Is this the other world to come?
In 2007, Stephane Udry of the Geneva Observatory announced his team had discovered four planets orbiting a star known as Gliese 581 a. One of the planets, 581 d, was discovered to have a probability, although a low one, that life could exist on that planet. As scientists do, the Swiss group released their findings in public and waited for their peers to analyze the numbers.
American astronomers Steven Vogt and Paul Butler examined the Swiss data and confirmed the four planets they found.On Sept. 29, 2010, Vogt and Butler announced they had discovered the first habitable planet outside of Earth’s solar system after nearly 11 years of observing it and the star it orbits. The discovery made headlines across the world.
One of the planets the American astronomers claimed was Gliese 581 g. There are 518 accepted planets as of Friday afternoon and if Gliese 581 g exists, it bears far more Earth-like features than any other, including 581 d. But there were whispers in the astronomical community that shed doubt on this planet and the quick way it was announced.
After the American data was publicly released, the Swiss team had a look at it.
Prof. Jaymie Matthews, who teaches astrophysics at UBC, stated the announcement was premature. “Their findings had not been subject to peer review and if (Vogt and Butler) waited, they may have never held a press conference announcing with 100-per-cent certainty that this planet exists,” stated Matthew.
A Vancouver astronomer is at the centre of a controversy challenging the discovery of the most Earth-like planet ever found.When Prof. Phil Gregory is not lecturing at the University of British Columbia, he is analyzing numbers using a rare system known as Bayesian statistics.”But they also found two other planets,” Gregory stated.”It is ultimately a way of dealing with uncertainty,” Gregory stated.
This is the tool Gregory used to question last year’s discovery of a planet known as Gliese 581 g. The characteristics of this planet — temperature, orbit and mass — give it a likeness to the Earth, making it the first planet where life has the highest chance of existing. But Gregory’s research — although not yet subject to peer review — concludes that Gliese 581 g doesn’t exist.
“The Europeans weren’t able to show the (two) extra planets the Americans are claiming,” states Gregory.This is where the Vancouver professor stepped in as a neutral third party. “I decided that I would have a go at the Gliese 581 g data because I bring to the table the unique system of Bayesian statistics,” stated Gregory.
What Gregory found would shake the briefly held belief that 581 g even exists. “I found there is a strong noise (inaccuracies) in the American data which they seem to be unaware of.”
The revelation Gregory put forward is being dismissed by Vogt, who was quoted by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation as saying Gregory “manipulated” the numbers.”Vogt is not familiar with the Bayesian techniques so he might assume that I am manipulating the data. I attribute that to a lack of awareness on his part,” stated the soft-spoken Gregory. Gregory has released his research in public and is awaiting a panel of judges that will review his finding
Although the astronomers may disagree on 581 g, scientists still hold a common belief that there is likely a planet out there as habitable as Earth: It’s just a matter of time before it’s found.