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Space NASA Science

NASA's New Telescope Finds Exoplanet Atmosphere 124

Posted by timothy
from the shhh-they're-sleeping dept.
celticryan writes "NASA's new telescope has made a promising discovery. 'As NASA's first exoplanets mission, Kepler has made a dramatic entrance on the planet-hunting scene,' said Jon Morse, director of the Science Mission Directorate's Astrophysics Division at NASA Headquarters in Washington. 'Detecting this planet's atmosphere in just the first 10 days of data is only a taste of things to come. The planet hunt is on!'"
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NASA's New Telescope Finds Exoplanet Atmosphere

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  • Hot Jupiter, yawn (Score:1, Insightful)

    by QuantumG (50515) *

    The public's attention for exoplanets is already waning.

    One day I expect Kepler to discover an Earth-like planet with an Earth-like atmosphere and the public won't even care. Getting funding to image the surface of that planet will be an uphill battle and even if the returned images show undoubted proof of intelligent life, people still won't care.

    Can you imagine that?

    • by uvajed_ekil (914487) on Thursday August 06, 2009 @10:14PM (#28982095)
      I am not in any way affiliated with this or any other planet finding project, so I am "the public," and I certainly will care. I hope this happens in my lifetime. Imaging the surface of an exoplanet may be more of a challenge than finding an interesting one, given the distance. But I suppose you think no one anywhere cares about anything, the future will be worse than the past, and our society is heading downhill at even ever-increasing speed. People have thought that for thousands of years and we still get by, so I'm not worried. Bring on tomorrow.
      • by QuantumG (50515) *

        So will I. But the rest of the world will see the coverage of such an event after the sports and the weather, if at all. If you think that's acceptable, fine, but I'd rather see what I can do to make sure it isn't the case.

      • by j-stroy (640921)

        Imaging the surface of an exoplanet may be more of a challenge than finding an interesting one, given the distance

        I remember a proposal for an orbital pinhole camera space telescope. The imager satellite was quite a distance from the screen with the "pinhole" in it. It was said that it would be able to resolve weather patterns and any vegetation covers.

      • I suppose you think no one anywhere cares about anything, the future will be worse than the past, and our society is heading downhill at even ever-increasing speed.

        Yes. Now get off my lawn.

    • by grub (11606) * <slashdot@grub.net> on Thursday August 06, 2009 @10:14PM (#28982097) Homepage Journal

      One day I expect Kepler to discover an Earth-like planet with an Earth-like atmosphere and the public won't even care. Getting funding to image the surface of that planet will be an uphill battle and even if the returned images show undoubted proof of intelligent life, people still won't care.

      Sadly, I think you're right.

      NASA will have to pay money to Big Media for a spot on a reality show. Two morbidly obese women will be mud wrestling... the camera pulls back and Paris Hilton is now in the foreground saying "Life on other planets is hot! Drink Red Bull!"

      .
    • The public's attention for exoplanets is already waning.

      One day I expect Kepler to discover an Earth-like planet with an Earth-like atmosphere and the public won't even care. Getting funding to image the surface of that planet will be an uphill battle and even if the returned images show undoubted proof of intelligent life, people still won't care.

      Can you imagine that?

      no

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by MichaelSmith (789609)

      The public's attention for exoplanets is already waning.

      The public don't know what exoplanets are. They aren't interested in them at all.

    • by dgatwood (11270)

      Getting funding to image the surface of that planet will be an uphill battle and even if the returned images show undoubted proof of intelligent life, people still won't care.

      No, no, no, the public will care, but a quarter of them will believe it was really shot on a soundstage in Nevada.

      • by SQLGuru (980662)

        By the time they actually get around to getting the images, it won't be filmed in Nevada, but outsourced to India. We'll have a Bollywood version of the moon landing....all that singing and dancing -- in space suits.

    • by Nyeerrmm (940927) on Thursday August 06, 2009 @11:57PM (#28982621)

      No, I really can't imagine that.

