Spots on nearby star could have led to false planet detections
Two planets considered among the most promising for life outside the solar system don’t exist, scientists report July 3 in Science. The signals embedded in starlight that were attributed to the planets may instead have been caused by the changing magnetic activity of their star, Gliese 581.
Although the study isn’t the final word on these enticing yet controversial worlds, scientists say it reinforces the need for meticulous analyses to separate planets’ signals from those generated by spots and flares on stars. “This is a big warning concerning the interpretation of [small] signals as being planets,” says Stéphane Udry, an astronomer at the University of Geneva.
Located about 20 light-years away in the constellation Libra, Gliese 581 is a small, dim star similar to tens of billions of other stars in the galaxy. Yet it has grabbed astronomers’ attention due to claims that