Posted by: Rosebud | October 15, 2010


Headlines Scream around the world:

New Earth-like Planet Found – The Guardian

New Planet May Be Able to Nurture Organisms – NYTimesA Habitable Exoplanet – for Real This Time –

Gliese 581g: the most Earth like planet yet discovered – Telegraph


 Complete with Beautiful Renderings:   


Gliese-581 g I See Green on the Continents!


Gliese 581g

Mapping new territory is always exciting.  Of course, I’d love to go to an Earth-like planet with water and an atmosphere I can breathe and comfortable temperatures.  Talk about amazing!

But, a quick look at the methodology behind this discovery may sober you up in a hurry.  Without further adieu, two paragraphs from an article titled: “Doubt Cast on Existence of Habitable Alien World” from

The planets in the Gliese 581 system were discovered using spectroscopic radial velocity measurements. Planets ‘tug’ on the star they orbit, causing it to shift in position (stars and planets actually orbit a common center of mass). By measuring the star’s movement in the sky, astronomers can figure out what sort of planets are orbiting it.

Multi-planet systems create a complicated signal, and astronomers must tease out the spectral lines to figure out what represents a planet, and what is just “noise” – shifts in the star light not caused by an orbiting planet. Astronomers have developed various ways to reduce such noise in their telescopic observations, but it still creates a level of uncertainty in detecting extrasolar planets.

The point of the article is to report on some scientist’s that are trying to confirm the discovery of Gliese 581G but are unable to confirm the calculations based on the data. 


I was counseled once that individuals with a strong commitment to a vocation generally considered that vocation to be the solution to many of the world’s problems. For example, a teacher thinks the world would improve if there was just more and better teaching going on.  An artist would think the same thing about art; a doctor tends to think more medicine and medical research and availability of medical treatment will solve the worlds’ problems.  So, you’d think that a scientist would have a similar viewpoint and want more people to know more about science, and maybe the ones involved in this did.  But, someone with a different viewpoint (perhaps an entertainment viewpoint) decided this would make “great copy” for the news.  A description of finely tuned readings of spectroscopic radial velocity measurements was translated into a possible life-supporting planet with water and an atmosphere. You’d think that a scientist would want more science in the world to improve the lot of mankind, but this possible discovery exploded in the news media to become a huge fantasy.  You’d think that the scientists’ would want to prevent this type of propagation of fantasy.


I hate cynicism, and I really don’t want to promote skepticism, but this type of yellow science journalism makes it really hard.


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