First Earth-like planet spotted outside solar system likely a volcanic wasteland

Jan 06, 2010 by Sandra Hines

(PhysOrg.com) -- When scientists confirmed in October that they had detected the first rocky planet outside our solar system, it advanced the longtime quest to find an Earth-like planet hospitable to life. The rocky planet CoRoT-7 b is, however, a forbidding place. If its orbit is not almost perfectly circular, then the planet might be undergoing continuous, fierce volcanic eruptions, according to information presented at the American Astronomical Society meeting.

When scientists confirmed in October that they had detected the first rocky planet outside our solar system, it advanced the longtime quest to find an Earth-like planet hospitable to life.

Rocky planets -- Earth, , and Mars -- make up half the planets in our solar system. Rocky planets are considered better environments to support life than planets that are mainly gaseous, like the other half of the planets in our system: , , Uranus and Neptune.

The CoRoT-7 b was discovered circling a star some 480 light years from Earth. It is, however, a forbidding place and unlikely to harbor life. That's because it is so close to its star that temperatures might be above 4,000 degrees F (2,200 C) on the surface lit by its star and as low as minus 350 F (minus 210 C) on its dark side.

Now scientists led by a University of Washington astronomer say that if CoRoT-7 b's orbit is not almost perfectly circular, then the planet might also be undergoing fierce volcanic eruptions. It could be even more volcanically active than Jupiter's moon Io, which has more than 400 volcanoes and is the most geologically active object in our solar system.

"If conditions are what we speculate, then CoRoT-7 b could have multiple volcanoes going off continuously and magma flowing all over the surface," says Rory Barnes, a UW postdoctoral researcher of astronomy and astrobiology. Any planet where the surface is being remade at such a rate is a place nearly impossible for life to get a foothold, he says.

Calculations about CoRoT-7 b's orbit and probable volcanism were presented at the meeting in Washington, D.C., during a session Jan. 5 and as part of a press briefing Jan. 6. CoRoT-7 b was discovered by a French-led team using the CoRoT -- Convection, Rotation and Planetary Transits -- satellite.

The next step to finding a planet that harbors life may have to wait until astronomers are better able to detect rocky planets that are farther from their stars, Barnes says. "Because it is easier to detect planets that orbit close to their host stars, a significant fraction of the first wave of rocky planets being found outside our solar system may be more Io-like than Earth-like."

Barnes and his colleagues suspect CoRoT-7 b is subject to extreme volcanism partly because it is so close to its sun, the distance between the two being about 1.6 million miles (2.5 million kilometers). That's about 60 times closer than the Earth is to the sun.

Volcanism is then triggered by even a tiny deviation from a circular orbit. How tiny of a deviation? About 155 miles (250 kilometers), according to calculations done by Barnes based on how bodies in our influence each other's orbits. That's about the distance from Washington, D.C., to Philadelphia. That amount of deviation, or more, could be caused by the gravitational pull of the next planet out from CoRoT-7 b.

Deviations in its orbit would set tidal forces in motion that flex and distort the whole shape of CoRoT-7 b. This is different from what happens on Earth, where oceans absorb the energy of tidal forces.

"CoRoT-7 b most certainly has no oceans. A planet on a non-circular orbit experiences different amounts of gravitational force at different points along the orbit, feeling the strongest gravitational pull when it is closest to the star and the weakest when it is most distant. As the planet moves between these two points, it stretches and relaxes. This flexing produces friction that heats the interior of the planet resulting in volcanism on the surface," Barnes says.

"This scenario is exactly what is occurring on Jupiter's moon Io. For planets like CoRoT-7 b, however, the heating may be much, much stronger than on Io."

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User comments : 26

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croghan26
1 / 5 (2) Jan 06, 2010
They say: "it is so close to its sun, the distance between the two being about 1.6 million miles (2.5 million kilometers). That's about 60 times closer than the Earth is to the sun."

What does 60 times closer mean? Is it 1/60th of the distance from earth to our sun?

