October 1, 2013 § Leave a comment
This is our best estimate for the number of potentially life-bearing worlds among the planets spotted by Kepler. But we’re missing much of the picture.
Kepler could spot only planets that passed between their parent stars and the telescope’s viewpoint – even a slight tilt in a planet’s orbit could make it invisible to the telescope. And the farther out a planet orbits, the more likely it was to be missed.
After extrapolating for all the missing worlds, Kepler’s field of view becomes dense with planets that may be like Earth.
Now consider this: Kepler observed just 0.28 per cent of the sky. And the telescope was able to peer out to only 3000 light years away, studying less than 5 per cent of the stars in its field of view. So how many Earths might really be out there? read more
PHOTOGRAPH: Bob Mazzer
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April 22, 2013 § Leave a comment
NASA’s Kepler mission has been hunting for worlds beyond our solar system for a little over four years now, and it’s been enormously successful. In that time, it’s spotted literally thousands of planetary candidates. Today, three distant worlds – dubbed Kepler-62f, Kepler-62e, and Kepler-69c – have achieved planetary confirmation, while joining an elite cadre of so-called habitable planets.
Kepler-62f and 62e possess radii just 1.4- and 1.6-times that of Earth’s, respectively, and orbit a star some 1,200 light years away, along with three other newly discovered planets. Kepler-69c, on the other hand, has a radius 1.7-times that of Earth, and orbits a star around 2,700 light years distant from our own. Together, the three newly discovered worlds have become the second, third, and fourth known bodies to wear the badge of “Earth-like, habitable zone planet.”…
“Kepler-62e probably has a very cloudy sky and is warm and humid all the way to the polar regions,” said co-author Dimitar Sasselov in a statement. “Kepler-62f would be cooler, but still potentially life-friendly.”
The pair belong to a five-planet system that includes 62d, 62c and 62b. These latter three planets vary in size, but orbit far too close to the system’s parent star to have any chance of harboring water or life.
“There may be life [on 62f and 62e], but could it be technology-based like ours? Life on these worlds would be under water with no easy access to metals, to electricity, or fire for metallurgy,” said lead author Lisa Kaltenegger in a statement.
“Nonetheless, these worlds will still be beautiful blue planets circling an orange star — and maybe life’s inventiveness to get to a technology stage will surprise us.” read more
PHOTOGRAPH: Patrick Joust