      Imagine the headline "Life Discovered on Earth-like Planet 25 light years away". Your typical newspaper-reading/internet-news-scouring/cable-news-watching connected person will know of it immediately. They may not understand the details, they may not have followed the whole saga, but they'll know and they'll find it interesting, because its clear-cut, easy to understand, and impressive.

      After that, the last connected folks will hear about it through discussion. "So did you hear about that planet they found with life?" makes a much better conversation than "So what about this weather?", yet is something you might say to someone in the elevator.

      Think of how much the general public cared about the non-issue of re-classifying Pluto. Discovery of extra-terrestrial life is much more important and just as easy to understand, and is such a leap beyond our current knowledge. That's not say that it would be the existential, world-changing discovery that I believe proof of intelligent life would be, but people would care.

      • by MtViewGuy (197597)

        If Kepler does find a planet less than 100 light years away that is a rocky-crust planet with an atmospheric gas mix very close to that of Earth, it would be a HUGE breakthrough.

        The reason is simple: it means we have found a planet that could just about support life as we know it--and it's possible that this discovered planet may have life that has evolved far beyond the microbial stage.

      • by wdonnell (1614101)
        I'm not so certain any of this is relevant. This discussion is apparently concerning the hypothetical that people won't care about an earth-like life-sustaining planet but the ironic part is that the said discussing disproves the point. Those involved in the conversation may take self-righteous stance saying people are stupid and dissociating themselves from that group but in the end it's simply masturbation. I hope everyone enjoys the climax.
      • I think more to the point, discovery of non-Earth life would have an immediate effect on most people's lives.

        A common theme of fundamentalist beliefs is that Man is a particularly special creation who was put on an Earth that in turn is a very special place created for Man's benefit. And that those who recognize these special relationships have an obligation to force everyone else into behaving properly according to their belief system. The politics of these fundamentalist groups impacts just about every

      • That's not say that it would be the existential, world-changing discovery that I believe proof of intelligent life would be, but people would care.

        Plus if the discoverers manage to, ummm... let slip... yesss, let slip... that there was possible evidence of the presence of WoMD on the planet then there'd be no shortage of funding to find ways to go visit the planet.

    • OK, you have my attention, i'll bite: It seems that to the public, the only practical use of a telescope is to warn us that we are going to be hit by a very massiv object just in earths path. And even then it doesn't tell us what we should do about it. Why *should* the public care when we have an image of the surface of some remote exoplanet with life on it? Will it cure deseases? Will it improve our lives? And if so, has the money been spent wisely, or could we have archieved more benefits for mankind wit
      • by QuantumG (50515) *

        Imagine you're living on an island in the pacific. You have a pretty good technology base but you've never seen a sailing ship before. You have fishing boats of course and you consider that maybe there might be other people out there over the horizon but you have no idea how to go farther than a few miles offshore. Imagine your people managed to make a telescope that could see over that horizon and saw a society that had similar technology to your own. Would you honestly sit and wait until they invented

        • If the population of this islands was short of coconuts, i would kick these telescope builders in their rear excremental organ to do something usefull for the island. If this planet has 6 billion people that cannot survive without burning fossil fuels, i would say the exoplanet can wait.
          And don't underestimate the military implications of a good pile of coconuts!
          • by AGMW (594303)
            ... i would say the exoplanet can wait

            Hmmmm. I guess some people are 'curious' and some aren't - luckily for the human race there are enough 'curious' folks out there that those 'stay-at-homers' can rely on others to do the _essential_ exploring for them! Without some people to push the boundaries we'd all still be living in caves in Africa!

