[meteorite-list] Scientist earmarks planets most likely to hold alien life

From: Sterling K. Webb <sterling_k_webb_at_meteoritecentral.com>
Date: Sun Feb 19 20:13:50 2006
Message-ID: <002301c635ba$e493abb0$cf42e146_at_ATARIENGINE>


    Assuming we want to find aliens as much like us as possible?
    Or assuming we are the model of intelligent life?
    Or maybe just assuming we have no better criteria to use when looking
for intelligent life than our own planetary experience...
    Seriously looking hard at five planets is a lot more do-able than
looking at 17,129 planets, I guess.
    Break out the Big Ears. Break out the Big Eyes.
    Howdy, neighbor...

Sterling K. Webb

Scientist earmarks planets most likely to hold alien life
By Steve Connor, Science Editor
Published: 20 February 2006
Astronomers have identified a star in our Milky Way galaxy that is the most
likely candidate for possessing a companion planet that harbours intelligent
extra-terrestrial life.

It is a sun-like star called beta CVn in the constellation Canes Venatici
and it appears to possess all the necessary preconditions that would allow
an advanced civilisation to flourish on a nearby planet.

The star is 26 light years away - 153 trillion miles - and it heads a
shortlist of five stars that astronomer Margaret Turnbull of the Carnegie
Institution in Washington believes could be the focus of fresh attempts to
make contact with other intelligent beings.

Dr Turnbull selected her top five from an initial catalogue of 17,129 stars
that could be "habitable stellar systems" where the physical conditions
would not be too extreme to limit the evolution and development of
intelligent life and its technology.

She said she made her choice purely on the characteristics of the stars
themselves. "Stars are not all the same, and not all of them are like the
Sun," Dr Turnbull told the American Association for the Advancement of
Science in St Louis.

The first criterion is that the star had to be at least 3 billion years old,
which is about the time it has taken life on Earth to evolve to its present
stage. That would be long enough for companion planets to form and for
complex life to develop on them. Dr Turnbull said.

Stars on the shortlist also had to be no bigger than about 1.5 times the
mass of the Sun - bigger stars tend not to live long enough to produce
habitable zones, she explained. Each shortlisted star also had to have
enough metallic iron in its atmosphere - at least 50 per cent of the iron
content of the Sun - otherwise it is unlikey that rocky planets similar to
Earth would form around it.

The stars also had to be at the right stage of stellar evolution, which
eliminated red giant stars or dwarf stars, which would not be suitable for
complex life to survive for very long on a nearby planet.

"We are intentionally biased towards stars that are like the Sun. These are
places I'd want to live if God were to put our planet around another star,"
Dr Turnbull said.

Jill Tarter of the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (Seti)
Foundation, a privately-funded attempt to detect the non-natural radio
signals from advanced civilisations in space, said her organisation will now
train its radio telescopes on the five shortlisted stars.

Dr Turnbull has also identified the star she believes is most likely to have
a companion planet similar to the Earth where simple life could evolve
because of the presence of liquid water - thought to be necessary for life.

Her top choice is epsilon Indi A, a star that is only one tenth as bright as
the Sun about 11.8 light years away in the constellation Indus. It has
enough intrinsic luminosity to suggest good prospects for a habitable zone
but not so bright as to overwhelm attemps to take images of the planet with

Dr Turnbull said that the shortlist of habitable zone stars with either
advanced civilisations or Earth-like planets is by no means definitive but a
reasonably accurate guide for other astronomers to follow.

"There are inevitable uncertainties in how we understand these stars. If I
took 100 stars, it would be very difficult for me to tell which one is the
best," she said.

However, there are certain conditions that would preclude the development of
life and by concentrating Seti's efforts on the best candidates, scientists
are more likely to get results even though no one is quite sure what will be
done if astronomers ever detect a radio signal from ET.

"There is no formal policy of what to do if we discover extraterrestrial
life," Dr Turnbull said.

Top five stars for planets with advanced life

* beta CVn, a sun-like star about 26 light years away in the constellation
Canes Venatici

* HD 10307, another solar analogue about 42 light years away. It has almost
the same mass, temperature and metallicity of the Sun. It also has a benign
companion star.

* HD 211415, about half the metal content of Sun and a bit cooler, this star
is just a little farther away than HD 10307.

* 18 Sco, a popular target for proposed planet searches. The star, in the
constellation Scorpio, is almost an identical twin to the Sun.

* *51 Pegasus. Already famous. In 1995, Swiss astronomers reported they had
detected the first planet beyond our solar system in orbit around 51
Pegasus. An American team soon verified the finding of the Jupiter-like
Received on Sun 19 Feb 2006 08:13:43 PM PST

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