Tag Archives | planets

Presenting Earth 2.0

kepler22b-0Is this where humankind will be living in a couple millenia? In a solar system 600 light years away spins the newly-spotted Kebler 22-b, a rocky planet with oceans covering two-thirds of its surface, and balmy temperatures approximating 70 degrees. The Herald Sun reports on the greatest hope for a replacement Earth:

A newly discovered planet about 600 light years from our little rock has scientists around the world in a spin, with many heralding it as the best chance yet of containing alien life.

The find, announced early last week by NASA, was uncovered by the US space agency’s Kepler spacecraft, launched on a planet-hunting mission in 2009.

The planet, Kepler-22b, is 2.4 times bigger than Earth, orbits a star slightly smaller than our sun and has an average temperature of 22C. It is also closer to its sun-like star, giving it a “year” of 290 days.

What makes this discovery so exciting is that it is the smallest planet right in the middle of what has been dubbed the Goldilocks zone, where it’s not too hot and not too cold to either boil or freeze water, vital for life as we know it.

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Astronomers Find Planet Made Of Diamond

diamond_planet_pulsarWhat celebrity couple will be first to take a honeymoon on the planet made of solid diamond crystal? Via Wired Science:

An international team of astronomers, led by Australia’s Swinburne University of Technology professor Matthew Bailes, has discovered a planet made of diamond crystals, in our own Milky Way galaxy.

The planet is relatively small at around 60,000 km in diameter (still, it’s five times the size of Earth). But despite its diminutive stature, this crystal space rock has more mass than the solar system’s gas giant Jupiter.

Researchers from institutions in the UK, Australia, Germany, Italy and the USA used a variety of radio telescopes — including the Australian Parkes CSIRO, the Lovell in Cheshire and the Keck in Hawaii — and 200,000 Gigabytes of celestial data to find the nifty diamond-esque planet.

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Alien Planets Outnumber Stars

Montage of Jupiter and the Galilean satellites, Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto.

Montage of Jupiter and the Galilean satellites, Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto.

When we look up at the night sky we see millions of  twinkling stars. But how many planets are we not seeing? Astronomers’ new study has found that ‘Jupiter-like gas giants’ are more common than previously thought. The National Geographic reports:

If you look to the stars tonight, consider this: No matter how innumerable they may seem, there are far more planets than stars lurking out there in the darkness, a new study suggests.

The study uncovered a whole new class of worlds: Jupiter-like gas giants that have escaped the gravitational bonds of their parent stars and are freely roaming space.

What’s more, “our results indicate that such planets are quite common,” said study team member David Bennett, an astronomer at Notre Dame University in Indiana.

“There’s a good chance that the closest free-floating planet is closer to Earth than the closest star.”

Ohio State University astronomer Scott Gaudi added, “It’s not surprising that free-floating planets are out there”—they’ve been predicted by planet-formation theories for years—”it’s just how many of them that they’re finding.”

[Continues at National Geographic News]

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Astronomers Begin Search For Alien Signals From 86 Earth-Like Planets

398px-KSC_radio_telescopeVia Space.com:

A new survey is under way to search for signs of intelligent extraterrestrial life, but this one has a twist: Instead of listening for alien signals from anywhere in the sky, scientists are aiming radio telescopes at the alien planets most likely to be like our own Earth.

The new search, which began last week, is scanning 86 alien worlds for radio signals that could suggest the presence of an advanced civilization. The extrasolar planets are thought to be the most Earth-like of the 1,235 candidate planets discovered so far by NASA’s prolific Kepler space observatory.

“We’ve picked out the planets with nice temperatures — between zero and 100 degrees Celsius [32 and 212 degrees Fahrenheit] — because they are a lot more likely to harbor life,” said physicist Dan Werthimer of the University of California, Berkeley, in a statement.

This new SETI search is not part of the SETI Institute, which has long served as the Earth’s ears for any signals from intelligent aliens.

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Astronomers Discover 6 Planets Orbiting The Same Star

eScience News reports:

A NASA team including three University of Florida astronomers has found six new planets in a distant solar system that in some ways resembles our own. The NASA team, including UF associate professor Eric Ford, postdoctoral associate Althea Moorhead and graduate student Robert Morehead, will announce its findings in Thursday’s issue of the journal Nature.

