Planets Beyond the Solar System

Gas giant planet. A painting I developed as background art for the Saul Bass / Ray Bradbury short film, "Quest." (1983, 24x30", acrylic on masonite) Copyright 1983-2011, Carl Martin.
Gas giant planet. A painting I developed as background art for the Saul Bass / Ray Bradbury short film, "Quest." (1983, 24x30", acrylic on masonite) Copyright 1983-2011, Carl Martin.

I must be getting old or lazy—likely both! My online list of extra-solar planets had not been updated in several years! ("Extra-solar" means beyond our Solar system.)

Why the big delay? Those pesky scientists keep discovering more and more and more! Heck, it's a big universe out there, and there must be zillions of planets amongst the cosmos. One estimate places the number at something like 50 sextillion star systems which have planets in this universe—that's a 5 followed by 22 zeroes, and that's a sexy number, all right. We don't often hear of a sextillion of anything. (For some who use the old British "Long Scale" numbers, this would be a "thousand trillion.") If the United States produced a trillion dollar debt each year, it would take them a billion years to drop into the sextillion dollar range. That would likely bankrupt this entire sector of the Milky Way galaxy.

Back to planets. Aren't they lovely? We live on a particularly nice one, ripe with life. Scientists want to know if Earth-like planets are rare or abundant. And so do I! I've dreamed about Earth-like planets my entire life. In fact, that's why I created my main website, www.AncientSuns.com—to explore the universe of possibilities for worlds like our own. Is there a Klingon Empire out there, ready to take on humanity should we attain warp drive starships?

I made the list on my website easier to read with alternating color rows. Programming that took a lot of work on my original list. Ahh, but I'm getting crafty in my old age, too. I used a little programming savvy to have my computer do all the formatting for me automatically. Yes, I'm getting both old and lazy, and perhaps a little smarter, too.

Detail from the Extra-Solar Planet list at www.AncientSuns.com. Copyright 2011, Carl Martin.
Detail from the Extra-Solar Planet list at www.AncientSuns.com. Copyright 2011, Carl Martin.

Ancient-Rich Star Systems

Where would we find such star systems and their life-friendly planets? That's the really interesting part.

Young star systems are in the process of formation. Earth, for the first three billion years, suffered heavy meteor bombardment. The one which killed off the dinosaurs came near one and a half billion years after this, so you can imagine the "heavy" showers our planet must have endured.

So, we need to find star systems which are at least 3 billion years old (3 Giga-years). Some star systems have formed out of clouds which are almost entirely hydrogen. For planets with soil and the potential for life, we need more chemicals than the plain-vanilla, all-hydrogen variety. Scientists have a scale which gives a rough idea of the chemical "richness" of a star system. This scale measures the ratio of iron to hydrogen (Fe/H) and gives us a quick idea about the "metallicity" of a star system. In this topic, even oxygen and silicon are considered "metals" (heavier elements).

Sol (our sun) on the scale used in my online chart, has an Fe/H of zero. An Fe/H of –0.05 is still relatively rich.

So, we are looking for star systems which are at least 3 billion years old and have a metallicity rating (Fe/H) of at least –0.05. These are the ancient-rich star systems which might harbor another Earth-like planet.

Diagram of the Alpha Centauri system compared to our own Solar system. Notice how much room there is between the two main stars of Alpha Centauri for planets. Copyright 2001-2011 Carl Martin.
Diagram of the Alpha Centauri system compared to our own Solar system. Notice how much room there is between the two main stars of Alpha Centauri for planets. Copyright 2001-2011 Carl Martin.

Alpha Centauri, Next-Door

Our nearest neighboring star system, Alpha Centauri, can only be seen by those who live south of about 30-degrees North latitude.

For those more familiar with northern constellations, Alpha Centauri is found near Scorpius. Where I live in the Philippines, this neighboring star is quite visible, high in the sky during some portions of the year.

Alpha Centauri contains three stars—one very similar to our own sun, another slightly dimmer and cooler, plus the ruddy glowing ember known as "Proxima Centauri." This system stands at least a billion years older than our own sun and system of planets.

Just think about it. If Alpha Centauri A (the main star) has an Earth-like planet orbiting it and life formed on that world on a schedule similar to that on Earth, they might have a civilization there which is a billion years ahead of us. That's not a million years—a billion years!

Close-up view of "Stars in the NeighborHood" software, showing stars tagged with olive-green diamonds representing "Garden Spots of the Galaxy." These are the ancient-rich suns near our own. Copyright 2011 Carl Martin.
Close-up view of "Stars in the NeighborHood" software, showing stars tagged with olive-green diamonds representing "Garden Spots of the Galaxy." These are the ancient-rich suns near our own. Copyright 2011 Carl Martin.

