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Kepler Confirms Exoplanet Inside Star's Habitable Zone 257

Posted by Soulskill
from the book-your-vacation-early dept.
astroengine writes "Plenty of 'candidate' exoplanets exist, but for the first time, Kepler has confirmed the existence of an exoplanet orbiting its Sun-like star right in the middle of its 'habitable zone.' Kepler-22b is 2.4 times the radius of Earth and orbits its star every 290 days. 'This is a major milestone on the road to finding Earth's twin,' said Douglas Hudgins, Kepler program scientist at NASA Headquarters in Washington. 'Kepler's results continue to demonstrate the importance of NASA's science missions, which aim to answer some of the biggest questions about our place in the universe.'"
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Kepler Confirms Exoplanet Inside Star's Habitable Zone

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  • by Samantha Wright (1324923) on Monday December 05, 2011 @01:48PM (#38269182) Homepage Journal

    Scientists don't yet know if Kepler-22b has a predominantly rocky, gaseous or liquid composition, but its discovery is a step closer to finding Earth-like planets.

    Sure they do! Just look at the picture right next to the article [nasa.gov]! Man, who gets paid to Photoshop these spheres in front of bits of nebulae all day? That must be an interesting job.

  • 600 light years... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by ackthpt (218170)

    Mr. Sulu, set a course for Kepler 22b, warp 3, I'll be in my quarters looking over the latest Toupees Monthly.

    Someone better start working on this faster than light drive. Of course, should we get there we'll probably find it a very tough planet to stand erect on.

    • by Megahard (1053072)
      Agreed. If it's the same density then 2.4x radius would be 14x the mass. I'm trying to picture a planet with intelligent pancake beings.
      • > If it's the same density then 2.4x radius would be 14x the mass.

        And have about 2.4x the surface gravity. Humans could survive that.

        • by MightyMartian (840721) on Monday December 05, 2011 @02:23PM (#38269734) Journal

          I have a feeling that they couldn't for very long. It's one thing to endure high G stress for a few minutes to get accelerate to high velocities, but for long periods of time? I can well imagine that being subject to 2.4g for days or weeks would probably lead to all sorts of nasty physiological effects. I'll wager your heart would be heavily stressed, and there would be a tendency for blood to pool.

          • by mcgrew (92797) *

            I weigh about 150 pounds, I see people who weigh more than twice as much as me every day, and they seem to be able to walk ok (although the fatsos my age are using canes and walkers because their knees are shot). I would imagine that you would simply get used to it after a while, and would bet that you would wind up looking like a weightlifter if you lived there very long.

            • Those are not really equatable situations. We're talking about long-term exposure to a level of gravity nearly two and a half times what every system in our body has evolved to.

        • by RMingin (985478) on Monday December 05, 2011 @02:23PM (#38269736) Homepage

          Yeah, but that's not a very happy version of "survive". At constant 2.4G, you'll have major circulatory, digestive, and bone strength issues. On the other hand, after a few hundred generations, we'd have dwarves that would look right at home in a Tolkien story. Probably be incredibly strong and durable, too. Homo Sapiens Khazad.

      • by tgd (2822) on Monday December 05, 2011 @02:21PM (#38269692)

        Agreed. If it's the same density then 2.4x radius would be 14x the mass. I'm trying to picture a planet with intelligent pancake beings.

        Or they'd have a stronger physiology. Or live in the water. Or perhaps a thousand other options we haven't thought of.

        • by ackthpt (218170)

          Agreed. If it's the same density then 2.4x radius would be 14x the mass. I'm trying to picture a planet with intelligent pancake beings.

          Or they'd have a stronger physiology. Or live in the water. Or perhaps a thousand other options we haven't thought of.

          Like the difference in atmospheric pressure - assuming, for the fun of it, a similar composition to Earth's atmosphere, N, O, Ar, CO2 and so on. Takes smaller amount of breathing as a lungful of air presents more O2 than Earth's at sea level. Of course, hoofing around, feeling more weight on your legs could tend to favor smaller humans, with subsequently less mass. Imagine your heart trying to get that blood to your brain when you are 6'2".

