Some big news dropped quietly during a recent TED talk in the UK: Kepler co-investigator Dimitar Sasselov jumped the gun -- and likely angered a few colleagues -- with one of his presentation slides, letting the audience (and the world) know that Kepler has identified at least 140 "candidate" planets in the Milky Way that are "like Earth." That is, they are small, rocky exoplanets with at least an outside chance of harboring life.
Sasselov describes the planets as "candidates" early on in his presentation, but switches to the more exciting description "like Earth" as the talk progresses. Then the slides come out, showing data collected by Kepler that suggest that there are more planets "like Earth" in our galaxy than there are gas giants and other planetary profiles.
"The small planets dominate the picture," Sasselov says. "The planets which are like Earth are definitely more than any of the planets that we see, and now for the first time we can say that" (English isn't Sasselov's first language, so cut him some slack). He continues: "The statistical result is loud and clear. And the statistical result is that planets like our own Earth are out there. The galaxy is rich in these kinds of planets."
How rich? Sasselov says that there could be as many as 100 million planets with habitable potential in the Milky Way alone. Of course, while that's exciting news for most of us, for NASA it isn't necessarily a welcome revelation. Most NASA results are supposed to remain proprietary for about a year so in-house scientists can get first shot at the data the agency and country spends so much money on. Sasselov's spilling of the beans gives the public an early look at data that was slated for release in February of next year.
But don't let a minor scientific scandal overshadow the most important part of this leaked data. Earth, it turns out, may not be as unique as we originally thought. In fact, Earth might be cut from a fairly common galactic cloth. If that's the case, it certainly bolsters the idea that life might exist elsewhere in our cosmic neighborhood.
Check out the whole TED talk below (Sasselov drops the Kepler data bomb starting at about 8 minutes in).
Clarification: Sasselov's mention of "candidate" planets means exactly that – they are unvetted candidates. Neither Kepler nor NASA researchers have confirmed that they are "Earth-like," or even actual planets for that matter. Sasselov clarifies in a blog post here, our own brief update is here.
cool but can we actually live there?
I want to know the odds of a star having planets, and the odds of one of those planets being a small rocky orb in the goldilocks-zone and how close the nearest one of these planets is. I mean, theoretically, most any of these planets could at some point be terraformed (if currently barren) and thus support future humans...
If life is abundant in the galaxy, does that decrease any moral duty we have to spread/preserve intelligent life?
That is, many argue that we have a moral duty to colonize outside of Earth to make sure intelligent life continues to exist in the universe. If life is everywhere, does this duty disappear?
I don't necessarily subscribe to these beliefs, but I'd be interested to hear from those that do.
Any other earth like planets are going to be so far away it will be real costly to get to and do any colonizing or teraforming. That is, if we don't find a fast and cheap way to travel in space.
That said, the best bet for any colonizing is Mars and that would be expensive enough to try and do.
It sounds like you are implying that we do in fact have this "moral(?)" duty to spread our "intelligent(?)" life throughout the galaxy, and colonize the cosmos. However I do not feel that we have any obligation, nor the right to do so.
Colonization of humans has been the most destructive force that this planet has ever seen. It has been the cause of empires, wars, genocides and an unprecedented destruction of the natural environment. For us to take our evil ways to another world would be the most irresponsible thing that I think we can do as a species.
Until our civilization understands the power of love and good energy I think that we should not contaminate the solar system. I would say that we have more of a moral duty to self destruct than to colonize the galaxy...
@paul -- I've never heard of this "moral" obligation you speak of. I think more accurately, it could be placed within an "ethical" argument. But, from my perspective, I'm not entirely sure spreading the Human race (at our current evolutionary state) would be ethical OR good for anything or anybody. We can be such a beautiful people, but oh so ugly and terrible as well. I'd say, if we can survive the next 100 years (which will be hard enough) and we can finally achieve a global solidarity with our fellow species. If we have finally realized our nation states and "boarders" are mere geographical illusions of floating plates, *not* birth-rites. If we can finally expel all our ancient superstitions, myths and fears (insert all religion/mythology here). Then .... maybe then we can talk about what we could offer other civilizations through way of advice, kinship and galactic-solidarity. Until then, I'm afraid we may just reside in the armpit of the galaxy - and for very good reason at that.
Is there an echo in here?
@aware -- check the comment time-stamps. I must have begun writing just as you submitted yours. But, upon reading your comment ... yes. I would say our opinions "echo" quite nicely. Although, I'm afraid my response is void of a clever lego representation ;(
when did humanity become so self-loathing? I recognize that we have a checkered past, and will likely continue to have our issues in the future. none-the-less, intellegent life is, as far as we know, unique among the stars. warts and all. because we have made mistakes durring our development, we should allow ourselves to fall by the universal wayside?
