Habitable Extra-Solar Planets Are Everywhere

This is the kind of thing that drives creationists crazy, so it’s the sort of news we enjoy. In PhysOrg they have this new article that should gladden the hearts of all you science fiction fans out there: Red dwarf stars might be best places to discover alien life.

Why red dwarf stars? Wikipedia says:

Red dwarfs are by far the most common type of star in the Milky Way galaxy, at least in the neighborhood of the Sun, but due to their low luminosity, individual red dwarfs cannot easily be observed. From Earth, not one is visible to the naked eye. Proxima Centauri, the nearest star to the Sun, is a red dwarf (Type M5, apparent magnitude 11.05), as are twenty of the next thirty nearest. According to some estimates, red dwarfs make up three-quarters of the stars in our galaxy

Okay, there’s a lot of them. But what is that that makes them candidates for finding alien life? PhysOrg says, with bold font added by us:

[N]early every one of these [red dwarf] stars may have a planet located in its habitable zone where life has the best chance of existing, a new study concludes.

Here’s a link to the new study they’re talking about. It’s in International Journal of Astrobiology, titled In situ models for planet assembly around cool stars. All you can see without a subscription is the abstract. Let’s get back to PhysOrg:

Astronomers are discovering more and more planets around red dwarfs, and recent findings from NASA’s Kepler space observatory reveal that at least half of these stars host rocky planets that are one-half to four times the mass of Earth.

We’ve come a long way since the 1990s, when the first extra-solar planet was discovered. Until then, no one knew if any existed. Now, to the anguish of creationists, they appear to be the rule rather than the exception. You gotta have some sympathy for the creationists. Once, before the telescope, when astronomy was based on naked eye observations and no one knew anything else, they were happy thinking that Earth was the center of the universe, the specially created focus of divine attention.

Then it was discovered that were just another of the planets in the solar system, and like all the others, we orbited the Sun, not the other way around. That was a very difficult adjustment for those who imagined that their ancient texts told them all there was to know.

These days the creationists either claim that the bible somehow isn’t contradicted by the solar system, or they totally avoid the issue. But until recently they could still cling to the hope that the Sun is unique in having planets. Now, even that illusion is gone, so all they’ve got left is the hope that our world is the only one that supports life. PhysOrg continues:

Study author Brad Hansen, an astrophysicist at the University of California at Los Angeles, used computer models of in situ planetary formation to see how often red dwarfs might develop Earth-sized worlds, and where these planets might orbit around the stars.

In his computer simulations, Hansen modeled red dwarfs half the mass of the Sun, with proto-planetary disks extending from 0.05 AU to 1 AU (one astronomical unit is the average distance from the Sun to the Earth) from the stars. The disks contained an amount of gas and dust equal to six times the mass of Earth. He then looked at how many planets developed after 10 million years.

Well, if the model is good, the results should be informative. Here’s more:

Of particular interest to Hansen were the so-called habitable zones of these stars, the areas where planets are potentially warm enough to sustain liquid water — and potentially life — on their surfaces. Red dwarfs are relatively cold stars, which means their habitable zones are closer than Mercury is to the Sun — just 0.1 to 0.2 AU.

The suspense is killing us. What did he find? We’re told:

Hansen found most of the resulting planetary systems comprise between four and six surviving planets inside 0.5 AU, although the largest number went as high as 10. In addition, the red dwarfs usually possessed one or two planets within their habitable zones, which extended from 0.23 to 0.44 AU. “A high frequency of potentially habitable planets makes it more likely that we could actually find one that is habitable,” Hansen said.

The creationists must be furious about Hansen and his Satanic model. But wait — it gets even better. One last excerpt:

Moreover, Hansen also found that planets in the habitable zones of red dwarf stars could accumulate significant amounts of water. In fact, each could possess roughly 25 times more water than Earth has as a whole. All in all, he noted these results “broadly support the notion that habitable planets are plentiful around M dwarfs in the solar neighborhood.”

