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Space NASA

Kepler's Alien World Count Skyrockets 77

astroengine writes "The number of known planets beyond the solar system took a giant leap thanks to a new technique that verifies candidate planets found by NASA's Kepler space telescope in batches rather than one-by-one. The new method adds 715 planets to Kepler's list of confirmed planets, which previously totaled 246, scientists said Wednesday. Combined with other telescopes' finds, the overall exoplanet headcount now reaches nearly 1,700. 'By moving ... to statistical studies in a "big data" fashion, Kepler has showcased the diversity and types of planets present in our galaxy,' said astronomer Sara Seager." In other exoplanet news, a recent study found that so-called 'super earths,' planets that are bigger than Earth but smaller than gas giants like Uranus and Neptune, are unlikely to be habitable to known forms of life. The higher mass traps significantly more hydrogen during the formation of the planetary system, which results in extremely high atmospheric pressure — high enough to be hostile to known life.
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Kepler's Alien World Count Skyrockets

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  • by hedgemage ( 934558 ) on Wednesday February 26, 2014 @04:40PM (#46350123)
    I'm not a xenobiologist, but wouldn't a high-pressure hydrogen-rich atmosphere conceivably be home to organisms similar to those that live around deep sea volcanic vents? Will we be going to war with/conquered by giant tubeworms?
    • Ah, but those evolved from simpler cyanobacteria that could exist in homeostasis in lower pressure liquid water. Those adaptations don't have the same proposed naturalistic mechanisms of arising that self-replicating protein chains do.

    • by dkf ( 304284 )

      I'm not a xenobiologist, but wouldn't a high-pressure hydrogen-rich atmosphere conceivably be home to organisms similar to those that live around deep sea volcanic vents?

      We don't know. Right now, we have only one sample of the set "worlds with life" (I say "worlds" to not unfairly discriminate against moons) and our current technological capabilities can't really figure it out for many more worlds yet. Because of this, we do not have enough data to know how prevalent life is or what it really requires. We truly don't know, but at least we know we're really ignorant.

      About the only things we can be sure of are that there's a lot of planets out there, that there's a really goo

    • by Valdrax ( 32670 )

      I'm not a xenobiologist, but wouldn't a high-pressure hydrogen-rich atmosphere conceivably be home to organisms similar to those that live around deep sea volcanic vents?

      A hydrogen-rich atmosphere can better be phrased as "carbon/nitrogen/oxygen-poor." For example Neptune's upper atmosphere is 80% hydrogen and 19% helium. That leaves any life-supporting materials scattered and diffused too thing for life to be likely to exist in any shape resembling Earth biochemistry.

      Pressure isn't as big of a problem since you can find a nice pressure at the right distance from the center, but pressures and temperatures near the center are high enough that liquid diamond may be found.

      • We live in a very hydrogen poor atmosphere, but we manage to use lots and lots of it without a problem.

        • by osu-neko ( 2604 )
          It should be noted that life almost certainly started in Earth's oceans (where the vast majority of it remains to this day -- life outside the oceans is practically a footnote). I do believe are hydrosphere is approximately two-thirds hydrogen, one-third oxygen (by atom count -- by mass, of course, the one oxygen atom outweighs the two hydrogen atoms).
          • by osu-neko ( 2604 )
          • The atmosphere is still hydrogen poor.

            How do you know that there aren't huge concentrations of carbon, oxygen and nitrogen on those words just under the atmosphere? By the GGP reasoning, life is impossible on Earth.

    • Dear Biologists and Similar Ilk,

      Time and again, life is found in places where no biologist (or equivalent ilk) expected it. This has happened so frequently that you would think that you would stop using phrases similar to, " high enough to be hostile to known life". What you know about life has clearly been shown to be lacking. Given that, how about a phrase that acknowledges your knowledge gap in a positive and proactive way. A preferred phrase, in this case, should be, " high enough to produce interes

  • Drake (Score:5, Interesting)

    by NMBob ( 772954 ) on Wednesday February 26, 2014 @04:41PM (#46350143) Homepage
    So which way is this shifting the Drake equation result? Up or down compared to what we thought the popularity of exoplanets were?
    • Re:Drake (Score:5, Insightful)

      by gstoddart ( 321705 ) on Wednesday February 26, 2014 @05:13PM (#46350519) Homepage

      Up, hugely up.

