back to article ALIEN WORLD Beta Pictoris snapped by Earth's Gemini 'scope

Earth-based exoplanet hunter, the Gemini Planet Imager, has released the results of its first observation run, a direct image of Beta Pictoris b. The first-release images were taken in November, the culmination of a decade's worth of planning and engineering. Its aim is to add direct observations of exoplanets – worlds beyond …


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  1. Winkypop Silver badge

    Science porn

    Well done those boffins.

    I look forward to your future discoveries.

  2. Joe Pineapples

    It won't be long before we have the ability to see signs of civilisation on planets. It'll be about that time that all those extra terrestrials will switch the lights off and "pretend they're out"

    1. Tom 7

      @Joe Pineapples

      na - those extra terrestrials will be arguing that the scientists on their planet that have discovered they are being watched are being paid to say that and we will be forced to invade them and play DAB Radio 1 to them.

  3. chr0m4t1c

    Well done those peeps

    I'm sure I read a few years ago that scientists expected to discover an exoplanet with life by the end of the decade, but this makes me think that we might have that discovery by the end of the year.

    Exciting times.

    1. GrahamT
      Thumb Down

      Re: Well done those peeps

      As scientists have been unable to detect life on other planets/moons in the solar system yet, even where they suspect it might exist, the chances of them detecting it, by the end of the year, on planets light years away is pretty slim

      1. ~mico


        Oh no, the scientists are quite positive there is no advanced/intelligent life in Solar system. including Earth

        I believe, that a technical civilization of our or better level can indeed be detected from light-years distance. Unless, of course, their data compression techniques have made all emissions look like white noise, in which case the scientists will discover another "hot gas giant", "micropulsar" or some other weird astronomical creature.

        1. GrahamT

          Life vs Civilisation

          There is a big difference between life (bacteria and upward) which is all that I mentioned, and technical civilisation. I was responding to: "scientists expected to discover an exoplanet with life by the end of the decade...we might have that discovery by the end of the year".

          I stand by my comment that *life* is suspected on other planets in our solar system, but *currently* could only be detected by sending probes there, not remotely.

          A sufficiently advanced technical civilisation is likely to be a lot rarer than life, and that advancement would have to have been at that stage n years ago, where n = the number of light years away that we are observing. Much more than 100 light years away and you need "them" to have had our current technology at the time steam and gas light were our most advanced common technologies.

          I am not deriding the fantastic acheivement, but we shouldn't get carried away.

          1. Vociferous

            Re: Life vs Civilisation

            > There is a big difference between life (bacteria and upward) which is all that I mentioned, and technical civilisation.

            Yeah -- that the bacteria are easier to detect. Omnidirectional radio emissions (e.g. FM radio) lose power with the cube of the distance, an alien will need a radio telescope the size of our solar system to watch Earth TV just 10 light years away from Earth. The only way we here on Earth would detect radio emissions from other solar systems is if they're extremely powerful and aimed in a narrow beam straight at Earth. Which seems an unlikely scenario.

            Bacteria, on the other hand, have a tendency to change the reflective spectrum and atmospheric composition of the planet, and that could be detected. A rocky planet in the habitable zone with significant amounts of free oxygen and methane would indicate life, and that could conceivably be detected.

            1. jphb

              Re: Life vs Civilisation

              Surely radio emission strengths loose power with the square of the distance not the cube - unless the laws of physics have changed since I was at school. More to the point advanced civilisations are unlikely to waste lots of radio power broadcasting to the stars, like us they will increasingly use tightly focussed beams from downward looking satellites and cable/fibre systems - so much for radio SETI.

              The chemical signatures of life are another matter however.

      2. Wzrd1 Silver badge

        Re: Well done those peeps

        Ah, but with a 10km mirror in a planetary orbit, they *could* see such things!

        Of course, new austerity measures barely permit earth based observatories to operate.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Well done those peeps

          Still not done spending other people's money? And while I am all for this type of research, the funding still must come from somewhere. Perhaps on one of those distant worlds, they actually do have "money" trees to sponsor their research. (Explains all those UFO sightings here on earth, obviously...)