            At some point your island simply won't be big enough to grow enough coconuts to support the population and you'll be wishing someone was far-sighted (or maybe just "

            • Ah, an exoplanet as essential exloring. Finding a way to sustain 6000000000 people on this planet when fuel is gone is for stay-at-homers because that doesn't qualify as curious? That qualifies as Proof by Insult.
              As for the idea that pictures of exoplanets will solve any part of the problems we need solved here on earth.. I find that hard to believe. We are not speaking of breaking new frontiers here, we are just doing more of the same. Which is fine by itself, my point is just that for the general publi
              • by mahmud (254877) on Friday August 07, 2009 @09:40AM (#28985903)
                Sorry, but you are an idiot. The fact that we need more sustainable sources of fuels doesn't mean we should stop all research that is not "practical" here and now.

                In fact, science is cheap, comparing to the lumps of money we waste on:
                • Wars
                • Unhealthy habits
                • Retarded causes like creationism
                • etc
            • >At some point your island simply won't be big enough to grow enough coconuts to support the population and you'll be wishing someone was far-sighted (or maybe just "mad"!) enough to have gone looking to see what was over the horizon!

              Hmmm .. you're right ! Maybe they'll have more coconuts than we do .. and this is where that military angle fits in. We can use our spare change to build space carriers and start training the Marines .. and we can go in there and liberate the coco..^H^H^H .. natives That
    • Sure, but you can't blame the public too much for getting bored. I mean did you jump up with excitement with today's slashdot story about Sony's portable reader (truely would have been a wonder 30 years ago -- lines around the block) or were you like -- whatever... Science fiction is to blamed for making the future seem all spandex sexy and immediate and the bummer is that the laws of physics make the stars very far away. The first "Life" world will be a blip of oxygen where it's not supposed to be and mayb
    • On the contrary, scientifically and/or philosophically minded people would care a lot, for obvious reasons. Fundamentally religious people would also care a lot, for different reasons. People belonging to neither group would not easily escape knowledge of such a discovery, due to heated arguments that are bound to follow between the two groups.
  • by wisebabo (638845) on Thursday August 06, 2009 @10:16PM (#28982111) Journal

    If you get a chance to look at TFA, you'll see a comparison between the light curve as captured by ground based observatories and by Kepler. Makes a pretty compelling statement for doing observations in space, no noise! (Actually there is noise but you have to really zoom into the data like they do on the Kepler web site).

    Anyway, I've been following the Kepler program on their web site and have read of a couple of "reboots" where they had to put the spacecraft into safe mode. Anyone know if they've found/fixed the problem? It's not good to have a program specifically designed for 3+ years of non-stop continuous observation to have intermittent gaps in its observations!

    It's amazing to think that within a few years we should know if there are plentiful earth sized planets in the "habitable zones" around stars! Extrapolating from today's news release, maybe we'll even know if they have atmospheres! (Does anyone know how much more difficult it would be to "see" an atmosphere around an earth sized planet as opposed to a "hot jupiter"?).

    • by acehole (174372) on Thursday August 06, 2009 @10:28PM (#28982185) Homepage

      Anyway, I've been following the Kepler program on their web site and have read of a couple of "reboots" where they had to put the spacecraft into safe mode. Anyone know if they've found/fixed the problem? It's not good to have a program specifically designed for 3+ years of non-stop continuous observation to have intermittent gaps in its observations!

      NASA should have unticked the "apply updates automatically" those service packs are a killer.

    • Safe mode is safe.

      From an operational standpoint you want to have lots of things which trigger safe mode. I don't think you should treat going to safe mode as a bad thing.
      • by Bigjeff5 (1143585)

        What the fuck kind of operations do you run? Don't let me near them, please, they might kill me.

        Safe mode is bad. It means something fucked up. That it fails safe is obviously good engineering, but that it fails in the first place is a very bad thing.

        If your design is constantly tripping safe mode, then it's a shitty ass design and you probably fucked up the fail safe too, and anything critical in/near your system is bound to suffer irreparable damage eventually.

        I seriously hope you don't run a gas plant

    • ...intermittent gaps in its observations!

      That's the CIA covering up the aliens looking back at us.

