February 18, 2012
Posted by in Science and Technology | 5.40am | 981 views
I have interests in many subjects. I just don’t have enough time in the day to get deeper into many of the subjects that captures my mind. One of my field of interest is science. Not too long ago, I blogged about the discovery of the Goldilocks Planet. This is a term used to describe planets that fall in a region which allows the planet to maintain liquid water on it’s surface. It’s also known as the Habitable Zone.
Water has been said to be the source of life. So if there’s water found on other planets, is it so hard to believe that there may be life on other planets? If there are, then what does that make us? Perhaps life on Earth is not that unique after all…
Scientists have discovered hundreds of planets in this Habitable Zone! They have found more solid proof on the existence of many other planets in the Universe which can support life. They are planets that are similar to Earth in almost all aspects. Scientists even talked about the possibility of the existence of alien life forms… Wow… Can you imagine there are other life forms outside of our planet? Amazing, isn’t it?
NASA Telescope Confirms Alien Planet in Habitable Zone
By Mike Wall, SPACE.com Senior Writer
MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. — NASA’s planet-hunting Kepler spacecraft has confirmed the discovery of its first alien world in its host star’s habitable zone — that just-right range of distances that could allow liquid water to exist — and found more than 1,000 new explanet candidates, researchers announced today (Dec. 5).
The new finds bring the Kepler space telescope’s total haul to 2,326 potential planets in its first 16 months of operation.These discoveries, if confirmed, would quadruple the current tally of worlds known to exist beyond our solar system, which recently topped 700.
The potentially habitable alien world, a first for Kepler, orbits a star very much like our own sun. The discovery brings scientists one step closer to finding a planet like our own — one which could conceivably harbor life, scientists said.
“We’re getting closer and closer to discovering the so-called ‘Goldilocks planet,’” Pete Worden, director of NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif., said during a press conference today. [Gallery: The Strangest Alien Planets].
The new found planet in the habitable zone is called Kepler-22b. It is located about 600 light-years away, orbiting a sun-like star.
Kepler-22b’s radius is 2.4 times that of Earth, and the two planets have roughly similar temperatures. If the greenhouse effect operates there similarly to how it does on Earth, the average surface temperature on Kepler-22b would be 72 degrees Fahrenheit (22 degrees Celsius).
Hunting down alien planets
The $600 million Kepler observatory launched in March 2009 to hunt for Earth-size alien planets in the habitable zone of their parent stars, where liquid water, and perhaps even life, might be able to exist.
Kepler detects alien planets using what’s called the “transit method.” It searches for tiny, telltale dips in a star’s brightness caused when a planet transits — or crosses in front of — the star from Earth’s perspective, blocking a fraction of the star’s light.
The finds graduate from “candidates” to full-fledged planets after follow-up observations confirm that they’re not false alarms. This process, which is usually done with large, ground-based telescopes, can take about a year.
The Kepler team released data from its first 13 months of operation back in February, announcing that the instrument had detected 1,235 planet candidates, including 54 in the habitable zone and 68 that are roughly Earth-size.
Of the total 2,326 candidate planets that Kepler has found to date, 207 are approximately Earth-size. More of them, 680, are a bit larger than our planet, falling into the “super-Earth” category. The total number of candidate planets in the habitable zones of their stars is now 48.
To date, just over two dozen of these potential exoplanets have been confirmed, but Kepler scientists have estimated that at least 80 percent of the instrument’s discoveries should end up being the real deal.
More discoveries to come
The newfound 1,094 planet candidates are the fruit of Kepler’s labors during its first 16 months of science work, from May 2009 to September 2010. And they won’t be the last of the prolific instrument’s discoveries.
“This is a major milestone on the road to finding Earth’s twin,” Douglas Hudgins, Kepler program scientist at NASA headquarters in Washington, D.C., said in a statement.
Mission scientists still need to analyze data from the last two years and on into the future. Kepler will be making observations for a while yet to come; its nominal mission is set to end in November 2012, but the Kepler team is preparing a proposal to extend the instrument’s operations for another year or more.
Kepler’s finds should only get more exciting as time goes on, researchers say.
“We’re pushing down to smaller planets and longer orbital periods,” said Natalie Batalha, Kepler deputy science team lead at Ames.
To flag a potential planet, the instrument generally needs to witness three transits. Planets that make three transits in just a few months must be pretty close to their parent stars; as a result, many of the alien worlds Kepler spotted early on have been blisteringly hot places that aren’t great candidates for harboring life as we know it.
Given more time, however, a wealth of more distantly orbiting — and perhaps more Earth-like — exoplanets should open up to Kepler. If intelligent aliens were studying our solar system with their own version of Kepler, after all, it would take them three years to detect our home planet.
“We are getting very close,” Batalha said. “We are homing in on the truly Earth-size, habitable planets.”
This undated handout artist rendering provided by NASA shows Kepler-22b, a planet known to comfortably circle in the habitable zone of a sun-like star. It is the first planet that NASA’s Kepler mission has confirmed to orbit in a star’s habitable zone – the region around a star where liquid water, a requirement for life on Earth, could persist. NASA has found the new planet outside our solar system that’s eerily similar to Earth in key aspects. Scientists say the temperature on the surface of the planet is about a comfy 72 degrees. Its star could almost be a twin of our sun. It likely has water and land. (AP Photo/NASA/Ames/JPL-Caltech)
A diagram comparing our own solar system to Kepler-22, a star system containing the first “habitable zone” planet discovered by NASA’s Kepler mission in an image released by NASA on December 5, 2011. TEUTERS/NASA/Ames/JPL-Caltech
MONFFETT FIELD, CA – DECEMBER 05: Natalie Batalha, Kepler deputy Science team lead at NASA Ames Research Center speaks during a news conference about the newly discovered planet Kepler-22b during a news conference at the NASA Ames Research Center on December 5, 2011 in Moffett Field, California. Sceintists with NASA’s Kepler mission announced that they discovered a planet in the “habitable zone” where water could exist on the planet’s surface. The newly confirmed planet is being called Kepler-22b and is approximately 2.4 times the radius of earth and orbits a start similar to the earth’s sun (Photo by Justin Sillivan/Getty Images)
MOFFETT FIELD, CA – DECEMBER 05: Bill Borucki, Kepler Principal Investigator at NASA Ames Research Center speaks during a news conference about the newly discovered planet Kepler-22b during a news conference at the NASA Ames Research Center on December 5, 2011 in Moffett Field, California. Scientists with NASA’s Kepler mission announced that they discovered a planet in the “habitable zone” where water could exist on the planet’s surface. The newly confirmed planet is being called Kepler-22b and is approximately 2.4 times the radius of earth and orbits a star similar to the earth’s sun. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
MOFFETT FIELD, CA – DECEMBER 05: Jill Tarter, director of the Center for SETI Research looks at a graphic showing the newly discovered planet Kepler-22b during a news conference at the NASA Ames Research Center on December 5, 2011 in Moffett Field, California. Scientists with NASA’s Kepler mission announced that they discovered a planet in the “habitable zone” where water could exist on the planet’s surface. The newly confirmed planet is being called Kepler-22b and is approximately 2.4 times the radius of earth and orbits a star similar to the earth’s sun. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/ Getty Images)
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