      The estimates for how many stars have planets is now up considerably from when he initially postulated it, because back then it was thought only a small portion would have planets.

      Now they seem to be quite plentiful.

      Not 25 years ago, the notion of finding an exoplanet was still pretty cutting edge, and hadn't yet happened. Now we're adding them at an amazing rate.

      Me, given the size of the universe and even what we've learned in the last 25 years ... the likelihood that there exists somewhere life on another planet seems almost certain, even if we'll never know about it.

      • by NMBob ( 772954 )
        Cool...or maybe not so cool if you believe Hawking and think we'll be used as food if we happen to bump into anyone else, or someone decides to build a highway. :)
        • by marsu_k ( 701360 )

          “Two possibilities exist: either we are alone in the Universe or we are not. Both are equally terrifying.”

          From Clarke, but that was quoted at the beginning of some really brain-cancer-inducing movie somewhat recently. Perhaps this is why I cannot recall which movie.

          • by Piata ( 927858 )
            It was at the start of XCOM: Enemy Unknown and that game was amazing!
            • by marsu_k ( 701360 )
              Oh you're right :) I was thinking it was something along the lines of "Battleship". For some reason I never got around to playing the reboot to the end, started it a few times already. Perhaps it's time I take it all the way.
            • I have that game. I started it. Took out some aliens in a car park then nothing. It would not advance to the next level. If I hadn't given up, I'd still be milling about in the car park.

              A complete waste of money.

        • by rhook ( 943951 )

          I doubt a species that has developed FTL travel would need to use us as a source of food. They'd likely have replicator technology.

        • Why are people afraid of alien life forms? Would it not be just as likely that earth life is the more dangerous one?

          Earth life is so contageous that it conquered even the most inhospitable corners of this planet. For every niche, we have some microorganism that can thrive there.

          And the final punch line is that earth has plants. They can create a very toxic and reactive gas called oxygen! We can essentially poison entire planets using self-replicating weapons called plants.

      • I don't see it pushing up Drake's equation though. We're also eliminating those same planets as being possible for life. All those super earths we found that had potential for life were knocked out of the second variable in the equation.

        • Up. Super Earths likely have moons. This is good because the habitable zone for many of the stars they orbit is close enough to tidally lock the planet, but not the moon.
          • Unless the moon’s mass exceeds 23 percent of Earth’s mass, plate tectonics and a strong magnetic field are impossible (both considered necessities for stable life). For such necessities to last for a few billion years requires a mass and a density virtually equivalent to Earth’s. The largest moons around our Gas giants do not exceed past 3%.

            • Also to add, if the moon is too far from the planet, seasonal temperatures might swing too much. And if it's too close, it would be tidally locked to the planet. Add to that if the planet possess a strong magnetic sphere it'd wreak havoc on the moon's. By and large, it'd be unlikely to find a Pandora around any of these planets.

      • I disagree. One of the implicit assumptions of the Drake equation is that systems that did have planets would have a high probability of configurations similar to ours. What has actually been found is that number of different planetary configurations is much greater than we ever imagined. The number of microstates in the partition function has gone up so the probability of finding any particular state has gone down.
      • It love your extreme specificity. "Up", "plentiful", "an amazing rate", "almost certain".

        My trip home from work will take "a few" minutes.

        • It love your extreme specificity. "Up", "plentiful", "an amazing rate", "almost certain".

          My trip home from work will take "a few" minutes.

          His precision is orders of magnitude greater than that of the Drake equation itself, so by comparison he was incredibly specific.

