Two small, scorched Earth-sized worlds orbiting a reddish sun-like star in the Cygnus constellation mark yet another milestone for the storied Kepler Space Telescope mission. They're the smallest exoplanets found to date — one of them is just 1.03 times the size of Earth, a veritable body double.
Nestled in the Goldilocks zone of a small, sun-like star is a room-temperature world a little more than twice the size of Earth. Scientists do not yet know if it is rocky or gaseous and whether it has water or clouds, but they do know that it's the right size, and in the right place, for liquid water to exist. If it does exist, it may be one of the best places to look for life outside of our solar system.
The new planet, Kepler-22, is about 600 light-years away and the smallest planet confirmed to exist smack in the middle of the habitable zone of a sun-like star. It's one of the most stunning announcements from the Kepler Space Telescope, which stares at a field of stars in the constellations Cygnus and Lyra and looks for blips in brightness to find other planets. While Kepler has (as of today) found more than 2,000 possible planets, finding an Earth-like world in a sun-like environment has proved elusive — until now.
A gigantic radio telescope in Virginia has started listening to 86 Earth-like planet candidates identified by the Kepler Space Telescope, hoping to hear signs of alien life. Astronomers aren’t even sure the stars to which they are listening actually harbor planets, let alone radio-communicating extraterrestrials, but hey, we might as well bend an ear, right?
Updated: Scores of Earth-like planets orbit sun-like stars scattered throughout the Milky Way, NASA scientists said today. This morning, the agency released data on more than 1,000 new exoplanets, and early indications are that 54 of them are at just the right distance from their stars to harbor life as we know it.
If it seems like a new extrasolar planet is discovered every week these days, that's because there is. In fact, the rate is actually faster than one per week – 70 have been discovered thus far this year alone, bringing the overall tally of confirmed exoplanets at 494. At that pace we very well might hit exoplanet number 500 before the end of this month.
The numbers are in, the data has been analyzed, and the date is now set: the discovery of an earth-like, habitable planet will be announced in May of next year. At least, that’s the conclusion reached by two professors at Harvard and U. of California, Santa Cruz, whose mathematical projections say that given the current pace of exoplanet discoveries, the finding of a suitable planet for life is right around the corner.
Yesterday, everyone got excited (PopSci included) at the idea, drawn from Kepler scientist Dimitar Sasselov's TED talk, that the Kepler planet-hunting mission had turned up 140 new "Earth-like" planets.
In a blog post today, Sasselov clarifies that that wasn't exactly what he meant.
Europe's Euclid space telescope could pick up on distorted light from distant galaxies, and pick up clues on the existence of dark energy.
S. Colombi (IAP), CFHT Team
Dark energy may not have much in common with aliens, unless there's a flotilla of freaky monoliths out there with really weird physical properties. But astrophysicists hope to build a two-in-one space telescope that can search for signs of dark energy along with exoplanets.