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'Super Earth' aliens may be trapped by gravity


Posted on Monday, 23 April, 2018 | Comment icon 17 comments

A planet with a large mass will also have a large gravitational pull. Image Credit: NASA
On planets more massive than the Earth, launching things in to space will be a lot more challenging.
So far, the hunt for extraterrestrial life on extrasolar worlds has focused primarily on seeking out Earth-sized terrestrial planets located within their parent star's habitable zone.

But what of very large planets - the so-called 'Super Earths' - that also happen to lie within this zone ?

Such massive planets could in theory also support life, especially if evolution had equipped the inhabitants with the ability to withstand the extreme gravitational pull of such a world.

When it comes to spaceflight however, such a civilization may be at a distinct disadvantage. In extreme cases, it may require up to ten times as much thrust to place something in to orbit.

To carry enough fuel to launch the equivalent of an Apollo Moon mission, for instance, a rocket would need to have a mass of up to 440,000 tons - that's the same as the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt.

"On more-massive planets, spaceflight would be exponentially more expensive," said study author Michael Hippke of the Sonneberg Observatory in Germany.

"Such civilizations would not have satellite TV, a moon mission or a Hubble Space Telescope."

It is easy to imagine how, in such a scenario, a civilization may never even make it in to space at all.

Source: Space.com | Comments (17)

Tags: Extrasolar Planets

Recent comments on this story
Comment icon #8 Posted by Orphalesion on 24 April, 2018, 10:07
  They could maybe still develop to a neolithic level, perhaps. But yeah, I have problems picturing them becoming space-faring as well, at least without outside help.
Comment icon #9 Posted by Not A Rockstar on 24 April, 2018, 10:44
I guess mother of pearl really won't cut re-entry heat LOL
Comment icon #10 Posted by Orphalesion on 24 April, 2018, 13:05
But at least it would be a very pretty spaceship.....until it burns up in the atmosphere.
Comment icon #11 Posted by kartikg on 24 April, 2018, 18:06
what if they understand that they are in a huge gravity well and instead of chemical rockets they use nuclear explosion to launch in space 
Comment icon #12 Posted by Scudbuster on 24 April, 2018, 20:18
With the launch last week of the TESS exo planet observatory, over the next 2 years or so we're going to be hearing  a lot about new discoveries of "super earth's" and nearby exo planets in general. I use "nearby" in relative terms, they will still be many, many, light years distant, but they will be much closer than the exo planet discoveries made by the Kepler observatory. I forget the exact numbers, but Kepler focused many thousands of light years away in space. 
Comment icon #13 Posted by Tom the Photon on 25 April, 2018, 15:32
I acknowledge your point, Waspie, and it strongly supports my view that the number of "intelligent alien species trapped on supermassive planets by their enormous gravity" is likely to be a very, very small fraction of the total.  Articles like this are interesting but add little more than idle speculation to the important science carried out by SETI and others.  The importance of contacting advanced intelligences cannot be overstated.  Assuming alien species are benign (and I believe there is little reason for them to be otherwise) and they share advanced knowledge and technology with us, the... [More]
Comment icon #14 Posted by Calibeliever on 25 April, 2018, 18:53
I'm just musing about the fact that they are making assumptions based on our current technology that has only (effectively) advanced to the point of using fire as a means of propulsion. 
Comment icon #15 Posted by goodgodno on 25 April, 2018, 22:24
Had to double take your name then. Promise I didn’t copy you!
Comment icon #16 Posted by goodgodno on 25 April, 2018, 22:33
I would be hesitant to discount aliens as unable to reach space altogether just because the gravity is much greater than ours.  It has not taken us long to get to where we are now. Our first manned flight in an aeroplane was only in 1903. 58 years later we put a man in space. Such remarkable progress in such a short amount of time.  Imagine what we’ll accomplish in 1000 years time.  Imagjne what aliens could accomplish. 
Comment icon #17 Posted by Dejarma on 25 April, 2018, 23:04
yep exactly-- i find it fascinating how many just don't look at it in this way


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