          Not that that actually helps at all: the Drake "equation" is only useful as a thought exercise and is completely and utterly useless for any* kind of quantitative usage whatsoever (since several terms in it are completely and wholly unknown).

          *Well, you can use it to find weak upper-bounds, but that's about it, and not much help, and you don't need the full equation for that.

        • It love your extreme specificity. "Up", "plentiful", "an amazing rate", "almost certain".

          Drake himself never said the equation was intended to be used with any extreme specificity.

          It's a thought experiment about the parameters, factors, and gross probabilities. Nobody was ever going to punch numbers into Drake's equation and come up with a probability of 87.625% and have that mean anything. The entire equation is intended to be a big huge thumb-and-squint for generating estimates and talking about it.


    • Re:Drake (Score:4, Funny)

      by fuzzyfuzzyfungus ( 1223518 ) on Wednesday February 26, 2014 @07:14PM (#46351919) Journal
      Drake forgot to divide his result by the number of Berzerker probes travelling the universe and annihilating potentially spacefaring civilizations.

      Common mistake. Happens to the best of us.
  • by decipher_saint ( 72686 ) on Wednesday February 26, 2014 @04:42PM (#46350151)


  • The higher mass traps significantly more hydrogen during the formation of the planetary system, which results in extremely high atmospheric pressure — high enough to be hostile to known life.

    It's life, Jim, but not as we know it.

  • Great! Now there's new way for nerds to show off: by reciting the names of the planets. Easy when there were only nine, easier then there were eight, now it's a real challenge. Way more interesting than the digits of pi. Although that's setting the bar pretty low.

  • From the headline I figured that Kepler was a new space MMORPG, like Eve.

  • Probably because they added a bunch of quotles.

  • I misread the headline as Kerbal instead of Kepler. I've been waiting for more planets to crash into.
  • by TechyImmigrant ( 175943 ) on Wednesday February 26, 2014 @06:17PM (#46351287) Homepage Journal

    How many skyrockets did the world count?

  • Okay, so on the exoplanets we know about so far life that looks like us appears to be pretty unlikely.

    Y'know what? If the planet can support liquid H2O, my money is on life appearing there all by itself. There, I said it - I'm a believer in the theory of Spontaneous Generation.

    As for Drake - even he knew he was whistling in the dark. He just grabbed numbers out of the sky ("if one in ten thousand stars has planets . . . if one in one thousand of these planets is a suitably sized rocky planet . . . if .

    • As for Drake - even he knew he was whistling in the dark

      The Drake equation is crap. There are any number of variables in that can never be known.

      L the length of time civilizations release detectable radio signals. Well that can be anything, we will never know the exact answer to that one. For us it could be 100 years. For some other civilization it could be a 1,000. We will never know that.

      fi is the fraction of planets that go on to develop life. That will also be another for ever unknown. We only guess at how many plants that will develop intelli

      • You: There are any number of variables in that can never be known.

        Drake didn't know either. The formula is sound, each of those variables have answers based on averages.

        Drake didn't know the answers but knew the variables. You are saying you don't know the values of variables, just like Drake didn't know.

        This doesn't mean that the variables don't have values. They do.

        We don't know the value of the variables today. 100,000 years from now or 1,000,000 years from now, we very well might.
    • You only need one planet with life 3 billion years ago for it to have polluted the entire galaxy by now. Er... Wait a minute...
  • Aren't the "known forms of life" the, um, forms of life we already, you know, know about, i.e. not the same ones we're going to find on alien worlds?

    • by Alioth ( 221270 )

      No. That's not the point. If there were an alien world with the same conditions as earth (gravity, available substances, available energy) it is likely that while the actual species on this planet would be entirely different, they would be "life as we know it", in other words, similar biochemical processes.

      Life but not as we know it means life based on fundamentally different biochemical processes, for example, silicon based instead of carbon based.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    NASA's Exoplanet visualization tool [nasa.gov]lets you see where those planets are relative to earth and see the solar systems around far away stars.

Consultants are mystical people who ask a company for a number and then give it back to them.