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Old 02-02-2011, 10:32 PM
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Default Kepler team announce discovery of more than 1,200 exoplanets!

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A NASA telescope taking a nose count of planets in one small neighborhood of the Milky Way registered more than 1,200 candidates, including 54 residing in life-friendly orbits around their parent stars.

Scientists have no way of knowing yet if any of the newly discovered planets are solid-body worlds like Earth. But the census, collected by NASA's Kepler Space Telescope after just four months of work, shows that small planets like Earth are much more prevalent than Jupiter-sized worlds and that multiple-planet systems are common.

"We think we're seeing about 200 multi-planet systems," astronomer Daniel Fabrycky, with the University of California, Santa Cruz, told Discovery News. "That really blew us away. We didn't expect that this would be one of Kepler's discoveries."

The findings increase the number of planet candidates identified so far by Kepler to 1,235. Of these, 68 are approximately Earth-size; 288 are two to three times the size of Earth; 662 are Neptune-size; 165 are the size of Jupiter and 19 are larger than Jupiter.

Of particular note: a brood of six -- the largest extrasolar planet family found so far -- circling a sun-like star named Kepler 11. Five are puffy planets formation-flying closer than Mercury orbits the sun.

Astronomers suspect Kepler 11, located about 2,000 light years from Earth, has more offspring farther away or beyond Kepler's viewing angle.

The telescope sees a planet's footprints as it passes across the face of its parent star, just like a gnat flying past your computer screen will block a bit of light.

When a planet orbits behind the star, relative to Kepler's view, there is a slight increase in brightness. From the frequency and duration of the dimming and brightening scientists can figure out how far away a planet orbits and how much mass it contains.

Kepler, which monitors stars in the constellation Cygnus, was launched to find out how many Earth-like worlds are orbiting a sampling of 156,000 stars like the sun.

Actually finding an Earth-sized world circling as far from its star as Earth orbits the sun will take 365 days of observations to detect one pass, plus another year or two of data to verify the orbital period.

If Kepler's latest head count is confirmed, the list of extrasolar planets will more than triple.

"One of the things that is still a work in progress is to figure out how many of the candidate planets are real planets," Jonathan Fortney, assistant professor of astronomy and astrophysics at University of California, Santa Cruz, told Discovery News.

"This is some kind of planetary tsunami," said astronomer Geoff Marcy, with the University of California, Berkeley. "The implication is that there are lots and lots of Earth-sized planets in our Milky Way."

An independent analysis by astrophysicists at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) shows Kepler's track record of finding extrasolar planets is better than 80 percent.

The Kepler 11 study appears in this week's Nature. The Caltech analysis appears on arXiv.org. The Kepler science mission data, collected between May 2 and Sept. 16, 2009, was released by NASA Wednesday and will be published in an upcoming issue of The Astrophysical Journal.
Exoplanet Bonanza Boosts Count by 1,200 : Discovery News
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Old 02-02-2011, 10:35 PM
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oooh
Space is amazing. Perhaps a Pandora is on one of these planets.
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Old 02-02-2011, 10:52 PM
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Well it did say 54 lie in 'life-friendly' orbits. Maybe just one of those, just maybe.
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Old 02-02-2011, 11:36 PM
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This is awesome.

Hopefully there's a Polyphemus floating around somewhere out there.
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Old 02-02-2011, 11:56 PM
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Wow thats amazing, wish we could travel through space......
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Old 02-03-2011, 04:06 AM
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There everywhere!

Imagine the diversity and uniqueness all of these planets must have, just look at at our own solar system!
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Old 02-03-2011, 05:39 AM
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Photometry was bound to yield these kind of results...finally, now we go from 1 planet that was disputably in its star's habitable zone to 54. Simply awesome.
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Old 02-03-2011, 06:46 PM
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At this rate, I don't think discovery of extrasolar life can be far off. Ten--maybe twenty?--years. The conspiracy theorist in me still wonders whether such a discovery would be immediately made public, but the rest of me is excited.
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Old 02-03-2011, 06:53 PM
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Originally Posted by Eywa's Pet View Post
At this rate, I don't think discovery of extrasolar life can be far off. Ten--maybe twenty?--years. The conspiracy theorist in me still wonders whether such a discovery would be immediately made public, but the rest of me is excited.
That's the thing though, discovering extrasolar life is very far off, if we can ever do it at all. These planetary systems we're finding are lightyears and lightyears away, too far to even tell us what their atmospheric structure is, let alone if there's life there or not. We're years away from developing any sort of technology that could take us closer to any of this, let alone the millenia it would take to traverse such a distance.
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Old 02-03-2011, 10:16 PM
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Originally Posted by The Man in Black View Post
That's the thing though, discovering extrasolar life is very far off, if we can ever do it at all. These planetary systems we're finding are lightyears and lightyears away, too far to even tell us what their atmospheric structure is, let alone if there's life there or not. We're years away from developing any sort of technology that could take us closer to any of this, let alone the millenia it would take to traverse such a distance.
I'd agree if we were talking about actually observing extrasolar ETs, but I'm simply talking about detecting evidence of their existence. In just the last few years, the discoveries of extrasolar planets have exploded. Each of these discoveries adds to the list of interesting places we might aim our radiotelescopes and other instruments. Until very recently, we only had very broad heuristics to guide us.

We'll see!

As for extraterrestrial life in general (not just intelligence), I can't wait to see what happens in a few months when we get our first glimps of Lake Vostok. Could be a very stong indication of similar microbial ETs on Europa or elsewhere in our own solar system. Very exciting times we're in!
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Old 02-03-2011, 10:44 PM
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May 2011: The Discovery of Pandora/Earth 2.0
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Old 02-04-2011, 02:26 AM
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54 habitable-zone planets? Amazing

As for finding the species there - well, if people finally start developing some decent propulsion technology, we might, otherwise we'll have to wait for them to find us
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Old 02-04-2011, 08:59 AM
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We'd probably need to launch an array of James Webb Space Telescopes to see any exoplanet with any degree of clarity.
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Old 02-04-2011, 09:14 AM
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Cosmic Commodities: How much is a new planet worth? - Boing Boing

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It's not hard to imagine that if you have a really alluring Earth-mass [world at] Alpha Centauri, that even in the current climate there might be the political and public will to launch an ambitious mission to characterize it.
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Old 02-04-2011, 10:49 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Dreaming Of Pandora View Post
We'd probably need to launch an array of James Webb Space Telescopes to see any exoplanet with any degree of clarity.
Then we should... It's one of the most important things that could be done
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