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Systemic - Characterizing Extrasolar Planetary Systems


6 Sep 2010, 20:59 UTC
(200 words excerpt, click title or image to see full post)

Exciting times for the exoplanet field. The announcement of the first million-plus dollar world is only days to weeks to months or at most a year or two away, and in the interim, the planet census keeps expanding.
At the same time, however, all the new planets are accompanied by a certain creeping degree of frustration. I have a feeling that these worlds, and especially the super-Earths, will prove to be even more alien than is generally supposed. Artist impressions do a good job when it comes to gray and airless cratered surfaces, but are necessarily inaccurate or impoverished or both in the presence of masses more than a few tenths that of Earth. And because of the distances involved, we won’t be getting the really satisfying images any time soon.
With my provincial day-to-day focus on Gl 876, Gl 581, HD 80606 et al., I tend to forget that we’ve got a full-blown planetary system right here in our back yard. It caught me by surprise, months after the fact, and via a thoroughly tangential channel, that a sober-minded case can be made for the presence of methane-based life on Titan. In fact, a detailed case has been made, ...

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