Like saying "60 times smaller" .... 'times' indicates a multipule, an increase .... 'smaller', a diminutive, a reduction. What does that mean?
Phelankell
1 / 5 (2) Jan 06, 2010
Try multiplying by a fraction and tell me what you get.
joekid
5 / 5 (1) Jan 06, 2010
Question how much cooler are the polar regains than the planetary average temperature?
croghan26
1 / 5 (2) Jan 06, 2010
Try multiplying by a fraction and tell me what you get.


Oh I eventually understand what they mean .... but it seems to me it is an unnecessarily complicated phrase .... I can also not, not use double negatives and still get a meaning across.
Parsec
4 / 5 (4) Jan 06, 2010
croghan26 - I really don't mean to be rude, but the idea that times means 'make greater' dies a brutal and ugly death for most people in 4th or 5th grade as soon as they encounter multiplying and/or dividing fractions. It is quite reasonable for the authors to assume a 5th grade understanding of basic arithmetic, particularly for this site.
Phelankell
1 / 5 (2) Jan 06, 2010
I can also not, not use double negatives and still get a meaning across.

Yes and you look like an idiot as that's against the rules of speech and communication for the English language. You're never taught to use double negatives, but everyone is taught to know how to multiply to reduce.
croghan26
1 / 5 (2) Jan 06, 2010
croghan26 - I really don't mean to be rude, but the idea that times means 'make greater' dies a brutal and ugly death for most people in 4th or 5th grade as soon as they encounter multiplying and/or dividing fractions.


There you go again - positing something that means one thing (as in 'not rude') and then abusing that position. Do you have problems saying something out right, without circumlocution?

As for Phelankell ... you obviously are familiar with double negatives, I am not the first to use one, even if my use was (obviously) intentional.

A friend of mine refuses to use a semicolon (;) or a verb that ends in 'en' .... as for me I have gotten used (now 'got used to)to using:
semicolons;
verbs that end in 'en';
people that say they are not rude, then proceed to be, well, ....rude!

Phelankell
1 / 5 (2) Jan 06, 2010
No you're not the first to use one, but past precedent doesn't make that use correct.
Lot's of people say "ain't". That does not make it the correct means of converse.
Donutz
3 / 5 (2) Jan 06, 2010
I agree with croghan26 on this one. While we have to expect that using english to describe mathematical concepts is going to be kludgy at best, saying '60 times smaller' is no batter than saying 'twice as small'. You can argue that 'twice as small' means the same as 'half as big', but then 'not not saying' also means the same as 'saying'. Both are relatively poor ways of phrasing a concept.
And yeah, saying "don't mean to be rude" first doesn't give you license to be rude. Disagreement could have been registered without condescension.
SincerelyTwo
1 / 5 (1) Jan 06, 2010
S = 1/60 = 0.016666666...
A = Distance of our planet, Earth, from the sun.
B = A * S
Distance of other planet from its sun == B.
Donutz
1 / 5 (2) Jan 07, 2010
S = 1/60 = 0.016666666...

Are you really going to try that hard to miss the point? This isn't about math, this is about English construction and use.

"Sixty times as small" makes some people say "wha?". "One sixtieth of the distance" does not.

SincerelyTwo
1 / 5 (1) Jan 07, 2010
Donutz,

One sixtieth of the distance == Sixty times as small.
1/60 = 0.016666666

Same thing, the math statement PROVED it was the same thing. The English statement logically agrees with the maths.

The relationship between mathematics and language is logic. You might not respect that fact, but it is a fact none the less. It's just a lot more efficient to speak in mathematics sometimes - I didn't miss the point at all; you're just lacking the understanding.
bhiestand
1 / 5 (1) Jan 07, 2010
No you're not the first to use one, but past precedent doesn't make that use correct.
Lot's of people say "ain't". That does not make it the correct means of converse.

"Ain't" is a grammatically correct contraction for "am not". It's fallen out of favor in large part because a large number of uneducated people consistently misused it, but it's still just as valid as "isn't" and "don't" when used correctly.