      • by Kozar_The_Malignant (738483) on Monday December 05, 2011 @02:40PM (#38270146)

        Agreed. If it's the same density then 2.4x radius would be 14x the mass. I'm trying to picture a planet with intelligent pancake beings.

        Hal Clement did a nice job in Mission of Gravity [wikipedia.org]. The planet Mesklin has 3 g at the equator and 700 g at the poles. Nice read. Clement knows his physics, so it is quite interesting on that level as well.

      • by tragedy (27079)

        If the planet is the same density as our planet, then the surface gravity should work out to 2.4 times the surface gravity of Earth, except that it actually probably wouldn't. Consider that the effects of gravity fall off with distance following the inverse square law. So, if you're standing on the surface of this alien planet, a gigaton of matter at its core is going to be 2.4 times as far away than a gigaton of matter at Earth's core is from someone at the surface of Earth. So, that gigaton of matter woul

  • by Liquidrage (640463) on Monday December 05, 2011 @01:50PM (#38269214)
    I've looked a bit this morning and can't find anymore info about the star itself. What its apparent magnitude it? What constellation its in? Etc. All I can figure out is its referred to as Kepler 22 which only makes sense in relation to the program. But I'd love to be able to try and see the star through a telescope.
    • I would look it up and try to tell you... but everything's hosed from all the traffic. That information will probably come out later. Notably, sites like The Habitable Exoplanets Catalog [upr.edu] aren't updated to include it yet.
    • by vlm (69642) on Monday December 05, 2011 @02:09PM (#38269506)

      I've looked a bit this morning and can't find anymore info about the star itself. What its apparent magnitude it? What constellation its in? Etc.
      All I can figure out is its referred to as Kepler 22 which only makes sense in relation to the program. But I'd love to be able to try and see the star through a telescope.

      Go to the exoplanet encyclopedia website instead of a place that headlines "Psychics and Missing Babies -- Dissecting the Blame Game" and "Top Tips from 2011 to Help Earth, Economy: Photos"

      http://exoplanet.eu/star.php?st=Kepler-22 [exoplanet.eu]

      Son of a B, e.eu has got nothing. Simbad's got nothing. There is nothing at all other than it exists and there are press releases all over along with fluffy talk about the release. But even the "official record" has nothing. Give it time and it'll get populated. Heck by the time you read this, e.eu might have data.

      This is what Kepler-16 looks like on simbad, someday we'll have this level of data for -22

      http://simbad.u-strasbg.fr/simbad/sim-id?Ident=Kepler-16 [u-strasbg.fr]

      I donno what a simbad is, a friend of mine went around calling it "sinbad" like the sailor for a while. Which is probably a cooler name, at least in the US.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by dissy (172727)

        I donno what a simbad is, a friend of mine went around calling it "sinbad" like the sailor for a while. Which is probably a cooler name, at least in the US.

        According to the documentation for the app that the web interface talks with:

        SIMBAD is the acronym for:
        Set of
        I dentifications,
        M easurements and
        B ibliography for
        A stronomical
        D ata

    • by Jesse_vd (821123) on Monday December 05, 2011 @02:41PM (#38270190)

      I'm no expert on this but I've got an awesome app on my iPhone called Exoplanet. It's always got new planets like this one before I even read about them.

      The host star is KIC10593626

      It's mass is 0.97 solar masses
      It's radius is 0.98 solar radii
      It's 587.1ly away
      Stellar Metallicity is 0.000[Fe/H]
      Spectral type is G5
      Magnitude (V) 0.000
      Right ascension is 19h 17m 70s
      Declination is +47* 52' 90"

      Hope that helps you, And please tell me if you think this would be visible through a telescope. There's a dark sky preserve near here with a 20" telescope that I've been meaning to visit

    • by bazorg (911295)

      No worries. BBC says "Astronomers confirm 'Earth twin'"

      http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-16040655 [bbc.co.uk]

      Let's get going.