I disagree. we must continue to learn from our mistakes and advance. We cannot abdicate our place in the universe without even trying to take it. We should do so responcibly, of course, but even on the chance that intellegent life is truly unique to earth, I do think we have a moral obligation to do what we can to preserve it. Not because of what we have been, or even what we are. Because of what we have the potential to be.
just cause a planet is earth-like doesn't mean there's life there, or intelligent life, if a planet is just inhabited by just plants, or small creatures why not colonize it? as long as we respect the native life forms.
as for the misanthropes in here (you know who you are)who believe mankind should never colonize other worlds I just have this to say;for one thing we WILL no matter what, as the population grows and man's curiosity remains, I'm positive we will. Two, you don't think other life forms have war? I would be surprised if they didn't
While i believe that we do have a moral obligation, I don't think it really matters when it gets right down the the bare bones of it. Humans have always had a strong sense of self preservation, and that will not stop anytime soon. even people convinced that humanity has no right to continued exsistance thanks to how we've treated our planet are not lining up to jump off a cliff.
humanity will endure simply because that is what we do. untill something beyond our ability to stop ends us, we will endure.
the idea of a moral impreative comes in, not as much to preserve intellegent life, but to preserve human life. we have all of our eggs in one basket right now, if we colonize mars, then we have two baskets. its basic preservation of the species, the more baskets, the better chances of survival. the discovery of life on other planets won't change that. meeting an alien race won't convince us to sit quietly on our rock and wait for the end. Humanity will endure, I don't think we are a species to give up without a fight.
@Abrems -- I agree. Don't take my pessimism as a blank stare at what "could be". Its just that the fact still remains .... we *aren't* learning. We *aren't* changing. In some cases, we are actually getting worse. To further complex things, while our social abilities for solidarity, peace and love remain stagnant. Our willingness, technology and ingenuity to obliterate ourselves grows at an exponential rate. Sadly, the odds just don't look good for us. Take this aspect, (I realize this seems completely unrelated) I read the other day that as soon as the credit card companies heard about the proposed legislation that would cut rates, penalties and fees, they had already found a way to circumvent this new legislation and enact *new* fees and penalties. Shockingly, the same goes for wallstreet. As soon as word broke of "sweeping" change and regulation to cut corruption, they already had processes in place that would further their goals of unbridled greed. Again, I realize this seems unrelated to the topic, but take that (which seems to be innate in us) and multiply that to global factors across the board. Sadly, we see that greed wins over thrift. Indifference wins over empathy. And hate/intolerance wins over love and compassion. My original point is that we may someday get to a place where we could provide meaningful context beyond our earth-bound borders ... but it certainly isn't now.
I like you Abremms, and I second all your statements.
@chad_is_rad I'm not going to disagree with your 100 year time scale to colonize other planets, not because I think that's when we will become much more mature and hold hands, but because it'll take that long and longer to develop/employ a means to travel to another planet with materials to stay.
sorry for a possible double post but..
@chad That was well worded and understandable, so I take back my jab of "holding hands." I do think we need to mature as a species, but I don't think we should put exploration on hold until that point. I mean, look at NASA astronauts. I don't think people want to become an astronaut for greedy reasons, they are in it for the experience and the knowledge they are pushing the envelop of humanities capabilities. I think the first pioneers of the space frontier will have similar characteristics, combined with a high sense of purpose, enabling us to do well on another world.
@CoolHand -- Ahh, but will it? If you factor in the equations of exponential growth, that's simply impossible to say. With today's methods/abilities ... you are quite right. But not even close when you take into consideration these other factor. In 100 years, our technology could have grown by a factor of 10,000 years. Think about it....
The moral obligation idea came from this PopSci post (I don't know where I stand on the idea, but it's interesting):
@aware, chad: Interesting posts. Does this extend to uninhabited planets? If there's no life on a planet, is there a duty to protect it? Who is the duty owed to? The harms you cite are those that affect other species or affect mankind, so it's not clear where the boundaries are.
@chad: Also, one minor comment, citing religion as a problem might be misplaced here. I understand your complaint to be against greed, but don't many religions teach not to be greedy. So here, you're co-lobbyists on the same point.
I'm glad to hear that there are more earthlike planets out there. Kepler's a great mission.
I wasn't quite sure what Sasselov was saying after he was done talking about Kepler and more talking about his focus on the search for life on the habitable planets.
Is he saying that they will be looking for microbial lifeforms instead of intelligent ones?
99.9999999999999% of an atom is empty space
"100 million planets with habitable potential in the Milky Way alone."
Let me see 100,000,000 million earth-like planets in our galaxy and over 200,000,000,000 galaxies in our observable universe that means they may be as little as 2,000,000,000,000,000,000 earth-like planets in our universe.
We think that the most likely spot in our solar system to find life outside our bluish rocky pearl is on ice covered moons of gas giants like Jupiter and Saturn that are so far away from our sun that they get only one percent of the sun light that an earth-like planet gets? With this new metric of the moons of gas giants that also may harbor life like our own, now what are the odds of finding life on one of these worlds in a universe with about 2,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 possibilities???