Other than that, I'll agree with you. I'm not a big fan of "sixty times as small", but the meaning is quite clear.
croghan26
1 / 5 (2) Jan 08, 2010
Donutz,
The relationship between mathematics and language is logic. You might not respect that fact, but it is a fact none the less. It's just a lot more efficient to speak in mathematics sometimes - I didn't miss the point at all; you're just lacking the understanding.


GEEZE - I did not realize that people were either so attached to their mode of expression or that pugnacious!

Sometimes it is beneficial to emphasize the comparative size differences ("Alexander defeated Xerxes with an army sixty times smaller.") but that is for emphatic purposes only. Logic is good - clarity of expression is good too: Pythagoras did not have to highlight differences with his comparison of the squares of the sides of right angled triangles, nor did Einstein in comparing mass/energy.

croghan26
1 / 5 (2) Jan 08, 2010
(contunued from above)

Juxtaposing a multiple and a dimunitive may be good for emphasis - and tenuously logical, but Pythagoras did not need one in comparing the squares of sides of a right angled triangle, nor did Einstein in relating mass to energy.

Gershwin, in Porgy and Bess wrote: "It Ain't Necessarily So.." knowing full well his audience knew he was adopting a dialect as part of his social philosophizing.

I am not trying to say that a construction as "X times as small" is illogical or even wrong; just that it is useful for emphasis, but as part of common usage it is confusing.
Phelankell
1 / 5 (1) Jan 08, 2010
"Ain't" is a grammatically correct contraction for "am not".

Ain't and innit are not grammatically correct. Both are considered basilectal. When I was learning English it was condemned and considered to be incorrect according to the grammatical authorities (Webster's, Merriam, etc).

This site has a list of those things, like "irregardless".

http://www.wsu.ed...l#errors

Phelankell
3 / 5 (2) Jan 08, 2010
but Pythagoras did not need one in comparing the squares of sides of a right angled triangle, nor did Einstein in relating mass to energy.

Out of curiosity, how exactly are you trying to preface your thought with algebraic forulae? Especially seeing as they would rather often incur multiplying by a reductive.

E=Mc^2

M=0.5kg

E=1/2kg*299792458m/s^2

Again, multiplying by a reductive is common place in both speech and logical deduction. Some people just don't like it and find it confusing. Those people are not cut out for deep logic fields.
croghan26
2.3 / 5 (3) Jan 08, 2010
"Ain't" is a grammatically correct contraction for "am not".

Ain't and innit are not grammatically correct. Both are considered basilectal. When I was learning English it was condemned and considered to be incorrect according to the grammatical authorities (Webster's, Merriam, etc).

This site has a list of those things, like "irregardless".

http://www.wsu.ed...l#errors



I agree with you about irregardless - it is unnecessary - but would say that 'innit' (usually with a ? following)is more a pronounciation problem than a syntactical one.

I recall a telling skit on the Bob Commings Show in the mid-50s. It shows a WWI era biplane flyer being passed by a jet plane. The biplane flyer shakes his fist and calls out: "Young whippersnapper - I would go that fast too if my tail was on fire."

croghan26
1 / 5 (2) Jan 08, 2010
(continued)
It has been 30 years since I taught in a class room - but those I know in the teaching fraternity tell me that syntax is now of secondary import to communication. If you can get across a point with poor english - it is acceptable. (Yes, I am like the byplane flyer and believe that "messy syntax is evidence of a messy mind" - but I try to keep up.)

Go to a website for 'clean coal' or for the 'oil sands' and you will see all manner of claims like: "OUR NEW PROCESS IS 300 TIMES CLEANER THAT THE PREVIOUS ONES." Which is probably true - but begs the point entirely ...

