UK paperback

Super-Earth

Like the Earth, only super

In galactic news: scientists peering through a massive Chilean telescope have found “the most Earth-like planet outside our Solar System to date, a world which could have water running on its surface”. It’s the first exoplanet ever detected that might support life-as-we-know-it. They call it . . . super-Earth!1 An “artist’s impression”:

super-Earth

It’s inspiring to imagine a planet stuffed with super-aliens, like Superman, as long as they don’t embark on any kind of interstellar “migration” to come here and steal all our jobs.

But then I began to worry: surely a “super-Earth” is exactly like the real Earth, only super? In which case, as a super-parallel-world, it must already boast figures such as a super-”Melanie Phillips” and a super-Cheney, frothing demagogic evilists at least twelve feet tall. Cosmic terror-flash! But here the language is, thankfully, deceptive. Reckoned to have a radius 1.5 times that of Earth but a mass five times greater,2 “super-Earth” will have much stronger gravity, which ought to mean, ceteris paribus, that its inhabitants are in general smaller. So with any luck, to us, super-”Melanie” would look like a tiny frothing dwarf. As with so much astronomical news, that puts things in heartening perspective.

  1. The paper [pdf]: Udry et al, “The HARPS search for southern extra-solar planets XI. An habitable super-Earth (5 MEarth) in a 3-planet system.”
  2. And hence, to be boring, the designation “super”.
9 comments
  1. 1  Richard  April 26, 2007, 1:44 am 

    a tiny frothing dwarf that can jump really high, though.

    Like a chihuahua.

  2. 2  Ex Ponto  April 26, 2007, 2:53 am 

    So when do we start democratizing it? It’s never too early to start planning the pushback against the Universal Caliphate . We wouldn’t want an entire super-planet to become a base for terrorist operations, would we?

  3. 3  Vronsky  April 26, 2007, 8:47 am 

    “a super-”Melanie Phillips””

    Well, in fact…

    Since current cosmological thinking is that the universe is infinite, then this together with the fact that the laws of physics only permit a finite (if very large) number of ways of arranging things, means that logically (you might want to sit down right about now) the universe contains an infinite number of Melanies. In fact anything that’s possible must occur infinitely often – somewhere there is a George W Bush, President of a country called the United States of America who is a teetotal atheist peacenik, somewhere there’s a Tony Blair, Prime Minister of a country called Britain, who never told a lie in his life. Really.

  4. 4  Graham Giblin  April 26, 2007, 9:38 am 

    ¹With that sort of gravity, Mel would be shorter but unfortunately stronger.

    ²I question Vronsky’s cosmology. A universe containing an infinite number of non-zero mass objects would be infinitely massive and therefore have infinite gravity which would mean that the entire universe would have had to collapse in on itself immediately. Or perhaps it already has.

    ³Or to put it another way:

    There is a theory which states that if ever anyone discovers exactly what the Universe is for and why it is here, it will instantly disappear and be replaced by something more bizarrely inexplicable.
    There is another theory which states that this has already happened. Hitchhiker’s Guide (Fit the Seventh)

  5. 5  abb1  April 26, 2007, 12:09 pm 

    In his Mindswap Robert Sheckley describes a Twisted World that consists of an infinite number of worlds. One of these worlds is exactly like our world except for one little detail, another world is off by two details and so on.

    At the end the hero is trying to figure out if is back on Earth or still trapped in the Twisted World. Eventually he’s satisfied that he’s definitely on Earth, because everything around him looks perfectly normal: three familiar suns and five moons, his father tending herds of rats as usual, his mother laying eggs every year.

  6. 6  dsquared  April 27, 2007, 8:46 am 

    I think Vronsky might be referring to the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics. So there might be an infinite number of Melanies but a) they are all completely isolated from us in a causal sense so we will never come across them and b) for any given Melanie , the probability that she is not at this very moment being told loudly to “SHUT UP YOU INSANE BIGOT” is vanishingly small [1]

    [1] this is actually a quite dodgy bit of maths and doesn’t pay much respect to proper quantum probabilities but I am in an optimistic mood today.

  7. 7  Steven  April 27, 2007, 3:23 pm 

    I apologise profusely to any readers having nightmares over the collaborative picture drawn here of an infinite number of “Melanie Phillips”es, each one tiny but incredibly strong, able to leap into the air to a height 200 times greater than the length of “her” own body, like a sort of frothing flea, with concentric sets of serrated teeth. The horror, the horror.

  8. 8  Alex Higgins  April 27, 2007, 5:06 pm 

    “I apologise profusely to any readers having nightmares over the collaborative picture drawn here of an infinite number of “Melanie Phillips”es, each one tiny but incredibly strong, able to leap into the air to a height 200 times greater than the length of “her” own body, like a sort of frothing flea, with concentric sets of serrated teeth.”

    So, does this mean that there are an infinite number of of Eva Longorias in the Universe?

    It’s understandable that the possibility of more than one Melanie Phillips or Dick Cheney should alarm us, but I think the glass may be half full here.

  9. 9  ozma  April 27, 2007, 8:55 pm 

    There’s a possible world where Melanie Phillips is a fried egg and Dick Cheney a side of hashbrowns.

    I thought you might find that comforting.



stevenpoole.net

hit parade

guardian articles


older posts

archives



blogroll