A New Planet was Discovered - Or Not!

by Lucy Ji, age 16

Recently, scientists of the University at Geneva declared the finding of a planet orbiting Alpha Centauri B, our sun’s nearest neighbor. The planet has a mass similar to Earth’s, a key feature vital for human survival. Although the planet is much too close to its sun to sustain life, it gives astronomers and space junkies alike hope that there are more planets near it that fit the requirements to host living things. A closer analysis of this mystery planet, however, is causing scientists to question its existence.

According to an article written by Artie P. Hatzes, the director of the Thuringian State Observatory in Tautenburg, Germany, “Sometimes [the planet] is there, other times not,” depending on the methods used to analyze the data.

Although his analysis has no conclusive results in either direction, based on Hatzes’ previous experiences with mystery planets like this one, “this simply does not ‘smell’ like a real planet.”

Other scientists agree with Hatzes’s findings, including Suzanne Aigrain of Oxford University. She quoted Carl Sagan’s dictum that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, agreeing that, “Dr. Hatzes’s writings certainly cast a doubt on the original evidence.”

Xavier Dumusque, leader of the original discovery, welcomes the challenge, and agrees, “the signal we are searching for is at the limit of the data precision.” This means the finding can only be verified after obtaining more data. The Kepler Satellite, NASA’s planet-hunting machine, lost its pointing capabilities back in May, but scientists plan on making more observations once it is up and running again.

Other planet astronomers are still bickering over is the existence of Gliese 581g, which was found in 2010. Considered a “Goldilocks” planet, or a planet not too hot or cold to sustain life, scientists were sure this was the perfect planet for humans to settle. Three years later, they still are unsure if the planet actually exists.

Unfortunately, the prospect of an Earth-like home away from home may be further away than optimistic astronomers want to believe. Scientists are finding just how devilishly important each minute detail is.

[Source: Space Science]