More Planets

Scientists have discovered over 500 extra-solar planets, so far.

I have included many of them in my "Stars in the NeighborHood" 3D software.

I have even marked some of the "ancient-rich" star systems so they are easy to find. Imagine those islands in the dark of space which are similar to Earth -- oceans, oxygen, life.

It's a big universe out there. I never tire of exploring the possibilities.

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Comments 28 comments

Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 5 years ago from Kyle, Scotland

Nice hub. I like your enthusiasm. Astronomical numbers are, well, astronomical!


lone77star profile image

lone77star 5 years ago from Cebu, Philippines Author

Thanks, Paraglider. And I wouldn't mind an astronomical bank account. ;-)


Betty Johansen profile image

Betty Johansen 5 years ago

Hmm, if our nearest neighbors are three billion years ahead of us, it looks like they would have come calling by now. Surely in three billion years Earthlings will be zooming around the universe. Unless, of course, we kill each other off first.

Fascinating hub!


lone77star profile image

lone77star 5 years ago from Cebu, Philippines Author

Betty, good point! But what if they know about us? What if they know that we are wrapped in tons of ego, and that this dark cloud covers this world. Perhaps they know better than to get close to this spiritual "black hole."

I grew up loving space, astronomy and interstellar star flight. I wanted my own starship before Sputnik took flight. And yet I wonder if perhaps in a few thousand years, we may no longer need these bodies and the spaceships I have craved for so long.

Perhaps, instead of killing each other off, we will graduate.

Thanks for the insights.


Rod Marsden profile image

Rod Marsden 5 years ago from Wollongong, NSW, Australia

lone77star, scientists are not only looking at stars nowadays but are tentatively looking at planets.

How can you possibly see a planet outside our own solar system? Well, you can't really. Unlike a star they are not a source of light. They can, however, be detected.

When a solid object, such as a planet, comes between us the observer and a star, the star is obscured from our vision for a very short period of time. In other words the star winks.

Finding planets through the winking of stars is very new to science but it seems to be a step forward in the search for planets and life elsewhere. There was a documentary on this some months ago.

Sputnik 1 really started the space race.


lone77star profile image

lone77star 5 years ago from Cebu, Philippines Author

Thanks Rod; good points. You mention occultation (the planet passing in front of its sun, which is only a partial obscuring), but the most prevalent method for new planet detection is similar to the Doppler effect--the rising and falling of a sound as the source approaches toward, passes and recedes from us (like a train or a vehicle blaring its horn).

And yes, Sputnik started the race, with America left at the starting gate.


Rod Marsden profile image

Rod Marsden 5 years ago from Wollongong, NSW, Australia

Lone77star, the Doppler effect has been around for some time and, as you say, another method of finding planets. The method I mention is still relatively new. Both methods might some day find us that planet similar to earth.

America may have been left at the starting gate but she sure bolted home in 1969 when two Yanks landed on the moon.


lone77star profile image

lone77star 5 years ago from Cebu, Philippines Author

Yes, the "Doppler" effect was first introduced in 1842 by Christian Doppler, but the use of this effect for planet-finding was introduced in 1988 (rather recent) for Gamma Cephei, and later confirmed. The idea of using occultation to find planets in extra-solar systems has been around likely for a century or more, but its actual use was first accomplished in 1999 with HD 209458.

I really do look forward to scientists finding other Earths, especially any which have free oxygen in their atmospheres (high likelihood of life).

When Armstrong and Aldrin landed on the Moon, I lived in Los Angeles. I remember it well, seeing the historic moment on television when Armstrong stepped out onto the lunar surface. I hope we as humanity get our act together and pool our resources to go back to the Moon and on to Mars. Just hold me a seat, will you?


Rod Marsden profile image

Rod Marsden 5 years ago from Wollongong, NSW, Australia

I was in kindergarten when the Armstrong and Aldrin did their thing. I got half a day off school to see it happen on my own television at home. I still have the cut-outs from the daily and weekly newspapers leading up to the event. Apparently the mission was tracked south of the equator by a radio telescope station set up in Parkes, country NSW, Australia. They made a movie about it some time ago called The Dish starring Sam Neill(2000).


lone77star profile image

lone77star 5 years ago from Cebu, Philippines Author

Rod, that is so cool. I had graduated high school the year before and was working in L.A. I saw that movie, too -- bringing science to life and making it fun. The cool part, for me, is that so much of the planet shared those moments, feeling a connection humanity has only rarely felt.

When I was in 5th grade, I almost forgot my own birthday because of the excitement at school. Alan B. Shepard was taking the first American steps into space and everyone took a break to watch a lone television set in the school auditorium. Years later, I understood more about that event, especially Mr. Shepard's long wait on the launching pad.

