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Space Earth NASA Science

Kepler Confirms Exoplanet Inside Star's Habitable Zone 257

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

    by ackthpt ( 218170 ) on Monday December 05, 2011 @02:49PM (#38269202) Homepage Journal

    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 Liquidrage ( 640463 ) on Monday December 05, 2011 @02:50PM (#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.
  • Habitable Planets (Score:5, Interesting)

    by MyLongNickName ( 822545 ) on Monday December 05, 2011 @03:04PM (#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 :)

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

    by FTWinston ( 1332785 ) on Monday December 05, 2011 @03:07PM (#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 Anonymous Coward on Monday December 05, 2011 @03:13PM (#38269564)
    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 MightyMartian ( 840721 ) on Monday December 05, 2011 @03:23PM (#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 RMingin ( 985478 ) on Monday December 05, 2011 @03:23PM (#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.

  • Re:Take that... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Missing.Matter ( 1845576 ) on Monday December 05, 2011 @04:07PM (#38270684)
    People are happy to trust scientists because for the most part, they have no idea what the scientists are saying. This is true up until the point the scientist says something the person disagrees with. "What do you mean human's evolved from apes!? You're a lunatic!" At this point the scientist is no longer an authority but a crackpot.
  • Re:Take that... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by DanielRavenNest ( 107550 ) on Monday December 05, 2011 @07:35PM (#38273932)

    Kepler can only see planets with orbits edge-on to us, and it's only looking in one specific direction. For each planet it finds, we can expect there are 50,000 more that are closer. On average, the closest will be 30-40 times closer than the one it finds, thus 15-20 light years in the case of Kepler-22b. Still a long way away, but easier to get to.

    And no, the next best plan is not to explore it with robots, it's to use the Sun itself as a gravitational lens in a mucking huge telescope. To use it for that, you need to get to the focus distance of the Sun, which is more than 550 AU out. As a practical matter, you likely need to be more like 1000 AU out, since at the minimum distance you are focusing light that just barely grazes the Sun's surface, and the light from the Sun itself is hard to block out in that case. Farther away you can use an occulting disk to block the Sun + some margin around it.

    Because of the huge diameter of the Sun as a lens, you can get absurd levels of detail at a nearby star, on the order of 0.4 meters per light year of distance.

  • Re:Take that... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by 0111 1110 ( 518466 ) on Monday December 05, 2011 @10:19PM (#38275476)

    Some people are just skeptical that computer models = science. I have another name for a computer model: a computer hypothesis. It is nothing more than a hypothesis that needs to be tested experimentally. The models make a testable prediction and science requires actually waiting to see if the prediction comes true.

    Could the anthropogenic global warming hypothesis be true? Sure. Is it true? There is still insufficient data to demonstrate it, but maybe in another 50-100 years we will have enough. If the evidence were really as solid as a lot of you guys seem to believe I don't think there would be nearly as much skepticism about it. Controversy in science tends to be inversely proportional to the amount of available evidence. Once proven the topic will no longer spawn 1000+ posts on slashdot. People will just yawn. Actually the topic already makes me yawn because true or not there is nothing we as a species can do about it. Well, short of a world government police state with 1984-level surveillance powers all over the planet or some major scientific breakthrough that makes people not want to burn stuff anymore. It is science that caused the problem. Only science can fix it. The only remotely realistic solution I've heard is for the entire planet to go 100% nuclear, but who is going to enforce that? Again, you need a world government to do that. And you'd also have to make electricity a hell of a lot cheaper than it is now or people are still going to burn stuff for various purposes.

  • by 0111 1110 ( 518466 ) on Monday December 05, 2011 @11:31PM (#38275960)

    We could start building a super-Orion pulsed nuke generation ship now and complete it in maybe 100 years. Then we launch humanity's first starship from L1 Lagrange Station manufacturing/assembly facility and it would only take another 6000 years or so to reach the planet. OTOH we could reach Gliese 581 in only 200 years, Tau Ceti or Epsilon Indi in 120 years, Epsilon Eridani in 105 years, or Alpha Centauri in a mere 44 years.

"My sense of purpose is gone! I have no idea who I AM!" "Oh, my God... You've.. You've turned him into a DEMOCRAT!" -- Doonesbury