  • So, when will we be able to get a spectrographic reading on its atmosphere to see if there is free oxygen there? If an amateur using a 10" scope can see the dust around another star, is there any way the very best techniques using twin 10 meter scopes with' anti-aberration lasers can block out enough of the stars light to see just the planet's atmosphere?"

    • by tgd (2822)

      So, when will we be able to get a spectrographic reading on its atmosphere to see if there is free oxygen there? If an amateur using a 10" scope can see the dust around another star, is there any way the very best techniques using twin 10 meter scopes with' anti-aberration lasers can block out enough of the stars light to see just the planet's atmosphere?"

      No. Not even close. Yet.

    • Basically you'd have to use very clever occluding telescopes and/or very wide inferometry to get a spectrogram separate from the star. But clever designs have been proposed recently. I dont think any made the 2010s budget due cost and technological immaturity.
  • by Spy Handler (822350) on Monday December 05, 2011 @01:54PM (#38269274) Homepage Journal
    but you wouldn't wanna spend your vacation there... big planet, heavy gravity... girls there are probably built like East European wrestlers with thunder thighs that could swat you like a fly.
    • by ColdWetDog (752185) on Monday December 05, 2011 @01:57PM (#38269304) Homepage

      Did you have to Rule 34 the thread already?

    • Re:habitable maybe (Score:4, Interesting)

      by FTWinston (1332785) on Monday December 05, 2011 @02:07PM (#38269464) Homepage
      If it had a density equal to that of Earth's, it'd have a surface gravity only 1/3 higher than Earth's, by my calculations. We could probably tolerate that without needing thunder thighs. Of course if its atmosphere is comparible to Earth's, then the greenhouse effect would presumably warm the surface to ~20C higher than you'd expect from its orbit alone, as happens with Earth. And an average surface temperature of over 40C sounds a bit sweaty ... though I imagine the poles could be a bit more tolerable.
      • by c0lo (1497653)

        If it had a density equal to that of Earth's, it'd have a surface gravity only 1/3 higher than Earth's, by my calculations

        Something is wrong with you calculation.
        Gravity at the surface - proportional with M/R^2. Mass - proportional with R^3 => Keep density constant and gravity at the surface is proportional with R.

    • by dkleinsc (563838)

      Oh, so they've located Amazonia [theinfosphere.org]?

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by shadowrat (1069614)
      I think a high gravity environment is unlikely to produce massive beings. That extra mass would be self defeating. The largest creatures on our planet require water to support them. They'd likely be very small. High gravity worlds are more likely to produce hobbits. Plus the gravity pulls all the hair down, causing it to grow from their feet.
  • Habitable Planets (Score:5, Interesting)

    by MyLongNickName (822545) on Monday December 05, 2011 @02:04PM (#38269428) Journal

    Many of you may already be aware of this, but it is likely that going forward we will find these "goldilocks" planets with more regularity. Kepler luanched in 2009 with first observations in Jan 2010 and discovers planets using the transit method. Basically, a planet blocks part of its home star's light, and sensitive instruments can pick up on this difference in light. Two transits create a pattern to follow up on, the third transit is considered confirmation of the existence of a plant. So almost 3 earth years of observations means finally being able to detect planets with year long orbits (slight error in logic, depending on when you catch the planet in the act...)

    So we are getting to the point where the data should start pouring in on planets more similar to our own. In another 12 months, I would expect to see hundreds if not thousands of planets similar to our own. That is when I think things get interesting. Say we find only 100 "habitable" planets... follow-up observations should give us an idea about the existence or nonexistence of life. Is it common? Is it uncommon? Are we just one of millions of life bearing planets? Are we an outlier? The mind boggles at what we will learn.

    This is an interesting time to be alive :)

    • by roc97007 (608802)

      And... how come we haven't heard from any other civilizations on any of those planets?

