"Solar System could be 'unique'" (Shallow Thoughts)

Akkana's Musings on Open Source Computing and Technology, Science, and Nature.

Sun, 08 Aug 2004

"Solar System could be 'unique'"

A new silly story has been making the rounds (meaning someone sent a press release to AP or somewhere, and everyone is reprinting it). Dave spotted it first, in BBC Science:
Solar System could be 'unique'
[ ... ]
In the past 10 years, over 100 extrasolar systems (planetary systems orbiting stars other than the Sun) have been discovered from the wobble in their host stars, caused by the motion of the planets themselves.

But none of them seem to resemble our Solar System very much. In fact, these exoplanets have several important attributes that are entirely at odds with the Solar System as we know it.
[ ... ]
Planetary size is one puzzle; most exoplanets are gargantuan, gaseous masses like Jupiter.

Smaller planets similar to the Earth's relatively humble proportions - and rocky composition - are noticeably absent, although the researchers admit that this may be because smaller planets are more difficult to spot. Also, the large exoplanets are significantly closer to their stars than those in our own system are to the Sun.
[ ... ]

Well, duh. We're detecting planets by their gravitational influence on their star, and, what a shock, most of the planets we've detected that way have been massive and close. What a shock! I guess there must not be any small planets out there, huh?

The New Scientist article is a bit better written, and mentions that the exoplanets' highly elliptical orbits relates to the theory of how that particular system evolved.

So I'm guessing that's what the real article is about: that the eccentricity we're seeing in these big super-Jupiters' orbits is really the basis for the paper, and not the fact that, duh, they're large. It's probably a perfectly worthwhile paper that's just being butchered by the accounts in the popular press.

Strangely, the publication where it supposedly appeared, the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, does not seem to list this article or anything similar to it in either of the August issues so far.

[ 14:09 Aug 08, 2004    More headlines | permalink to this entry | ]

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