Arithmetically multiplying by a fraction is really dividing - where as using the decimal system is not. Yet sometimes it aids what you are trying to say by implying a multiple -

This morning I was reading here about Egyption cosmetics and it said: "The research was carried out using a tiny electrode, the 10th of the size of a hair, to look at the effect of a lead chloride synthesised by the Egyptians"
croghan26
1 / 5 (2) Jan 08, 2010
(continued)

That is straight forward - no difficult or reverse construction there ....

Again sometimes, to make a point it is useful to use a convuluted expression .. Someone criticized Churchill for his expressions one time and he responded: "Up with this I shall not put." Illustrating and allowing his constructions.

I still maintain that using an implied expansion, as in 'times' - that turns out to be a reduction, as in 'smaller', while it may be lucid in mathematics is a 'trick' in english expressions.
Phelankell
3 / 5 (2) Jan 08, 2010
I still maintain that using an implied expansion, as in 'times' - that turns out to be a reduction, as in 'smaller', while it may be lucid in mathematics is a 'trick' in english expressions.

We don't disagree, however, when you speak in math more often than you speak in english, as is the case for most people within technical skill fields and the sciences, it is the prefered method of communication and more easily understood.

When someone says 10x smaller, I see an object that is 1/10th the size automatically.

My only contention is with the comparision to double negatives and colloquialisms.
SincerelyTwo
3 / 5 (3) Jan 08, 2010
croghan26,

Your argument is pointless and carries little meaning or value. You seem determined to prove your opinion is some kind of objective truth, regardless of what evidence we provide to support it's not.

In my opinion there is nothing about the phrase which is unintuitive, and I reserve the right to believe that, and you reserve the right to believe otherwise. It stops there.
mdr
3 / 5 (1) Jan 09, 2010
If it's okay with everyone else, I'm going to break tradition and make a comment about the original article.

Wouldn't all of that volcanic activity provide an ideal environment for extreme life forms (like our domain Archaea) to form from inorganic components, and potentially evolve and thrive in? I think it's premature to suggest the planet is necessarily lifeless, simply because it probably doesn't support human-like life.

There's a lot of energy being thrown around by those eruptions that could easily mash the right combination of molecules together over time, and probably a lot of different gasses and fumes that could be used by lifeforms to survive.

Going back to Archaea, they survive in the harshest climates on earth- including volcanoes and underwater vents deep in the oceans. And they can go dormant during inhospitable periods (i.e. when this new planet is at the wrong distance from the sun for the given life form..).

I think its too early to rule life out arbitrarily.
Phelankell
5 / 5 (1) Jan 09, 2010
I think its too early to rule life out arbitrarily.
The chemical processes necessary to be classified as life cannot start in an environment that turns over the planet's entire mantle in days.

Earth turns over the entire mantle over periods of billions of years. Technically we haven't even done that once yet as there's still a small section of original rock at the surface.
scratchydog
5 / 5 (1) Jan 10, 2010
From the article; "If conditions are what we speculate, then CoRoT-7 b could have multiple volcanoes going off continuously and magma flowing all over the surface," says Rory Barnes, a UW postdoctoral researcher of astronomy and astrobiology. Any planet where the surface is being remade at such a rate is a place nearly impossible for life to get a foothold, he says".

I'd say it would be IMPOSSIBLE for life to get a foothold on a planet thats surface is covered in magma
croghan26
not rated yet Jan 11, 2010
croghan26,

Your argument is pointless and carries little meaning or value. You seem determined to prove your opinion is some kind of objective truth, regardless of what evidence we provide to support it's not.

In my opinion there is nothing about the phrase which is unintuitive, and I reserve the right to believe that, and you reserve the right to believe otherwise. It stops there.


STwo - you are correct in that it is a matter of taste on my part to prefer clarity in expressions, what may be acceptable in another language (mathematics) is .... difficult in English. Such as you are 10 times less important that indicated by your pretentious and imperious announcement of: "It stops here."

mdr - you have a terrific point there ... life of some sort seems to be far more robust that at first expected. Some of the places where it is found in this world would mean extinction to us, but are suitable for other forms.

To carry this over to other planets is but a small jump.