Later, after my grandparents got back from celebrating Cinco de Mayo in Mexico with some friends, they brought me a copy of the local newspaper there (in Spanish, of course) showing Alan Shepard's historic event.


Rod Marsden profile image

Rod Marsden 5 years ago from Wollongong, NSW, Australia

lone77star, I am happy that Australia had its part to play in the landing on the moon. I think a lot of Australians feel a sense of pride and accomplishment over this.

I remember growing up there were a number of science shows on television. Professor Julius Sumner Miller presided over two of them. Professor Miller's best remember show was Why is it so? I remember thinking growing up that this old grouch with his test tubes was such a rat-bag he had to be Australian. It turned out he was American. In any event, for twenty years or more he taught science on television in one way or another. When he was no longer doing his shows he was doing commercial for Cadbury chocolates. Despite his grouchiness or maybe because of it he was much loved by viewers throughout Australia. I have spoken to science teachers who are around my age about him and they remember him with fondness as the man who hooked them on science. I was say CSIRO (Australian government) researchers to this day owe him something. He was so enthusiastic about science and it was catching. In part my interest in science fiction and the writings of Asimov stemmed from Why is it So? Well Prof. Miller was buried in America and not much was made about his life in the USA. In Australia, however, we still remember. Prof. Miller also ignited a lot of interest in the moon landing.


lone77star profile image

lone77star 5 years ago from Cebu, Philippines Author

I'd like to see his shows (Prof. Miller).

One of my favorites from my childhood was a rather limited series of films produced by Bell Telephone. The format seemed to be the same for most of the Bell Science Series. An older scientist with a younger assistant, talking to a screen of cartoon characters about such things as stellar fusion or hemoglobin. The creativity there was part of the inspiration behind my own video on Atlantis (shown in a couple of my recent hubs on the subject).

Those films helped to fuel a lifetime of interest in sciences of all kinds, and to my creation of 3D astronomy software. The matrix math was a bit tough to wrap my mind around, but once I had the right epiphany on this, the core of the software took only a couple of weeks to produce.

The Moon landing has inspired us all, and a great many people contributed. And yes, we can thank the Australians for their critical part. I'm just glad to be alive in this era of so many discoveries.


Rod Marsden profile image

Rod Marsden 5 years ago from Wollongong, NSW, Australia

Julius Sumner Miller has been put on YouTube. You can look him up.

We have waited a long time for the first man to set foot on Mars. I hope to witness this event in my lifetime.


lone77star profile image

lone77star 5 years ago from Cebu, Philippines Author

Lovely! Thanks Rod. I'll check it out.

Mars? Yes, a long time waiting. My youngest brother said something very profound while we were watching one of the Mercury flights take off from Florida in the early 1960's. My father and I commented on how much fuel it took to lift the capsule, and how much fuel it took to lift the fuel which lifted the capsule, and how much fuel it took to lift the fuel which lifted the fuel which lifted the capsule. Each batch seemed larger and larger, requiring a monsterous ship to lift the tiny payload. My youngest brother (8 or 9 at the time) said quite innocently, "Why not take the weight off of the capsule." Naturally, he was talking about gravitational attenuation. Fat chance finding that technology on this planet. But if we could discover that technology, then travel to Mars and the rest of the planets would be as easy as buying a ticket to Paris (possibly easier). Then, man on Mars would be easy and terraforming Mars might become feasible.

I've doodled on the idea of a habitable Mars since the early 1970's. One map I created may be found at http://www.ancientsuns.com/space-facts/solar-syste...

Love this stuff!


Rod Marsden profile image

Rod Marsden 5 years ago from Wollongong, NSW, Australia

Interesting map, lone77star.

The space shuttles will soon be put into mothballs. They were not a good buy. They were designed to do too many things so, in the end, they didn't do anything all that well. They were meant to save money but I doubt if they did much of that. I hope the next generation space vehicles are better thought out.


lone77star profile image

lone77star 5 years ago from Cebu, Philippines Author

Rod, I agree about the space shuttles. Such glory and such ineptitude. Certainly, we're getting better at making spacecraft. The Spaceship One out of California is one bold example. Nice stuff.

I think it would be really cool to have a paradigm shift in propulsion systems -- perhaps something that is no longer action-reaction based like the directed explosions of rockets -- something which warps the fabric of space and manipulates that directly for "massless" drive. Only then will we have come of age in the realm of space.

Theoretically, such inertial and gravitational attenuation would allow FTL (faster-than-light) velocities and the movement of great masses without effort. It would be just as easy to move a pea as it would be to move a mountain. All the external universe would see is the same warp in space. The Einsteinian (relativistic) increase in mass would not happen, because the mass within the warp "bubble" would sense no movement. For all intents and purposes, it would be remaining at rest.

