Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Scientific Debates...

Is there a planet, is there not a planet, is there a planet, is there not a planet, pulling petals off the Daisy.

Daisey, Daisey...the artificial HAL 2000 intelligent computer system in Space 2001.

Image Credit: NASA, Lynette Cook.

In a recent article, there is arguments that the Planet Gliese 581g does not exist.

At this point in time, why not call it "Daisy World", pardon the pun.

Yet, this type of disagreement is part of the scientific process and the validation of data or discoveries that are made. As a comparison, Darwin's concepts and ideas upon evolution and change with species, were first laughed and scoffed at. Alfred Wallace, independently of Charles Darwin, noticed a similar occurrence and gradual changes of species that resided in Southeast Asia.

Vogt is standing by the data collection and analysis that the team of researchers analyzed. As a professional scientist would do so. Give him the professional respect, for him standing by the data. Just because another team with a different data set or observation cannot claim that they can find "proof" of a planetary object, they are equally entitled to make that statement and professionalism of respect.

Basically, it boils down to further observations and further collection of data is needed to prove or disprove the claim by both independent teams. This can and does occur within the scientific community; logically or illogically as it may seem to those not trained in scientific discoveries, debates, and approaches.

If subsequent observations overtime indicate the presence of a planet, then Vogt's discovery will stand, because it is being validated and verified to having mutual agreement within the scientific community.

If subsequent observations overtime indicate there is not a planetary object within the habitable zone, then Vogt's proclamation of the discovery will have been proven false.

The star is 20 light years away and the technology just borders upon finding and Earth-size planet in the "Goldilocks Zone". Eleven years of data, while sizable probably indicates greater than 90% there is a planet. Volt indicates that the data is 99% accurate. Yet, shouldn't further observations and refinements in technology occur with sharper and more detailed observation and images? Yes, they should occur to dispel any margin of error within the data and even conjectures.

With all due respect of science, the process of scientific enquiry and thinking, at least have the respect for the science involved in the process of discoveries. Even criticism is a process of science, but criticism of which team is "The Best" is reducing science and the scientific process down to the absurd.

This discovery of a planet in the "Goldilocks's Zone" around Gliese 581 cold be debated for 20 or the next 150 years. There are going to be individuals who say "There is a planet there and it has approximately 3 to 5 Earth mass with a ratio size of 1.3 to 1.5 Earth-size" and there are going to individuals who say the opposite or "There is not a planetary object, because the data and observations do not support the claim".

This is science.

Vogt has made a claim based upon the observations of his team members and the data collected.

"I stand by our data and analysis," Vogt, an astronomer at the University of California, Santa Cruz, said in an e-mail interview with"I feel confident that we have accurately and honestly reported our uncertainties and done a thorough and responsible job extracting what information this data set has tooffer. I feel confident that anyone independently analyzing this data set will come to the same conclusions."

Vogt added that he looks forward to reading the other team's results when they're published in a peer-reviewed journal. He's not necessarily expectingGliese581g to be yanked off the list of extrasolar planets, though.

"In 15 years of exoplanet hunting, with over hundreds of planets detected by our team, we have yet to publish a single false claim, retraction orer ratum," Vogt said. "We are doing our level best to keep it that way."

In the process of validation of the planet by various teams and making further observations, then the next phase would consist of the question to habitability; Vogt indicates it does exist in the "Goldilocks Zone". Yet, Venus or Mar's are in the fringes of the habitable zone in this solar system.


Paulie said...

First, the known facts about the Gliese 581 system:

The discovery story:,8599,2022489,00.html

And the second opinion:

Paulie said...

Okay. I'm not trained to read the data from the observations, but all of the planets discovered and agreed upon (planets b, c, d, and e) are relatively small mass compared to other known exoplanets. The detection method employed observes the wobble of the host star due to gravitational "tugs" from the planets. With at least 4 rather small planets interacting with star Gliese 581, it must be very difficult to discern each planet. The close distances to each planet-and subsequent short orbital periods- may make it easier to detect the radial "wobble." However, 200 observations over an 11 year period seems like a small sample size.

Other teams of astronomers will no doubt be observing the Gliese 581 system very carefully in coming weeks and years, looking to confirm Vogt & Butler's discovery, but will just as easily discard it if their own observations don't match the initial claim.

I'd like to believe that we have found the first exoplanet cousin of Earth, but Pepe et al. give us reason for doubt. We will have to see how this plays out, and remember that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.

Jerry M. Weikle said...

I was reading through the actual study that was submitted. I wish that I was trained in understanding the mathematical aspects of the observations, honestly.

What I admire is Vogt's statement "But if GJ 581g is confirmed by further RV scrutiny, the mere fact that a habitable planet has been detected this soon, around such a nearby star, suggest that n could well be on the order of a few tens of percent, and thus that either we have just been incredibly lucky in this early detection, or we are truly on the threshold of a second Age of Discovery.", page 37, The Lick-Carnegie exoplanet survey: A 3.1 M Planet in the Habitable Zone of the Nearby M3V Star Gliese 581.

Steven S. Vogt, Butler, Rivera, Haghighipour, Henry, and Williamson.

The team reported the findings which indicate there is a planet, GJ 581g, that the team calls "Zarmina's World".

The team having announced the discovery, stand by the data that supports the discovery. In due respect to science, have opened up the aspect of further observation and confirming by other independent teams of researchers.

Paulie, as you state "extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence" and this is the process of science and data collection about an "extraordinary claim".

The scientific debate process has began within the community of researchers. What the outcome of further research remains to be discovered and Vogt's acknowledges the scientific debate process needs to occur to validate his teams claim of an "Earth-like" rocky terrestial world.