      Who leaves Atlantis off the maps?
      Who keeps the Martians under wraps?
      We do! We do!

    • by Cabriel (803429) on Thursday August 06, 2009 @11:36PM (#28982527)
      Read here about the Reboot issue:
      http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn17565-kepler-spacecraft-sees-its-first-exoplanets.html


      Quoting:
      The prime suspects are energetic charged particles known as cosmic rays. Earth's atmosphere shields us from these particles' potentially dangerous effects, but they bombard spacecraft at a rate of thousands per second.

      If a cosmic ray hits a vulnerable spot in Kepler's electronics, it could cause a voltage spike that mimics a request from ground controllers to reboot the spacecraft's computer. "It could be that the computer is just chugging along doing everything fine, and then a cosmic ray comes sailing through," Fanson says. "All of a sudden it thinks it's been asked to reset, so it resets."

      Alternatively, cosmic rays could toggle chips in the computer's memory, making it misinterpret instructions. The reboots could also be caused by a bug in the software, or half a dozen other things, Fanson says. "There are many, many things you have to look at that could be causing it. These systems are very complex," he says.
      • by argStyopa (232550)

        Is Kepler in some sort of particularly vulnerable orbit?

        Granted the electronics in Kepler are probably more sophisticated than many spaceborne systems, but I'd imagine the protections would have been planned to match.

        I mean, we've been shielding spacecraft from Cosmic Rays for a LONG time, why would this suddenly be an issue? I don't hear of similar reboots in anything from Apollo to Cassini.

    • Re: (Score:1, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      The mission has a number of safe mode days per year budgeted. It's hard to keep everything running when cosmic rays are raining down on your computer.

    • by ToxicPig (1614125)

      (Does anyone know how much more difficult it would be to "see" an atmosphere around an earth sized planet as opposed to a "hot jupiter"?).

      It's relatively easy to see the atmosphere of any planet. As they say in TFA, Earth-like planets should only be 1.5 times more difficult to see that gas giants.

      Kepler looks at spectra from the stars to see the drop in light associated with a planetary transit in front of the star. When the planet is in front of the star, you can see all manner of absorption lines in the spectra from elements in the planet's atmosphere. The big one you look for is water, and then you march down the common hydrocarbons a

  • ...it's a space st.
  • by tjstork (137384) <todd.bandrowsky@gm a i l.com> on Thursday August 06, 2009 @10:35PM (#28982217) Homepage Journal

    With a day side temperature of more than 4300 degrees, I'm trying to think of what on the planet would not actually be flat out molten or even vaporized.

  • Real hunters don't capture animals in just in photos. If we are amazingly lucky and find a planet mostly like earth in, say, 10 light years from here, current technology, economy, politics, human rights and so on will make them impossible to reach in the time of our lives (and probably next few generations, but only if we put our mind on that). Odds that have intelligence and an advanced enough technology just lower the chances, and increase a lot the average distance, so the time for a phone call.

    In the ot
  • but i wonder if anyone has made a study of this:

    fruitful pressure/ temperature triple points to look for

    for example, earth is the right temperature/ pressure for water to be a gas/ solid/ liquid all over

    this allows for complex thermodynamic interflow and mixing and dynamicism, which can lead to life

    additionally, water is polar, so unlike methane, for example, chemical interactions can be even more complex

    additionally, water is a very common chemical in the universe

    so what i'm getting at: other fruitful trip

  • by madcat2c (1292296)
    We live in amazing times. I cant imagine what we will be able to do in 100-200 years time. I hope we start to come together as a species and explore this amazing galaxy.
  • Hey Baby.. I guess that your not from around here?

  • ... whether there's any life on it. Not intelligent, but any kind.
    • The existence of life can in principle be inferred from the composition of a planets' atmosphere, which could be determined spectroscopically. E.g. earths' atmosphere is oxygen-rich, which would not be possible without life (oxygen is agressive, and would disappear quickly by forming compounds with surface minerals, if it wasn't replenished by photosynthesis).

