaller ones but that large planets often imply the presence of smaller, Earth-like ones.

"Finding the large ones is like finding boulders and rocks strewn along the beach from afar," said Geoff Marcy, a professor of astronomy at Berkeley who also worked on the discovery. "If you see them a mile offshore, that means there's probably sand there, too." Even if scientists are able to prove that smaller, Earth-like "inner" planets exist in the 47 Ursae Majoris system, no one will be able to confirm water—much less life—until human beings manage to devise a fold drive, warp speed, or hyperspeed "engine"—not to mention an energy source to power such fanciful technology. Solid rocket fuel and 97 octane isn't going to get the job done. Thanks to Alindrea for the link.

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