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July 03, 2003

Today in Science

It's a busy day, for some reason. Maybe everyone is trying to get their press releases out of the way before the long weekend.

Distant solar system is similar to Earth's

Well, similar in that it contains a planet similar to Jupiter in location and orbit. It could be the only planet in the system, though the stable orbit of the Jupiter analogue is indirect evidence for others.

The position of, I'm going to call it BUFF for lack of a better term, is eerily similar to the location of the Sol system's asteroid belt. According to the generally accepted but not really understood Titius-Bode theory of planetary formation, the orbit of the asteroid belt should be occupied by a planet, the formation of which has been precluded by Jupiter's gravitational pull.

If Titius-Bode is applicable to the new system, then analogues of Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars may also exist in the new system. With BUFF functioning as a comet sweeper, protecting the inner rocky planets from bombardment, life would have a chance to arise on one or more of them.

Then again, those rocky planet analogues may not exist. BUFF is not only closer to the Sun than Jupiter, it is twice the size of Jupiter, meaning that its gravitational pull may well extend far enough into HD70642's habitable zone to prevent the formation of planets in that section of the system.

If Jupiter were a little more massive, or if it was closer to the Sun, the Earth might have suffered the same fate as Mars. If Jupiter were close enough to the Sun to reside in the habitable zone – 0.8 AU to 1.7 AU for our solar system, or roughly from the orbit of Venus to the orbit of Mars - then the Earth and the other terrestrial planets would never have formed at all. Jupiter’s gravitational influence would have prevented rocky debris from coalescing into planets. The inner solar system instead would have become a barren asteroid belt.

Which leaves us with the question of "How much more massive, or how much closer to its sun does a gas giant need to be to function as a habitable zone planet killer?"

At least one group of astronomers is searching for low mass planets in the HD70642 system, so we may know the answer to that question sometime in the near future.


Microbe Can Eat Toxic Waste Underground

The EPA factsheet on vinyl chloride.

The health effects of inhaled vinyl chloride in Chesterfield, England.

The home page of the discoverer of the microbe, Frank Löffler. I wonder how much longer he'll be just an assistant prof.


The Pentaquark has seen for the first time. Al-Qaeda has announced plans to fly a very tiny plane into the side of the newly discovered elementary particle.

Easy to tell which subjects I know the least about, isn't it?


Finally, Moonlight Keeps Dung Beetles on Course

I ate a dung beetle once, on a bet, Deltochilum gibbosum. It tasted like you might expect

Posted by Bigwig at July 3, 2003 01:32 PM | TrackBack
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So, as I read it, we're all actually made up of alien bar owners from Deep Space 9?

Posted by: Chuck at July 3, 2003 01:46 PM

It tasted like chicken - how odd!

Posted by: bogie at July 4, 2003 05:11 AM

I one time ate the worm that was floating around inside a bottle of Mescal. I did it 'cause somebody told me it would be akin to LSD. It wasn't... just nauseating.

Posted by: Lorelei at July 4, 2003 11:32 AM
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