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Space Science

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

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, 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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  • Small slip (Score:5, Insightful)

    by asukasoryu ( 1804858 ) on Tuesday July 27, 2010 @08:27AM (#33042838)
    Seems like the only info released was a distribution of planet size. Without planet composition, I would describe these as Earth-size, not Earth-like. It's a little early to get excited.
  • Dysfunctional (Score:3, Insightful)

    by m0s3m8n ( 1335861 ) on Tuesday July 27, 2010 @08:34AM (#33042920)
    Is the Kepler team dysfunctional, or do they just enjoy pissing on one another?
  • by SmallFurryCreature ( 593017 ) on Tuesday July 27, 2010 @08:40AM (#33042972) Journal

    Is interstellar space travel feasable?

    If there is no faster then light method of travelling possible, then there are unlikely to be any visitors ever. End of story.

    And while 400 planets sounds like a lot, in the milky way it isn't much at all, especially if you consider the short timespan that humans have been capable of even seeing into deep space let alone make their presence known. And there are countless disasters that can wipe out a civilization.

    There are aliens out there, in the deep vastness of space and time. Just as somewhere there is a smart intelligent girl that totally digs D&D. To bad she was born 200 years ago.

  • Kepler (Score:3, Insightful)

    by SpeedyGonz ( 771424 ) on Tuesday July 27, 2010 @08:48AM (#33043052)
    I agree. Water presence? Temperature within habitable range? At least a primordial atmosphere? Not sure if Kepler is the right tool to collect that kind of data, but to call them "earth like" seems premature. Granted, if the size approaches that of earth chances are they're rocky, solid planets, but that's it.
  • Re:Small slip (Score:5, Insightful)

    by tverbeek ( 457094 ) on Tuesday July 27, 2010 @08:49AM (#33043068) Homepage

    You can be sure that the mainstream media will fail to make the distinction between "Earth-size" and the more vaguely-defined (but more comprehensive sounding) "Earth-like". These planets are "Earth-like" in the same sense that noxious, caustic, stifling, lung-crushing Venus is "Earth-like"... if that.

  • by chichilalescu ( 1647065 ) on Tuesday July 27, 2010 @09:00AM (#33043194) Homepage Journal

    It's really sad that a discussion about the possible detection of Earth-sized planets around other stars is dressed up in "it's our data and we want to publish first" and stuff like that.
    Humanity will, one day, pay dearly the fact that scientists are forced to fight for resources...

    Anyway, this is interesting news. If computers were considered "the revenge of the nerds", I'm curious what the next few years will be called.

  • by Thanshin ( 1188877 ) on Tuesday July 27, 2010 @09:05AM (#33043260)

    Same guy here (yes, I anonymized both for "too much info" reasons) I forgot one thing.

    Hit the fricking gym as often as you train and cultivate your mind. If she offers both, she'll want both,

  • by mdwh2 ( 535323 ) on Tuesday July 27, 2010 @09:12AM (#33043404) Journal

    The Star Trek classification system would indeed be far better than the whole "What's a planet" argument definitions we've had (which has been hard enough with just our solar system), and things like Dwarf planets etc. We have classes for stars, so why not planets...

  • Re:Small slip (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday July 27, 2010 @09:32AM (#33043710)

    There are 2 other planets in OUR solar system that are 'earth like'. Or at least close enough. Yet they either have too much of the wrong kind of atmosphere or too little. Earth really does have an interesting balance of chemicals and distance from the sun that give us our 'earth like' qualities. For example on a planet where oxygen is low it would be hard to form the greenhouse gases to heat up the surface. Are there other planets out there that are like ours? Statistically there has to be. However, it has already been proven long ago that earth SIZED planets are a dime a dozen. []

    Unfortunately with Drakes equation we have a sample of 1. The formula idea will probably hold up but we do not have proper numbers to put into it. The sort of thing this satellite is doing helps us fill in 1 of the numbers a bit better in relation to ET's. This dude getting excited about finding planets is like saying their is oil in the gulf of mexico. We KNOW it is there. It is just a matter of finding it.

    Also it is a matter of how you define 'earth like'. If you define it as 'a human could live there with no need of special equipment'. That range of planets is probably fairly small. If you define it as 'a planet x % of the distance away from a sun and has y gravity'. Then you may find a much larger number of planets.

  • by mcgrew ( 92797 ) * on Tuesday July 27, 2010 @10:57AM (#33045046) Homepage Journal

    I've found that money is over rated, and most women don't want intelligence in a man. I'm middle class, the woman I was seeing recently had just divorced her rich husband. Meanwhile, my ex-wife left me eight years ago for an unemployed auto mechanic.

    Most women like "bad boys" and they all love a sense of humor and a smile. Grow a goatee and leave a stubble on your cheeks, and let your wit show but hide your intelligence. yes, there are gold diggers out there, but you have to realize they're whores; just a tiny bit more respectable than the prostitutes that solicit you in the streets. After all, that's the definition of a prostitute: a woman who trades sex for money, which is what gold diggers are really doing. I have no respect whatever for a gold digging woman.

  • by dpilot ( 134227 ) on Tuesday July 27, 2010 @11:37AM (#33045778) Homepage Journal

    Might not be a bad idea, but we're scarcely ready to tackle the task. We're starting with a sample-size of 9, (or is that 8?) with direct, personal, and extensive observation of only 1, fairly extensive robot observation of 1 more, somewhat less robot observation of 2 more, and some robot and telescopic observation of the rest. Then we get into those pesky "moons", some of which might well be considered "planets" if they orbited the sun instead of some planet. (Think Pandora, for a fictional extreme example, but Ganymede, Titan, and Callisto aren't that far behind.)