You know, that's what I've always thought when watching shows that take place in the future. Some are overly optimistic, but those that take place in the distant future are underly optimistic. We will achieve self improving machines soon and reach an exponential level of progress.
How about a compromise: you can stay here wallowing in your own self hatred, while we colonize space actually surviving the next million years.
"Colonization of humans has been the most destructive force that this planet has ever seen. It has been the cause of empires, wars, genocides and an unprecedented destruction of the natural environment."
alright not to just try and argue with every thing your saying, but thats called greed. lol but yea i think that would also happen if we tried to colonize at another planet. so your correct, if you just said that greed was the problem.
The world is starting to seem like some weird darren brown episode (here's a couple youtube ?v=IOEKdaXIEHc and ?v=f29kF1vZ62o)
Using a program of repetition and subtle suggestion leading us to accept our own destruction. Trained self hatred, self loathing, hatred of all the things that are actually good. Accept all bad things are promoted as actually good. Focus only on the negatives of some things, only on the positives of others depending on how you want to influence. And remember repetition and subtle suggestion is key. Look for it and you'll be surprised once you start paying attention where you'll find it, just how much of it is out there, and who is doing it.
As for the exoplanets very cool. Makes you wonder just how much life is out there and what it's like. I wish I could go see any of it.
I hope one of those planets are pandora.
@paul -- My critique on religion has much more to do with it's blatant lack of critical thinking, a concept that would be much beneficial to a species trying to discover new worlds and intelligent lifeforms. Think about it? You think Christianity/religion is less-than-impressive to us lowly atheists .... think of how much *LESS* impressive it will be to a higher form of intelligence. Just imagine meeting such a being and the first thing we ask is if they've discovered their lord and savior Jesus Christ? Sheeeshh ..... not a conversation I'd like to have!
@Chad: I understand that your critique against religion is that when aliens come, we'll be embarassed to explain Jesus. Let me know if I'm missing your point. This makes me chuckle a bit though, that you wouldn't be more worried about explaining Jesus than explaining why we can't stop killing each other. Or explaining our greed, our laziness or, to be brief, our other deadly sins. ;) Once again, it seems like you should be a co-lobbyist with religion to reduce the embarassing things we'll have to explain. Not to mention that these aliens will probably have figured out things that make our scientific theories look as kooky as you view religion now.
More broadly, if your attack is really at declines in critical thinking, why aren't you focused more on our failing schools, our drop-out rates and our decline in hard science Ph.D.'s? Why single out religion, which only distracts from your larger point? These don't offer any positive effects, but you still attack religion before attacking them. Doesn't seem rational. ;)
@Chad - increased intellect does not necessarily result in atheism. faith really has nothing to do with ones IQ. as i understand it, many of the greatest minds in the last 100 years were agnostic.
"Science without Religion Is Lame, Religion without Science Is Blind" - Albert Einstien
Blind faith will leave us bickering here on earth till the end, and lame science will be untempered by necessities like ethics and humility. who is to stop scientists from playing God if there is no God to begin with?
the two are not mutualy exclusive, they are two sides of a coin. Idealy the twin temples of religion and science will balance each other.
@Chad - What's to say aliens don't have a faith of their own? Those of us who believe in God believe He inhabits and created the entire Universe. Aliens may very well have the same ideology that we do about a higher being.
@Paul -- Thanks for pointing out all the claims I *wasn't* making. I replied to your comment on religion, because that's what *you* referenced within my post. I apologize if I didn't get into my perspective on the entire history of the world and include a complete manuscript of my views here on Popsci. Maybe read some of my other comments where religion is a fraction of what I touch upon. If my rationale still gives you a "chuckle," well hey ... we all need a good laugh now and then. Glad I could oblige
@Abremms -- I think you need to do a little more research, especially on Einstein. He was quite livid in regards to how his metaphorical views/comments on "god" were taken out of context. I suggest some of his personal journals that were recently released a few years back in which he refers to religion (Christianity) as a "child's fairytale" (his words). Also, it's funny you mention IQ as there *was* a recent study that found correlation (but not causation) between atheism and IQ ... as well as our propensity towards liberalism. However, I *don't* agree with that and never said anything about atheists being smarter. Newton was the greatest scientific mind ever (and really religious.) But, I'm tired of doing your research for you.
i never said anything about any specific religion. i agree that christianity is a childrens fairytail. i was speaking of faith. its quite different. Belief in some sort of creator does not equal belief in jesus christ, why would you assume it does? like i said, science without religion is untempered by things like humilty, something you (and nearly every other atheist i've spoken to) have absolutely no concept of.
pride, hubris, arrogance... these are the things i have seen in all of your posts so far. they are SEETHING with it. you consider your intellect, and therefor yourself to be superior to others. deny it if you wish, the tone of your posts makes it clear. Try explaining your pride to the aliens, not a conversation i'd like to have.
and bringing things back to the topic at hand, human arrogance is both the millstone around our neck and our salvation. applied properly, we will have the audacity to reach for the stars. applied improperly, we will bicker like children to the end (not unlike religion without science).