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Posts Tagged ‘planet’

NASA Announces Discovery of First Rocky Planet Outside Solar System

January 10, 2011 Leave a comment

The Kepler Spacecraft. Photo: NASA

It seems every couple weeks there is another story regarding exoplanets.

Oh well, they always seem exciting to me.

In a statement released today, NASA said

NASA’s Kepler mission confirmed the discovery of its first rocky planet, named Kepler-10b. Measuring 1.4 times the size of Earth, it is the smallest planet ever discovered outside our solar system.

The discovery of this so-called exoplanet is based on more than eight months of data collected by the spacecraft from May 2009 to early January 2010.

The Kepler mission is designed specifically to search for exoplanets roughly the size of Earth. It does this through a technique called the Transit Method.

Essentially, Kepler will watch a star for several hours. If a planet orbits that star, it may pass in front of the star and briefly reduce the apparent brightness. By measuring how much dimmer the star gets, and how often it happens, it is possible to determine the size and orbit period of the planet.

While this is a pretty cool discovery, don’t get your hope up about habitable planets yet.

Kepler is the first NASA mission capable of finding Earth-size planets in or near the habitable zone, the region in a planetary system where liquid water can exist on the planet’s surface. However, since it orbits once every 0.84 days, Kepler-10b is more than 20 times closer to its star than Mercury is to our sun and not in the habitable zone.

Did We Really Find an Earth-Like Planet?

September 30, 2010 2 comments

Distant Planet “Could Have Life”

New Planet May be Able to Nurture Organisms

Astronomers Discover ‘Goldilocks’ Planet that Could Be Just Right For Life

1st Habitable Distant Planet Found

Yup, we have all seen the headlines. Now it’s just a matter of time before the aliens descend upon us. Or is it?

Astronomers can actually tell if a planet is orbiting a star by looking at the light of the star itself. As the planet orbits, it tugs on the star ever-so-slightly. This causes the light emitted by the star to be doppler-shifted. Basically this means that the colour of the star changes as the planet orbits.

By looking at how much the colour of the star changes, and how often it changes, we can tell how big the planet is, and how far away from the parent star it is.

That’s pretty freakin’ amazing if you think about it. And now, astronomers have announced that there is a planet roughly 3 times the size of the Earth orbiting a star called Gliese 581, a red dwarf star roughly 20 light years away. The planet is called Gliese 581g.

Artists impression of Gliese 581g. Credit: NSF

What is making this headline news is that the planet is orbiting the star in the so-called “Goldilocks” zone. A distance which is just far enough from the star that liquid water could exist on the surface. Many scientists believe that liquid water is essential to the development of life. THAT’S whats gotten the media’s attention.

While I hate to cheapen the importance of this discovery, because it is important, we shouldn’t start panicking about a possible alien invasion just yet.

The only things we are sure of is that the planet is roughly 3 times the size of Earth, and orbits about 1/6 of the distance of the Earth from the Sun. That’s all. Yes, it is possible that liquid water could exist on the surface. This means that it is possible that life could develop on the planet, at some point. But we don’t know that, its just speculation.

Phil Plait also wrote about this on Bad Astronomy. It’s important to clarify what the scientists have actually discovered, and what the news outlets put into their articles. He also points out that perhaps the most important thing about this discovery is that 1) we can detect planets roughly the size of the Earth and 2) that if we can find Earth-size planets only 20 light years from Earth, it is very possible that our galaxy is teeming with planets. Very, very exciting.

For those interested, here is a link to the .pdf of the paper detailing the discovery of the planet. Like I said, it’s a pretty cool discovery, but we haven’t found the Klingon homeworld just yet.

Klingon homeworld of Kronos

What Does Saturn Look Like From an Asteroid?

July 14, 2010 Leave a comment

The spacecraft Rosetta is on its way to comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. But along the way, they decided to fly it by asteroid Lutetia. On July 10th, Rosetta got to within 3200 km of Lutetia, and the ESA streamed the approach live online.

Now, they have released the photos and they are AWESOME!

This one is my favourite. They managed to catch Saturn in the background when Rosetta was about 36000 km away.

Asteroid Lutetia with Saturn in the background

You can check out all the photos from the flyby on the ESA’s website.