Potentially habitable exoplanet may not actually exist


As I told you a couple weeks ago, Gliese 581g, planet of dreams, comes with a lot of uncertainty. It may, or may not, be habitable. It may, or may not, contain life.

And now, it may, or may not, exist.

Steven Vogt and his colleagues based the discovery of Gliese 581g on data taken from both their own research at the Keck Observatory in Hawaii and previously published data collected by the Geneva-based High Accuracy Radial velocity Planet Searcher (HARPS) team at an observatory in Chile. And, you'll recall, Vogt spent a surprising chunk of the peer-reviewed paper arguing for better teamwork and more cordial relations between his group and the Europeans.

But, this week, HARPS researchers told the International Astronomical Union that their newer, more accurate, and so-far unpublished data doesn't confirm Gliese 581g's existence.

Let's get ready for a (generally polite, conducted in peer-reviewed papers) science rumble! This doesn't mean Gliese 581g absolutely isn't there. The answer won't shake out until HARPS actually publishes their new data and independent researchers get a chance to compare both sides. But it does look like Vogt and company won't be singing "Kumbaya" with the Geneva team anytime soon.

Via the Dynamics of Cats blog and Stuart Clark

Image: Some rights reserved by NASAblueshift


  1. I guess it’s a good thing we didn’t send a ship. Seriously though, I really hope this planet does exist.

  2. I guess it’s a good thing we didn’t send a ship. Seriously though, I really hope this planet does exist.

  3. I told everyone not to land there.

    Like all exoplanetary discoveries, it’s huge; 5x Earth size.

    That means everyone there is Superman, and if they come here they will be incredibly strong, and probably also tiny.

    And if we go there, we would spend our days smooshed against the floor, unable to lift bodies that weigh ~500 kilos.

    1. GJ581g, if it exists, is expected to have about four times earth’s mass — meaning about 1½ times earth’s diameter, twice earth’s surface area and 1½ times earth’s surface gravity. Remember, although g’s gravitational well is deeper than ours, its surface is also farther from its center of mass than ours is.

    2. Like all exoplanetary discoveries, it’s huge; 5x Earth size. That means everyone there is Superman, and if they come here they will be incredibly strong…

      Finally an explanation that makes sense. KRYPTON! Residents of Kansas should probably be on the lookout for any unusual meteor impacts.

  4. Uh, could we keep that quiet just a little longer? You see, I’ve already sold a number of lots of bargain beachfront property in the temperate zone of Gliese 581g, nestled in the foothills of the magnificent Vogt mountains with their unparalleled skiing opportunities.

    All this uncertainty about whether the planet actually exists or not might make some of my customers think about asking for their money back, and that would be a little inconvenient for me just now.

    1. You need to diversify your fraud-based portfolio. First you sell the real estate and then you reinvest in the futures speculation and sell it short when it’s revealed that the planet doesn’t even exist. Then you reinvest when the planet is found again. Then you sell it short when its revealed that everyone presently alive will be dead by the time the technology is developed that can get us that far.

  5. oh wow, the inhabitants of Gliese 581g have used a cloaking device to hide the planet and prepare for an invasion of earth. they’ll probably use Phobos as a beach head and mount an invasion. We have about 200 years to prepare our defenses

  6. tell the masses it doesnt exist: tell the masses we are the only ones in the universe and then tell them to get back groveling for crumbs.

  7. Even with such scant information available on this supposed planet, it’s only a matter of time before some cult springs up and calls this New Eden. Drink the Kool Aid and wait for the ship.

  8. Great. Wonderful. Just what the anti-science crowd needs. Another example of science being very, very publicly wrong, with no counter-example of science being right.

    Except for, y’know, technology. Also medicine sometimes.

    1. Lobster, if that’s what you’re getting out of this, then you don’t understand science much better than the anti-science crowd.

      The point of science is NOT that everything that is published and that people get excited about turns out to be 100% correct.

      The point of science IS that everybody works on trying to find the truth and, as we compare all those different points of data over time, we get closer and closer to an accurate picture of reality. Along the way, specific findings turn out to be wrong. But the process of discovery and learning is what is important, not how many findings stay on the books forever.

      It’s our job to help anti-science people understand how science works—which includes disagreement and debate and proving other people wrong—not “balancing” every maybe-not-accurate-claim* with a reminder of an accurate one.

      *As I tried to make clear here, we don’t know whether Gliese 581g exists or not. The Geneva data isn’t public yet, so nobody can properly compare.

    2. I remember Gould had an essay on the the real damage creationism does to science: not that scientists believed it, but that it made them afraid of the debates necessary to advance.

      If you do want something that’s worked out, though, I’d like to offer Fomalhaut b as a neat example. It’s not earth-like, but it’s something we can actually see: it was predicted from dust ring structure, and about two years ago became the first planet to be imaged in visible light.

  9. I feel bad for scientists sometimes.

    They always need to get something exciting in the news so their backers will continue to fund their research. But then they have something out that hasn’t been fully kicked around by science to see if it’s real or not and they could potentially look like fools. Or even as liars.

    Still, science wins in the end. Even if we in the public only want the sexy Sci-Fi version of it.

  10. Well, once the Gliesean Republic figured out they’d been spotted I’m sure they just flipped on the ‘cloak’ switch.

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