“This is the new prototype for a system of rocky planets beyond our own,” Ford said. “It changes our understanding of the frequency of solar systems like our own in deep space.”

The planets orbit Kepler-11, a sun-like star about 2,000 light years away. With temperatures hotter than Venus – likely more than 400 to 1,400 degrees Fahrenheit – the planets range in size from twice to 4½ times Earth’s diameter. The five confirmed planets are larger in mass but less dense than Earth, and closely packed, taking from 10 to 47 days to orbit the star.

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Kepler Discovers Two Saturn-Sized Exo-Planets

Artist concept of Kepler 9b & 9c

Artist concept of Kepler 9b & 9c

The more objects we discover in space, the more we discover just how small we are. From BBC:

The US space agency’s Kepler planet-hunter has spied a star that has two Saturn-sized objects circling it.

Astronomers say they cannot be sure just yet but there may be a third, more Earth-sized planet present as well.

Follow-up studies were now trying to confirm this suspicion, Matthew Holman and colleagues told Science magazine.

The Kepler telescope was launched last year to identify planets by looking for periodic dips in light as objects pass in front of stars. It is equipped with the largest camera ever put in space.

The mission has so far amassed hundreds of these transit events but definitive statements about the discovery of new planets beyond our Solar System – so-called exoplanets – can only be made after many careful repeat observations.

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Hunt For Earth’s ‘Twin Planet’ Takes Leap Forward

240px-The_Earth_seen_from_Apollo_17The Telegraph reports that scientists are on the brink of discovering the first Earth-like planet outside the solar system:

Professor Michel Mayor, the scientist who led the team that identified the first extrasolar planet in 1995, believes a planet similar in size and composition to Earth will soon be found.

Prof Mayor, of Geneva University, said that the prospect of finding a planet habitable for humans had come a step closer through rapid technological advances allowing observation of planets outside the solar system.

Addressing a Royal Society conference to mark the 50th anniversary of the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence (SETI) programme, he said: “The search for twins of Earth is motivated by the ultimate prospect of finding sites with favourable conditions for the development of life.
“We’ve entered a new phase in this search.”

More than 400 extroplanets have been discovered over the past 15 years, he added.

However, it is doubtful that any of these could be inhabited by humans because they are too large, Prof Mayor told the audience, which included representatives from Nasa, the European Space Agency and the UN Office for Outer Space Affairs.

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Waterworld Planet Discovered

Scientists are intrigued by a newly-noticed, watery, Earth-like planet, spotted orbiting a small star 40 light years from us. From the Telegraph:

The planet is believed to be too hot to sustain Earth-type life, but could consist of 75 per cent water. Evidence suggests it has an atmosphere, and astronomers believe it to be more Earth-like than any ”exoplanet” found outside the Solar System so far. [Named] GJ1214b, it is thought to be three quarters composed of water and ice and about one quarter rock.

Some of the planet’s water should be in the form of exotic materials such as Ice Seven – a crystalline form of water that exists at pressures greater than 20,000 times the Earth’s sea-level atmosphere.

Scientists believe something besides the planet’s surface must be blocking light from the parent star – probably a surrounding atmosphere that may contain hydrogen and helium.

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The Fight for the Ninth Planet

Alan Boyle in Wired Science:

If there’s still someone out there who thinks science and politics never mix, the story behind the Battle of Prague should change your mind.

Some have cast the debate that took place in the Czech capital during the summer of 2006 as a battle against American scientists who wanted to keep the only planet discovered by an American on an unreasonably high pedestal. On the other side of the argument, there are those who suspect that the rest of the world wanted to see Pluto demoted to punish America for its unpopular foreign policy.

But we’re not talking about that kind of politics. We’re not even talking about a battle between the fans and foes of Pluto per se. Instead of thinking in terms of Republicans versus Democrats, or Plutophiles versus Plutoclasts, you have to think in terms of planetary conservatives versus liberals — or, more accurately, dynamicists versus geophysicists.

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