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward

        They're hundreds of light years away and we've only been communicative for less than a century. Given the inverse square law, communication between systems will probably need to be very intentionally focused with high gain antennae. In order for a message to have been sent to us that we can pick up, someone else would have had to see our planet in the habitable zone, see the oxygen levels in the atmosphere and attempt contact. They may have done so 50 times already, and would have gotten nothing back-- beca

      • by mr1911 (1942298)
        Communication takes two parties. The failure may be that we are not capable of receiving or deciphering what they are sending.

        Or, if their civilization is sufficiently advanced they already know we are stupid and boring. When is the last time you sat down and introduced yourself to a rat?
        • by doug141 (863552)

          When is the last time you sat down and introduced yourself to a rat?

          There was this one town hall meeting...

      • by c6gunner (950153) on Monday December 05, 2011 @02:31PM (#38269894)

        And... how come we haven't heard from any other civilizations on any of those planets?

        They received a bunch of broadcasts containing our political debates, and concluded that there is no intelligent life on this planet.

        • by roc97007 (608802)

          I'll buy that.

        • by doug141 (863552)

          They received a bunch of broadcasts containing our political debates, and

          ... their preemptive strike in en-route.

        • by timeOday (582209)
          Well, this one is 600 light years away, so Christopher Columbus hasn't been born yet in their frame of reference. I hope they aren't eagerly tuning in to see how well we'll run the planet for the last 600 years, how embarrassing that would be.
    • Re:Habitable Planets (Score:4, Informative)

      by HappyHead (11389) on Monday December 05, 2011 @02:27PM (#38269816)

      Say we find only 100 "habitable" planets...

      Considering how very small the patch of sky Kepler is watching actually is, if we find 100 "habitable" planets in it, and then extrapolate that across the rest of the sky, the number of potential habitable planets would be huge. Of course, right now there are only around 54 or so habitable zone candidates, out of 1000 "planet" candidates, and all of them are still waiting for confirmation. Still, if even half of those are valid, then that indicates a massive number of qualifying planets in the galaxy.

      For the interested, here's a link to a NASA graphic of Kepler's search zone:
      http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/kepler/multimedia/images/kepler-target-in-the-milkyway.html [nasa.gov]

      • by wisebabo (638845) on Monday December 05, 2011 @07:55PM (#38274786) Journal

        Remember that Kepler looks at stars using the "transit" method. Basically it stares at the little point of light for a looooong time, never blinking and waits to see if the light drops just a teeny bit due to something passing in front of it. How long? Well since it has to calculate the orbital period, it must watch at bare minimum for at least 1 year to see 2 passes (assuming its looking for a planet in an earthlike orbit around a sun-like star). Then, in order to make sure that it isn't some OTHER planet passing in front of the star, or an object in our solar system, or "sun spots" on the star, or maybe space butterflies getting in the way, the scientists must wait for a THIRD confirming pass (at the predicted time of course with the same drop in intensity) to be sure the observation is "real".

        I think these guys have found the first "earth-sized" object that has made three confirmed passes. Note that the period is a bit less than a year so they've had enough time to get three observations in the three years. Soon, they'll be announcing confirming "third passes" on more and more planets that have periods in roughly the one-year window that indicates it's in the habitable zone around a sun-like star.

        There are two things to note here: First, Kepler can only see planets that pass between it and the target star, that is the planet's orbit must be almost exactly edge on for us to see it. How close to edge on must it be? Well for example; the earth's orbit is a circle (very) roughly 100 million miles from the sun and the sun is roughly 1 million miles across. So, if the orbit was tilted more than 1/100 or 1%, from some distant observer, they wouldn't see it cross in front. (The size of the earth is inconsequential in this calculation because it is so small in relation to the sun). Similarly, for the kind of planets Kepler is looking at circling around sun-like stars, we are only seeing BY PURE CHANCE 1% of them. So if we see 100 planets circling these stars in their habitable zone; that means there are really 10,000 of them! So for a sample size of 150,000 stars, that means that one out of every 15 sunlike stars has planet in it's habitable zone! Amazing, especially when you consider our galaxy to have perhaps 10 BILLION sunlike stars!

