Zombie planet

Max, 2013/01/31 

The universe just keeps getting weirder…


‘Zombie Planet’ Resurrected: Fomalhaut b is Real

If you’ve been reading the right news feeds, you’ll probably know by now that Fomalhaut b has officially been confirmed as a planet. And it’s an interesting one, too. Orbiting the star Fomalhaut, an A-type star somewhat more massive and hotter than the sun, this planet has a wildly eccentric orbit. As befitting a larger star, Fomalhaut b’s orbit is huge compared to our solar system.

Even at the closest point in its orbit, the orbits of every planet in our own solar system could fit between it and Fomalhaut (as shown in this, now outdated, image). At the furthest point in its orbit, it reaches nearly 10 times the distance between Neptune and the sun, ploughing through a thick disk of dusty material held in Fomalhaut’s gravitational grip.

So what was the controversy over this planet? As it happens, it’s quite an interesting story, and an excellent example of the way good science works.



  1. byronius wrote,

    I wish to see this planet, up close. I bet it’s fucking amazing to visually witness such a thing.

    Man, I’m born too early.

    Crap. Accelerando, man. I need the Accelerando NOW.

    Comment on 2013/01/31 @ 8:07 pm

  2. Max wrote,

    I think we need the medical accelerando first, and we might just be on the cusp. I suspect that the type of surgery I had yesterday, though it makes that of twenty years ago seem primitive, will seem downright medieval in another twenty years. They basically have come up with a nice elegant way of cleaning out tissue that is no longer serving a good purpose. Unfortunately, I will probably find that that tissue is needed as joints grow older and crankier and right now there’s not a good replacement. Eventually a healthy meniscus will be programmatically regenerated from my recorded genome and just slipped into place. Then I’ll have the knees of a twenty-year old. Same with the rest of the vital organs. That is the true nature of KSR’s mysterious “treatments.” We’re on the verge man. On the verge.

    Comment on 2013/01/31 @ 10:18 pm

  3. SkyHarbor wrote,

    I hope the ‘robo-knee’ is reasonably comfortable and mends quickly!

    The startling thing to me is that Fomalhaut b is imaged visually. We’re closer to finding Earth-like worlds all the time – or maybe even a ‘better’ one?

    Browsing Discovery Magazine surprised me with its commenting trolls spouting off about creationism!… Why bother with even a popular science magazine if you believe such rot?

    Comment on 2013/02/01 @ 2:40 am

  4. Max wrote,

    Not quite a robo-knee yet, more like a half-knee. All that’s in there is all me. Just hope it’s enough to function well. So far, so good.

    How’s your recovery going?

    Comment on 2013/02/01 @ 6:55 am

  5. Cat-eyes wrote,

    re: “Why bother with even a popular science magazine if you believe such rot?” – because we read it and they want to make us crazy or convert us or just annoy us and get attention. I really don’t think it’s much about what they believe although I’m for some it probably it about that alone. They don’t read science let alone understand what it is and why it is. But they do network and they watch for stories like the above precisely to troll the comments, not at all because they are interested in the information.

    Comment on 2013/02/01 @ 7:00 am

  6. Demonweed wrote,

    I’m a bit out of the loop, but I remember during the Presidential campaign that Barack Obama’s Web site contained a document on space exploration that specifically mentioned an orbital (and optical) interferometer network. Though this would be as expensive an undertaking as 3-5 Hubbles, I also heard late last year that some of the cost could be defrayed by repurposing redundant ground surveillance satellites for astronomical purposes.

    Basically the idea is that one high quality space telescope supported by several very distant instruments could (with fancy computer tricks) function like a single telescope with a lens as big as the distance between the two most remote pieces of the network. This would take us from smudges of pixels to high resolution images . . . images that could be mounted on classroom walls. Exploratory funding would surely rise by one or two orders of magnitude when a generation raised to see maps of Earth-like worlds around distant stars grows up to take jobs in politics and government. I was elated to hear that the President was aware of this project and intent on getting it done, but I have no idea what (if any) legislative progress might have occurred in recent months.

    In any case, good luck in your recovery, Max. It does me good to see confidence in singularity-style thinking, as I’ve long thought I would actually be among the last or next-to-last generation of human beings to be constrained by the degradations of aging. Despite that pessimistic thought, I am confident I would embrace life for centuries or even millennia if given the chance. Heck, we’re only just starting to legalize it, and I would so deeply appreciate a universe that let my beloved America see vice behaviors as public health issues rather than criminal justice problems. As with this century, I am confident many would follow with their own profoundly positive developments.

    Comment on 2013/02/01 @ 9:33 pm

  7. Max wrote,

    A little bit of a non-sequitur, but not entirely. Here’s a counter to my natural optimism:

    Comment on 2013/02/02 @ 9:38 am

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