    2. JDX Gold badge

      expected to discover an exoplanet with life by the end of the decade

      We may well discover a planet with life by 2020 but we won't know about the life!

      1. Suricou Raven

        Re: expected to discover an exoplanet with life by the end of the decade

        It has a spectograph. That analyses atmospheric composition. If there is a lot of life on the planet, and it is running on similar chemical principles to life here, that instrument has a good chance of finding it. Oxygen just doesn't persist in a planetary atmosphere by any known process other than photosynthetic life, so if we find a planet with a significant amount of oxygen we can say with confidence that planet has life - even if we can't be sure it is anything more than single-celled algae analogs.

  4. Michael H.F. Wilkinson

    Great stuff!!

    We live in wonderful times. I will lift a glass (or two) of Caol Ila malt whisky to that team tonight

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I remember at school in the 80s being told categorically by my science teacher that it was impossible to ever see or detect planets around even nearby stars from earth because they were simply too dim and their stars too bright. Less than 30 years later, there are hundreds of stars detected via indirect observations and now even imaging. Scientists never fail to amaze me with their ingenuity.

    1. Mikel

      It was impossible at the time

      I recall also that extrasolar planets were hypothetical. A good many people thought our sun might be special in that it has planets. The future promises many more such discoveries.

  6. cray74

    I was thinking sort of the same sort of thing. I grew up with 9 planets and a few thousand minor objects in the solar system. It was thrilling and revolutionary to finally get a close-up of a comet with the Halley Armada in 1986, and equally exciting to finally get a close-up of an asteroid with Galileo's Gaspra flyby. The Voyager flights to Uranus and Neptune also put pictures to specks of light.

    Now, in the last decade, discovery rates of solar system minor objects has been in the tens of thousands per year, though one planet disappeared due to a paperwork shuffle when Pluto gained a bunch of cousins. Exoplanets were rumors and always disproven before confirming some planetary corpses around a neutron star in 1992 and a brown dwarf in 1989, and then just a few more exoplanets were confirmed in the later 1990s. Suddenly: about 1000 confirmed exoplanets in the last decade, plus direct imaging.

    20 years ago, I figured I'd never see an exoplanet in a life zone in my lifetime. Now, it doesn't sound too far-fetched to read about scientists directly analyzing the atmospheric composition, temperature, and gravity of exoplanets.

  7. Winkypop Silver badge

    I watched Apollo as a kid

    Before I return to star-stuff I'd LOVE to hear of "life" elsewhere.

    Even the slightest hint.

    1. Vociferous

      Re: I watched Apollo as a kid

      Well for what it's worth, it's pretty much a certainty that there's life on the jovian moon Europa.

  8. ChaosFreak

    I Saw this Coming 20 Years Ago!!!

    The name "Beta Pictoris" struck a chord when I read it. So I searched my hard disk for a Sci-Fi novel I started writing as an undergrad over 20 years ago, and as it happens in my novel a team of explorers is heading from Earth to Beta Pictoris. As I recall, I picked it at random among nearby star systems... very freaky coincidence.

    1. Jediben

      Re: I Saw this Coming 20 Years Ago!!!

      These boffins should get down the gym - there are loads of people trying to get Beta Pectoris down there :)

      1. John 62

        Re: I Saw this Coming 20 Years Ago!!!

        sadly that's so bad it's good

  9. Sweep


    That is jaw-droppingly cool. In my (not so distant) youth it seemed almost inconceivable that we would be able to really know anything about extra-solar planets, or even be able to prove their all we need to do is figure out a way to visit them.

  10. saif

    final front ear

    All we need is warp drive to make these discoveries useful....seriously though, the image seems to helpfully draw in the looks peculiarly like a diffraction pattern....would be shame if 10 years of research mistook a speck of dust on a telescope for a exo solar system.

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