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Space Science

Kepler Investigator Says 'Galaxy Is Rich In Earth-Like Planets' 206

Posted by kdawson
from the member-of-a-larger-club dept.
astroengine writes "In a recent presentation, Kepler co-investigator Dimitar Sasselov unexpectedly announced news that the Kepler Space Telescope has discovered scores of candidate Earth-like exoplanets. Not waiting for the official NASA press release to announce the discovery, Sasselov went into some detail at the TEDGlobal talk in Oxford, UK earlier this month. This surprise announcement comes hot on the heels of controversy that erupted last month when the Kepler team said they were withholding data on 400 exoplanet candidates until February 2011. In light of this, Sasselov's unofficial announcement has already caused a stir. Keith Cowing, of NASAWatch.com, has commented on this surprise turn of events, saying it is really annoying 'that the Kepler folks were complaining about releasing information since they wanted more time to analyze it before making any announcements. And then the project's Co-I goes off and spills the beans before an exclusive audience — offshore. We only find out about it when the video gets quietly posted weeks later.' Although Sasselov could have handled the announcement better (and waited until NASA made the official announcement), this has the potential to be one of the biggest astronomical discoveries of our time — so long as these Earth-like 'candidates' are confirmed by further study."
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Kepler Investigator Says 'Galaxy Is Rich In Earth-Like Planets'

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  • Re:Drake (Score:4, Interesting)

    by mcgrew (92797) * on Tuesday July 27, 2010 @07:51AM (#33043090) Homepage Journal

    My bet is that the vast majority of those planets have run away from having a habitual environment by turning into planets like Venus or Mars.

    I'm wondering how close to Earth's size a planet has to be to be an "Earth sized" planet. Venus is an Earth sized planet, and as you say, is in no way habitable. Mars isn't that much smaller, but has little atmosphere and no magnetic field; I don't see how life could exist on a planet without a magnetic field to keep stellar radiation out.

    There are a whole lot more variables than size to consider.

    we aren't getting any visitors

    Maybe Doctor Fielgud [slashdot.org] and his colleagues will figure out that a "moon sized double planetoid" can harbor life if it has an iron core, and that oxygen isn't a poison to all species. And maybe the NASA people will start looking at satellites of gas giants around other stars. Meanwhile, that bit of fiction I linked gives a possible explanation as to why nobody's calling. Here's another bit of fiction [baetzler.de] with an alternative suggestion.

  • by DigitalSorceress (156609) on Tuesday July 27, 2010 @08:39AM (#33043840)

    I don't like "Dwarf Planet" either... what's wrong with "Planetoid"?

  • Re:Kepler (Score:3, Interesting)

    by IndustrialComplex (975015) on Tuesday July 27, 2010 @10:40AM (#33045840)

    It was my impression that when researchers called something "earth like" they were referring to a relatively small planet with a rocky core. By that definition both Venus and Mars are Earth-like even if, on the whole they are considerably different than Earth.

    As far as rocky core planets go, wouldn't Earth be a rather large one? I'm curious to see where the tipping point from rocky core to gas giant is, since there doesn't seem to be much middle ground.

    Mercury>Mars>Venus>Earth>Neptune/Uranus

    There are 'super Earth' planets, but at those distances we really don't know how much gas vs rock there is.

    I suppose the further out from the star you get the smaller a gas giant can be, but how large can a rocky planet be before it has a significant atmosphere?

  • by Sparkycat (1703438) on Tuesday July 27, 2010 @12:02PM (#33047256) Homepage

    It's great that we can now detect Earth-sized planets, but it's starting to look like Jovian moons are a more common life-friendly environment. In our solar system alone there are three, possibly four moons of Jupiter and Saturn that may be able to support life.

    Since the moons get most of their heat from the gravitational pull of their planets rather than from their star, they aren't dependent on getting lucky in the narrow "Goldilocks Zone" of a system.

    It may be that aquatic, vent-feeding moon ecosystems make up the vast majority of life in the universe, and photo-synthesizing, dry land ecosystems like ours are the rarity.

  • by Kjella (173770) on Tuesday July 27, 2010 @12:38PM (#33047946) Homepage

    I think there are more possibilities than FTL travel, just not that we'd see. There are realistic propulsion systems for non-FTL craft that could reach other stars in a few thousand years. Damn long time, right? Well, consider that we have mayflies that live less than a day. If they could live to be 100 years like us, that'd be almost forever. Who is to say we can't find ways to become not 130 or 150 years old but many thousands of years old? The universe got time, it's billions of years old and will be good for some more. To us a several thousand year mission makes no sense as it'd be our n*grand-children who'd finish it and technology progresses so fast, but that's not fixed.

    Try to imagine us in a thousand years, if the travel time is down to 500 years and we live to be 1000 and there's no quick way to intersellar travel in sight. Of course I'm talking about a science so far out it's just a guess but given how far we've come from 1000 AD to 2000 AD it doesn't seem impossible. We know from cancer cells that it's possible to make human cells divide endlessly, if only we could control it instead of growing uncontrolled tumors. It's possible we could grow new organs from our own DNA, never failing to the heart or lungs giving out. So while on a human time scale his means we won't be colonizing the universe anytime soon, I really don't see it a blocker on cosmological time scales.

    Particularly if we forget the romantic notion of traveling space like Star Trek and try imagining a seeder robot with either our frozen DNA or sequenced on site from memory, a first generation bred in an artificial womb and raised by robot parents. Leaving the moral and ethical sides out of it, manned interstellar flight is not an absolute necessity for colonization. Of course we'd have to build robots that are a lot better at dealing with children than what we have today, but again if I say 1000 years out then that's many times longer than we've had computers so far. Or cryogenics, if that ever works. Ultimately I'm not seeing those really hard limits that says we can't populate the galaxy over a few million years. Just don't ask me about intergalactic...

  • Re:Kepler (Score:3, Interesting)

    by dryeo (100693) on Tuesday July 27, 2010 @09:14PM (#33052980)

    Venus is an exception to some of your points. Large dense atmosphere without a magnetic field. Lots of reflective cloud without any water.
    Who knows what other types of planets we might find.

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