Terraform a planet? With some kind of warp drive, tanker ships could mine gasses from Jupiter, Saturn or Venus and deposit them on Mars, for instance, quickly beefing up its atmosphere in months rather than having it take decades or centuries with conventional rockets (redirecting comets).

Somehow, I don't think it will take billions of dollars and anti-matter to accomplish this. But hey, I've always been an optimist.


raven dimacutan 5 years ago

oh!very nice work good luck to next issue........................................................................................


lone77star profile image

lone77star 5 years ago from Cebu, Philippines Author

Thanks, Raven, for your comments.


Jonathan Janco profile image

Jonathan Janco 5 years ago from Southport, CT

Spectacular hub!

As overwhelming as the quantity of info was, I couldn't help but feel there wasn't enough of it. I wish you the best in continuing your research and the great writing.


lone77star profile image

lone77star 5 years ago from Cebu, Philippines Author

Thanks, Jonathan. I appreciate the compliment.

Love that science, in all its complexity and underlying simplicity. And there is so much more to discover.


BL Tween profile image

BL Tween 5 years ago

Living is science!


lone77star profile image

lone77star 5 years ago from Cebu, Philippines Author

BL Tween, I'm not certain what you mean, but it sounds profound. Thanks for stopping by.


jirel profile image

jirel 4 years ago from Philippines

Thank you for such an interesting hub.I enjoyed reading it.


lone77star profile image

lone77star 4 years ago from Cebu, Philippines Author

Jirel, thanks for reading.


Jo_Goldsmith11 profile image

Jo_Goldsmith11 2 years ago

This was an interesting read. With all the stars and solar systems out there, I still have no clue as to how we could ever stop the space exploration program. I mean it would be good for the knowledge we could gain, to find other habitable planets. This would take light years to reach. Impressive!

Shared and Up across the board (except funny)


LongTimeMother profile image

LongTimeMother 2 years ago from Australia

I enjoyed this hub, lone77star, but I'm left with a question. How will future governments cope with their illegal alien problems? Protecting borders would be a definite challenge. :)


lone77star profile image

lone77star 2 years ago from Cebu, Philippines Author

Thanks, Jo Goldsmith11. Space exploration continues, but manned exploration has been curtailed, for now. Government (USA) is spending far too much on wars -- a thousand times what a robust exploration program would cost. In fact, would could have had men on Mars by 1983, but the Vietnam War overwhelmed the US budget. Like most (or even all) wars, that one was based on a lie. The war corporations make far more off of killing. And now America has been taken over by those corporations -- a quiet, gradual coup.

Any more, I'm not sure I want selfish humanity out amongst the stars. We have become the Evil Empire, "1984." The way Kurzweil and other globalist chums are talking, we might even become the Borg.

I wouldn't mind having my own private starship. That would be cool.

Humanity faces some huge challenges, now. Reaching the stars with today's technology would take thousands of years. A greater priority is one of learning love, because selfishness (ego) has taken over. And yet, love will win. Love will return to spirit and a spiritual being doesn't need a starship. That's pretty cool, too.


lone77star profile image

lone77star 2 years ago from Cebu, Philippines Author

@LongTimeMother, thanks for the kind words and the question.

"How will future governments cope with their illegal alien problems?"

I think we need to step back from this problem to see the much larger problem -- the eternal fight between good and evil.

Psychopaths (extremely selfish people) tend to rise to the top, because they are selfish. Ego loves power. Humble servants of the people are too often murdered or forced out of office by trumped up scandals.

So, Ego is the primary force in government (and corporations, and even in religious organizations). To counteract evil (Ego), we need love (spirit).

So, what would love do about aliens? If you saw the movie District 9, you know what humans are capable of doing -- forcing aliens to live in squalor and attempting to take callous, criminal advantage of them. If you saw the movie Elysium, you can understand the Rockefellers and Rothschilds. They think they are superior and thus don't have to be concerned with others who are inferior.

I think love would make the alien problem into a loving solution that benefits both the aliens and the natives. Love would be unconditionally generous, like some Native Americans were with the Pilgrims, giving Americans their Thanksgiving. Love would be blind to shortcomings but responsible (not blaming).

Love would not knee-jerk react to governments and corporations who present "problems" and then prepackaged "solutions." The Rockefellers and their ilk brought us 9/11 and then a never-ending "War on Terror." Earlier, they brought us the false "Gulf of Tonkin" incident and then the Vietnam War.

Love doesn't react, but acts with compassion. This is the kind of thing I wouldn't mind seeing out amongst the stars -- a loving humanity that is not psychopathically selfish. I'm not sure it will ever happen, because Ego clings to the physical, but love dwells in spirit. And spirit will not always dwell with man (Gen.6:3).

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