        Secondly, Kepler was launched before astronomers "discovered" that the best place to find "habitable" planets wasn't around sunlike stars but around smaller cooler stars. For various reasons, the habitable zone (where water can be a liquid) is proportionately larger in these "mini" solar systems (everything is smaller, like the orbits). They realized that even if a planet was tidally "locked" so that one face was always facing the sun, the atmosphere would redistribute the heat enough so the planet would be "habitable" (must sure be windy though). Another advantage is that these smaller stars live much longer than our sun giving life longer to come to well... life! Finally these smaller stars are much more numerous than sunlike stars. Anyway, I think Kepler was focusing mainly on sunlike stars and not these smaller, more numerous and perhaps easier to detect (because the orbits are smaller you don't have to wait as long for three passes) targets. Maybe Kepler II will go after them!

        Just so that you know, Kepler is likely (has already?) been giving tons of other interesting data. I understand that its sensors are sensitive (and stable enough!) so as to detect possible sunspots in these stars. Also by paying close attention to the timing of the transits, they can determine whether other planets are gravitationally "tugging" at the transiting planet and perturbing its orbit (that's how Neptune was discovered). Finally, the resolution of the 'light curve" of the transit may be sharp enough to reveal any large moons in orbit around the transiting planet. So even if the planet in the habitable zone is too large to support life as we know it, it may have a right sized moon! (think "Pandora").

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday December 05, 2011 @02:06PM (#38269456)

    ...to spend a ton of time, effort, and research to find Earths twin, only to find the race of carbon-based life forms living there has completely fucked up the entire planet by abusing its natural resources.

    "Well shit. NASA, you're not gonna believe this...we found alien life alright...and they're as fucked up as we are."

    • Haha an ending worthy of a Twilight Zone episode.

    • by Aryden (1872756)
      Yes but we could murder them all and take what little Oil resources they have left. I mean, that's what we do now right?
    • by xero314 (722674) on Monday December 05, 2011 @02:24PM (#38269746)

      Oh the irony to spend a ton of time, effort, and research to find Earths twin, only to find the race of carbon-based life forms living there has completely fucked up the entire planet by abusing its natural resources.

      That's pretty much how the inhabitants of the alien planet our going to feel when they discover us. Or maybe they already have, but are smart enough to stay away.

  • by Anonymous Coward
    Could there be a Kepler-equivalent device orbiting 22-b looking our way, saying that we're 22-b twin that looks like a good match.

    Who'll get FTL drive first ...

    • by malilo (799198) on Monday December 05, 2011 @02:25PM (#38269762)
      Given the billion-year timescales to evolution, I'd say the likelihood of such synchronicity is exceedingly small. Unless they've known about our planet for millions of years and have come to the conclusion that no possibility exists for technology allowing a visit.
    • by Viewsonic (584922)

      For all we know they've already been here before we even crawled out of the muck. Remember, "our" timeline in history is a speck of sand in miles and miles and miles of distance. By the time we get to their planet, hundreds of civilizations could have existed and had been wiped out already. Makes it kind of depressing, really.

  • Looks like the inner edge to me. With that much mass I suspect that it is Venusian (or maybe a boiling water planet).

  • by Ogive17 (691899) on Monday December 05, 2011 @03:55PM (#38271494)
    Just finished up having a conversation with my boss about this. He stated that he hates when they come out and "confirm" stuff like this when there is no way of "proving" it. He talked about how we are always changing theories and tried to use the declasification of Pluto as an example.. to which I countered that it was all semantics.. the facts about Pluto didn't change, only the classification.

    We went back and forth for about 10 minutes with him trying to explain his point... the entire time I bit my toungue so that I wouldn't bring up the fact that he's a Catholic which is entirely based on faith. There's no proof of God existing yet billions of people (over multiple religions) believe there is.

    He's normally a level headed guy and never pulls the religion card out, which is why I didn't either. But how he misinterpreted the article to mean scientists confirm there's a planet out there with liquid water really frustrated me.

    I've got a bad case of the Mondays
  • Is there any way we can see this? This is what protects us from becoming flesh flavored Hot Pockets(tm).

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