      There is research on ways to do this, and on the kind of instruments that would be required. However, this research focuses on life as we know it,

  • I love the artist-rendered picture that accompanies the article. Anyone find the picture in a larger size?
  • Wealth would be better spent either helping humans on Earth or, if we must have a space program, finding ways to get people out there. No point in knowing something is there if we can't get to it.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      Galileo's scientific discoveries broke medieval Europe free of the shackles of Church doctrine, and over the next hundred years did more to improve the lives of the average European than any redistribution of the Church's tremendous wealth could have done. Not that the Church was going to actually do anything to materially benefit the population: that wealth was after all a necessary part of the greater glory of God. Oh, and also this: every pious person would get their reward in Heaven. You simply had to h

      • Actually, it was his fellow jealous scientists that persuaded the church to try him. Initially inclined to leave Galileo to his own ideas, the church became part of a political football game where vested political interests, including those of the scientific community and more ambitious ecclesiastic authorities, kicked him around for reasons involving disputes over power and influence. The whole affair had little to do with the practice of religion than with position and authority.
        • That is a very interesting new approach to old history! Made me want to crosscheck my decades-old studies of the guy's life against anything new that might turn up on a Google. Didn't find anything to contradict what I had learned of him earlier.

          Galileo became an adamant proponent of what we now call the scientific method and condemned the practice of teaching physics by authority that was the accepted approach at the time. The prime authority on physics and many other studies were translations of Aristot

          • I don't have the link anymore, but here's a cut and paste. The article does cite a book, which in part appears to address old history.

            ---

            Of course, he is referring to the story everyone learns in grade school; a lovable old scientist is condemned to Hell for refusing to deny the truth of the cosmos (in this case the Copernican notion of heliocentricity -- the sun's the center of things rather than the earth). The story is employed to teach children that closed-minded religious people are afraid of science

            • Since the bulk of parent post is lifted in its entirety from National Review Online's "Goldberg File" editorial of May 24, 1999 [nationalreview.com], I will work from that source rather than the parent post.

              First thing worth noting: TFA starts with this lead-in paragraph:

              ENLIGHTENMENT SPIN: THE GALILEO MYTH
              The Washington Times reports a very nice story this morning. Catholic scientists, or scientists who are Catholic, whatever makes you more comfortable, are trying to combat the notion that the Church is anti-science. "The Galileo incident has made the Church a whipping boy," Thomas P. Sheahen of the Catholic Association of Scientists and Engineers told the paper.

              Goldberg is playing off of this article: Catholic scientists look to bridge theory, theology: Hope to bring morality into largely atheistic disciplines [questia.com], written by Larry Witham. I haven't read the article since it requires me to register fro a FREE trial on w

              • [snip]

                " ... But that's a general thing, not specific to the question at hand, which is whether the Catholic Church actively persecuted Galileo for his new method of seeking the truth, or whether the Church simply lacked the moral fiber to stand up to members of the academic community who demanded that the Church shut Galileo's mouth.

                I have no argument with this. I would only add, as a balance to your legitimate criticisms and to amplify my previous remarks, that the Church was composed of people with the s

  • I often wonder not if, but when we'll make first contact. Watching Discovery channel a lot, I undertand we are discovering things in space at a faster rate than ever. Most of what we know about space we've learned in the last 40 years.
  • While we're all thankful for the awe-inspiring images that the Hubble Space Telescope produces, I think in some regards these kinds of plots are just as cool. With these data points we can say more about this planet than the HST ever could. Neil deGrasse Tyson described this in a clever way:

    And I simply say that gravity is as much a signature of something's existence as a direct photograph of it, we have many ways we can measure something is there. Just as you do if you live in a cabin in the woods, you
  • by Lcf34 (715209)
    Already one after ten days... Imagine a Beowulf cluster of these!

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