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Earth Space Science

Odds Favor Discovery of Earth-Like Exoplanet in 2013 90

Earth-like exoplanets have gotten a lot of attention in the last few years; it's exciting to think that there's life — or even just life-sustaining conditions — on planets other than Earth, whether near by (on Mars) or much farther away (orbiting Vega). Projects like NASA's Kepler, and the ground-based HARPS, attempt to spot planets outside our solar system of all kinds. These exoplanet discoveries have been ramping up lately, and so has sorting of the discovered planets by size and other characteristics; the odds are looking good, say astronomers quoted by, that an Earth-like planet will be found this year. Abel Mendez runs the Planetary Habitability Laboratory at the University of Puerto Rico at Arecibo, and UC Berkeley astromer Geoff Marcy looks for planets as part of the Kepler team; they explain in the article why they think 2013 is an auspicious one for planet hunters.
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Odds Favor Discovery of Earth-Like Exoplanet in 2013

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  • Re:Forget about it. (Score:4, Interesting)

    by PolygamousRanchKid ( 1290638 ) on Sunday December 30, 2012 @10:25AM (#42425887)

    When I was a kid, walking on the moon was 'impossible', never going to happen.

    Now as an adult, walking on the moon is 'impossible', never going to happen again.

  • Re:Poor definitions (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Immerman ( 2627577 ) on Sunday December 30, 2012 @01:12PM (#42426643)

    That is probably the larger contributor, but even without the solar wind it's atmosphere would likely be much thinner - it only has ~1/3 the surface gravity, and it falls off much faster with altitude. It's smaller size probably also contributed significantly to faster cooling and the associated shut-down of its magnetic dynamo subsequent exposure to the solar-wind. Evidence suggests that Mars did in fact once have a substantial magnetic field. Getting a massive chunk of (presumably) cold material embedded in it's mantle probably didn't help things either - Olympus Mons appears to be the result of the shockwave from a truly massive impact on the opposite side of the planet. Lets all thank Mars for taking the bullet for us, it would've made "the dinosaur killer" look like a pea-shooter in comparison.

  • Re:Earth-like lights (Score:5, Interesting)

    by grumling ( 94709 ) on Sunday December 30, 2012 @02:25PM (#42427133) Homepage

    I'm trying to, asshole. Why do you think I'm asking a question?

  • by Hazelfield ( 1557317 ) on Sunday December 30, 2012 @05:14PM (#42428039)
    What I think is so cool about these discoveries is, in the words of astronomer Steve Vogt, "the emerging view that virtually every star has planets". Think about this for a while. Look at all the stars in the sky, and imagine every single one of them having a planetary system. Suddenly it doesn't seem to much of a stretch thinking some of them might be habitable, or even harbour some kind of life.

    In my eyes this fact, if it gets confirmed by subsequent studies, is the biggest discovery about the universe since the theory of relativity. When I grew up I was taught there were 9 planets in orbit around the sun, and the existence of (or at least abundance of) exoplanets where largely speculative, with the first observations just being confirmed during the 90's. When my kids grow up they'll be taught there are thousands of exoplanets in our very vicinity and millions in the galaxy. And there are free-floating bodies as well, rouge planets that are not gravitationally bound to a star! How cool isn't that? To top it all, we will soon have instruments sensitive enough to measure the very spectrum of an exoplanet atmosphere and look for biosignatures. If it finds free oxygen and methane, that's a very strong indication of life as we know it. (Since oxygen is highly reactive, it tends to show up in compounds such as carbon or silicon dioxide. Biologic activity is one possible supply of free oxygen.) The search for extra-terrestrial life, long belonging to the realm of science fiction, has turned to a serious and highly active field of research in just a few years.

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