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54 new planets may support life/sunlike star discovered

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Last Edited: February 8, 2011, 8:51 pm

An orbiting NASA telescope is finding whole new worlds of possibilities in the search for alien life, including more than 50 potential planets that appear to be in the habitable zone.

In a year of peering out at a small slice of the galaxy, the Kepler telescope has spotted 1,235 possible planets outside our solar   system. Amazingly, 54 seem to be in the zone that could be hospitable to life -- not too hot or too cold, Kepler chief scientist William Borucki said last week.

Until now, only two planets outside our solar system were even thought to be in the "Goldilocks zone." And both those discoveries are highly disputed. So 54 possibilities is "an inconceivable amount," Borucki said.

The more than 1,200 newfound bodies aren't confirmed as planets yet, but Borucki estimates 80% will be eventually.

After that, it's a big step in proving that a confirmed planet has basic conditions needed to support life, such as the proper size, composition, temperature and distance from its star. More advanced aspects such as the presence of water and carbon require telescopes that aren't built yet.

Just because a planet is in the habitable zone doesn't mean it has life. Mars is a good example. And when scientists look for life, it's not necessarily intelligent life; it could be bacteria or mold or a form people can't even imagine.

Before Wednesday's announcement, the count of planets outside the solar system was 519. That means Kepler could triple the number of known planets.

Kepler also found there are many more relatively small planets, and more stars with more than one planet circling them -- all hopeful signs in the search for life.

All the stars Kepler looks at are in our Milky Way galaxy, but they're so far away that traveling there is not a realistic option. In some cases, it would take many millions of years with current technology.

What gets astronomers excited is that the more planets there are, the greater the odds that life exists elsewhere.

Handshake to www.freep.com for the article

 

Astronomers have discovered a sunlike star orbited by six detected planets. The finding may help explain how our solar system formed.

Few stars have been found with more than one orbiting planet that people can observe, according to a new report in the journal Nature.

But the planets of Kepler-11, a dwarf star about 2,000 light-years from Earth, have two to 13 times the Earth's mass, said Eric Ford, associate astronomy professor at the University of Florida in Gainesville and one of the study's authors.

Until scientists can look at more planetary systems, it is impossible to know whether the solar system is normal or unusual, Ford said. Kepler-11 was discovered using NASA's Kepler space telescope.

"We have a very detailed knowledge of our own system, but we're limited because it's only one example," Ford said. "This solar system could be an oddball. Are we run-of-the mill or are we rare?"

All the detected planets orbit in about the same plane. So do the planets in our system. That suggests that planets form in a disk of gas and dust that circles a star and keep the pattern of the initial disk.

All six of the planets discovered have short orbits. The five inner planets circle the star in time periods ranging from 10 to 47 days, and the sixth planet takes 118 days.

Mercury, the smallest and innermost solar planet, orbits the sun in about 88 days and has about 6% of Earth's mass.

"This bodes well for the possibility that there are several planets that are further out," Ford said.

Handshake to www.freep.com for the article

Entry #169

Comments

1.
JAP69Comment by JAP69 - February 8, 2011, 9:17 pm
Thanks CutlassBob,
It would not surprise me on life being on other planets.
I was at you tube last night looking at vids on mars and someone had a vid pointing out the possibility of petrified wood on mars that shows on the vid.
2.
JAP69Comment by JAP69 - February 8, 2011, 9:22 pm
If you have not seen it it is here about the petrified wood.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9cqDe-6WsBI
3.
CutlassBobComment by CutlassBob - February 8, 2011, 9:32 pm
Thanks JAP69 i will check it out as soon as NCIS is over :).
4.
time*treatComment by time*treat - February 9, 2011, 12:32 am
I wonder how much is being discovered rather than simply being disclosed. At some point, the Fundies are going to take this all very badly.
5.
sully16Comment by sully16 - February 9, 2011, 8:32 am
How do we get there.

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