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Giddy astronomers announced the discovery of an Earth-like planet last month, but the existence of Gliese 581g has come into question.

New planet’s existence in doubt

Giddy astronomers announced the discovery of an Earth-like planet last month, but the existence of Gliese 581g has come into question.

The Gliese 581 solar system

The Gliese 581 solar system

At the IAU (International Astronomical Union) meeting in Torino, Italy this week, Francesco Pepe, an astronomer from the Geneva Observatory, said that his team has been unable to confirm the existence of Gliese 581g. In 2009, the Geneva team announced the discovery of planet “e” in the Gliese 581 solar system, and since then, have also been able to easily detect the three previously announced planets: b, c, and d. The team has been unable to locate the “g” planet, and Pepe even told Astrobiology Magazine that his team has not been able to confirm the existence of the “f” planet either.

Last month’s discovery of Gliese 581g was in a paper published by astronomers from the Lick-Carnegie Exoplanet Survey in Astrophysical Journal. This same paper included the announcement of the discovery of the “f” planet. The lead author of this paper, Steven Vogt, has stated, “The fact that we were able to detect this planet so quickly and so nearby tells us that planets like this must be really common.”

The differing opinions have created doubt about the existence of Gliese 581g, and there is a possibility that the media is responsible for jumping to conclusions. Ray Jayawardhana, a University of Toronto astronomer, feels that “the detection was less than comfortably secure, even in the original Vogt et al. paper – the paper was carefully worded, as opposed to what was in some media reports.”

The Gliese 581 solar system is 20 light years away from Earth in the constellation Libra, and may or may not contain six planets.

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About Jason McClellan

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Jason McClellan is a UFO journalist and the producer/co-host of the web series Spacing Out! He is also the web content manager and staff writer for OpenMinds.tv, and a co-organizer and technical producer of the International UFO Congress. As a founding member of Open Minds, Jason served as a writer and editor for the now defunct Open Minds magazine. He has appeared on Syfy, NatGeo, and, most recently, he co-starred on H2's Hangar 1: The UFO Files. ------ Follow Jason on Twitter @acecentric and subscribe to Jason's updates on Facebook.

One comment

  1. avatar

    Let’s suppose “several percent” means three or four percent. That means that there is 96-97% probability that the detection is NOT just noise in the data. Everybody understand that??? If the article is quoting these folks correctly, the odds are 96% or better that the data on this object ARE IN FACT statistically significant. This is very close to the two standard deviation confidence level usually required for “confirmation” in science. Hence the note of caution expressed here. There’s nothing “magical” or perfect about the two s.d. level for statistical significance. It has simply become the de facto standard for confidence and confirmation. These people are NOT saying that they have disproved the existence of Gliese 581g. They’re saying that the statistical significance of the data leaves a little room for doubt. And that’s always important to keep in mind. At least SOME extra-solar planet discoveries will turn out to be spurious, due to noise in the data. In fact, there were planets “known” to be orbiting Barnard’s Star in the 1960s, but eventually they were shown to be due to noise in the very difficult process of ground-based astrometry. They didn’t exist.

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