It’s not as if the creationists didn’t have enough to worry about. But it doesn’t matter what science discovers. If there’s one thing we’ve learned about creationists, it’s this: They’ll continue to deny reality until they can no longer make a living at it. But that day will never come. After all, we still have plenty of astrologers.

Copyright © 2014. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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8 responses to “Habitable Extra-Solar Planets Are Everywhere

  1. M dwarfs.

    That means M-Class planets!

    We knew it all along.

  2. Off topic, except that it’s yet another example of how f[edited out]ing crazy Creationist ‘logic’ can get: I refer to today’s Discoveroid blog post, by Wesley J. Smith: “Boy, You Are Insane!” “No, I’m Just Evolved.”. Here’s the money shot:

    Think about it: Eugenics, social Darwinism, the Holocaust, China’s One Child policy, the ISIS pogrom against Shia Muslims, Christians, and the Yezidi — the list goes on and on.

    All of these evils are possible only by the denial of human exceptionalism. Or to put it the other way around, decency, morality, and universal human rights depend on adherence to human exceptionalism, both our unique value and our obligations to each other as humans.

    Got that? ISIS Jihadis–all solid Creationists, btw–aren’t an evil arising from religious belief in oogity boogity, but from denying ‘human exceptionalism’.

    Wesley J. Smith is completely bat-[edited out] crazy. If the Discoveroids ever prevail with their own theocratic caliphate on this planet, I am off for one of those red dwarf star exoplanets pronto…

  3. “You gotta have some sympathy for the creationists.”
    The only sympathy I feel for creacrappers is schadenfreude.

    SC is partially hopeful: “They’ll continue to deny reality until they can no longer make a living at it.”
    Forget it. No Dutch creacrapper can make a living at their denial. Still internet is ridden with Dutch creasites. Here, a random one (just the first one that popped up):

    http://www.schepperenzoon.nl/index.html

    These guys are willing to put money in it.

  4. Megalonyx, I haven’t read that one yet. But I note that despite their “computer glitch,” they’re still posting. Nevertheless, their lost revival is still lost.

  5. Cyano de Bactergerac

    The creationists will have to omphalize everything, and I mean everything: Not just the age of the earth and universe, but those pesky exoplanets, and then maybe outer space as a whole, in order to be Biblically correct (above us is a solid dome according to the Good Book, not this blasphemous “expanse” stuff).

    Biblical literalism will go Matrix, a crisis-of-faith supernova before it collapses into itself and violently explodes…

  6. Another thing about red dwarfs is that they have remarkably long life spans on the main sequence. For stars on the main sequence

    Luminosity = mass^3.5

    Which means that the more massive a star is, it is using up the hydrogen fuel in its core at a much faster rate than less massive stars. For example, Betelgeuse in the constellation of Orion has already left the main sequence and is red super giant with a mass of about 20 times that of the Sun that could explode in a supernova at any time. Compared to the Sun which is 4.6 billion years old and has about another 5 billion years before it becomes a red giant, Betelgeuse is probably no more than 2 million years old.

    Stars with masses only 20% of the mass of the Sun could last for hundreds of billions of years. Every red dwarf that ever formed in the 13.8 billion year history of the Universe is still on the main sequence. That could mean that there are civilizations out there that are billions of years older than ours.

  7. Except, of course, that the Bible makes clear that the heavens as well as the earth shall “pass away”–soon, according to fundamentalists. Maybe tomorr–!

  8. What’s also interesting is that about half the planets formed in the simulation were in the habitable zone and narrow range between 0.5 and 4 Earth masses (assuming the simulation wasn’t constrained in some significant way to produce these results). Being rocky planets, their average density would be about that of Earth, yielding gravitational attractions at their surfaces in the range from 0.8g to 1.6g, so that larger life forms aren’t prevented from emerging by this property.