    Past that, our extrasolar observations so far haven't found much, if any, like our own solar system. We've found numerous super-Jovian (The easiest kind to detect.) worlds, some of them in decidedly non-Jovian orbits. I don't think we're truly ready to do any sort of planetary classification yet, unless we left it so diffuse at to not be useful - perhaps with a few more decades of extrasolar observations and technological advancements in the same... In the meantime, it seems kind of like doing a taxonomy of arthropods based on aquatic observations of shrimp, lobsters, prawns, and the like.

  • Re:Small slip (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Chris Burke ( 6130 ) on Tuesday July 27, 2010 @11:53AM (#33046080) Homepage

    These planets are "Earth-like" in the same sense that noxious, caustic, stifling, lung-crushing Venus is "Earth-like"... if that.

    I think it would technically be acidic, since the atmosphere contains sulfuric acid, and 'caustic' conventionally refers only to bases. ;)

    Anyway, yeah, these are earth-like in the same sense as Venus.

    Maybe even less so, since Kepler would not have been able to detect a planet in a Venus-like orbit yet. So more like... earth-like in the same sense as Mercury. :)

  • Re:Drake (Score:3, Insightful)

    by IndustrialComplex ( 975015 ) on Tuesday July 27, 2010 @03:08PM (#33049188)

    Anyway, it could be that Earht itself is a borderline planet for life [], just big enough for plate tectonics (something which Venus lacks, and which probably contributed greatly to its conditions); maybe even slightly too small in itself, but was pushed into habitable range by the collision with Theia (the collision that spawned the Moon)

    If you look at Earth objectively, we could be living on what so many sci-fi stories like to use as examples of 'prison' planets. Highly hostile worlds which seem wholly unsuitable for life.

    Corrosive Atmosphere - High % Oxygen
    Acid oceans (or base depending on your POV)... H+ OH-
    Biologically active - We let biology run rampant everywhere, bacteria, virii, prions
    Wild Temperature fluctuations - Denser atmospheres = temperature stable at a set altitude.

    It would be interesting to go to an alien planet, and find out we were the ones adapted to an incredibly hostile environment.

  • Re:Who cares? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by fyngyrz ( 762201 ) on Wednesday July 28, 2010 @12:59AM (#33053688) Homepage Journal

    Sure, the probability or transit decreases with greater orbital periods

    ...yes, and with the orbital angle of the planet in question -- out of an entirely rotated set of orbital possibilities, only a few intercept the path to the telescope; and the further out the planet is, the less chance. That's why the close in ones are easy, and the ones in earthlike orbits are not.

    and you're kidding yourself about continents or clouds

    No, sir, I am not [].

    Briefly, the resolution achievable using interferometry is proportional to the observing frequency and the distance between the antennas farthest apart in the array. In space, the distance between the antennas, the number of antennas, and the size of the antennas are all matters of raw materials, no more. Once we can manufacture *in* space using materials gleaned from asteroids, there's hardly any limit at all to the size of the synthesized aperture.

    The only limitation is the usual one - the data is as old as it is distant.

    Believe me, pal, we haven't even begun to construct telescopes of the capabilities our current technologies can enable. We're just putting the money in incredibly stupid places. As today, we just stuffed another fifty nine billion dollars [] down the Pentagon's automated money disposal. Not to mention the 8.7 billion they "lost." []

  • Re:Small slip (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Chris Burke ( 6130 ) on Wednesday July 28, 2010 @01:27AM (#33053744) Homepage

    Let us have our fun. There are many rocks of a size, and we didn't know that before.

    Hey, I think earth-size is plenty exciting without having to say earth-like. Personally I think earth-like should at least imply in the habitable zone. Which is what the Kepler mission was specifically designed to be able to find, so I see no need to jump the gun when just finding so many exoplanets is itself a great discovery.

    We're 1 year and four months into a 3 1/2 year mission. When you consider that such planets happening to orbit their sun in such a way as for their eclipse to fall upon us in the short time available to see so many is wonderful. I doubt we'll see many of these twice in the habitable zone due to orbital precession.

    I might be getting my time-lines wrong, but last March was when it was launched, and the 3 1/2 year mission is from first observation since it's needed to ensure at least 3 observations of earth-like (in the sense of having an ~1 yr orbit around a sol-like star) planet, and ideally 4. So it's actually less time than that into the actual mission. Which means it's basically impossible for us to have seen earth-size planets in earth-like orbits.

    Which is fine. The mere fact that planets appear to be so common is a fantastic indicator that earth-like planets exist in quantity. We'll hopefully know more by the time Kepler is done.

    I don't know about precession... is precession of the axis of rotation around the star really going to make that much difference in just a couple orbits?

  • by Chris Burke ( 6130 ) on Wednesday July 28, 2010 @11:50AM (#33057132) Homepage

    True. But the number it has found has promising suggestions.

    Indeed. It's very promising that as soon as we are capable of detecting a new class of planet, we do, and lots of em. Even outside of Kepler. I would think the prevailing prediction at this point would be that planetary systems and planets are common, and we are likely going to discover many planets in the habitable zones of their stars.

    The nice thing though is that we only have to wait a couple years to actually know. Which is why I think we should just wait on declaring "earth-like" planets found. The Kepler mission is designed to find those planets, earth-size and in the habitable zone, so let's not jump the gun is all I'm saying. Finding tons of earth-size planets is in and of itself quite awesome. :)

Someday your prints will come. -- Kodak