Sunday, December 10, 2006

Epic(?) Bets

Which do you think will be discovered first: the Higg's boson, or an Earth mass planet orbiting a G or K dwarf star* in the habitable zone?

Last night at the astronomy department holiday party, Jason and Jon (two graduate students) put $20 each on a bet that an Earth mass planet orbitting a G or K dwarf star (the Sun is a G dwarf star; K dwarfs are slightly cooler) in the habitable zone will not be discovered by the time the first one of them graduates, which should be roughly summer 2010. Scott, who orchestrated the bet and is set to earn $40 if such planets are discovered by 2010, is an expert on planet finding studies—especially compared to two graduate students! It came out later in the evening that the Kepler mission, a satellite specifically designed to search for planets, hasn't been delayed until 2012 like the grad students thought, but rather, is likely to launch in about two years. The European analog(-ish) to Kepler, COROT, is set to launch in about two weeks. The general expectation is that unless something goes horribly wrong with both of these missions—or Earth is the only Earth-like planet— then an extrasolar Earth analog will be detected by the time I get a Ph.D.

I was unwilling to get in on the planet game, but I did bet Mandeep $1.00 that the Higg's boson will not be discovered by the time I graduate. Coming from a particle physics background, he is certainly more qualified to make such predictions, but that's completely beside the point. The LHC ("Large Hadron Collider") is due to start collecting data in 2007, and there is lots of evidence pointing at if the Higg's boson exists, then it should be detected by the LHC. On the other hand, we know of at least one Earth mass planet orbiting a G dwarf star in the habitable zone, whereas the Higg's boson is still a mere postulation and prediction.

* Aside from Earth itself, of course!
N.B.: This post title is shamelessly stolen from a recent similarly-themed post over on Galactic Interactions.

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