Thursday, February 27, 2014

715 new planets orbiting 305 stars just like ours

Sou | 11:10 PM Go to the first of 8 comments. Add a comment

With science deniers like Roy Spencer and Anthony Watts losing it. After all their slimy innuendos over the years these nutters have the effrontery to play the victim, with Roy Spencer even going to far as to imply climate science is causing world poverty.

Anyway, rather than getting spattered by the muck they are throwing about, I thought I'd treat HotWhopper readers to something exciting and uplifting.

Let's look to the stars.  Or I should say, to the planets. From NASA:

The artist concept depicts multiple-transiting planet systems, which are stars with more than one planet. The planets eclipse or transit their host star from the vantage point of the observer. This angle is called edge-on. 
Image Credit: NASA

NASA's Kepler mission announced Wednesday the discovery of 715 new planets. These newly-verified worlds orbit 305 stars, revealing multiple-planet systems much like our own solar system.

Nearly 95 percent of these planets are smaller than Neptune, which is almost four times the size of Earth. This discovery marks a significant increase in the number of known small-sized planets more akin to Earth than previously identified exoplanets, which are planets outside our solar system.

"The Kepler team continues to amaze and excite us with their planet hunting results," said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. "That these new planets and solar systems look somewhat like our own, portends a great future when we have the James Webb Space Telescope in space to characterize the new worlds."

Since the discovery of the first planets outside our solar system roughly two decades ago, verification has been a laborious planet-by-planet process. Now, scientists have a statistical technique that can be applied to many planets at once when they are found in systems that harbor more than one planet around the same star.

To verify this bounty of planets, a research team co-led by Jack Lissauer, planetary scientist at NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif., analyzed stars with more than one potential planet, all of which were detected in the first two years of Kepler's observations -- May 2009 to March 2011.

The research team used a technique called verification by multiplicity, which relies in part on the logic of probability. Kepler observes 150,000 stars, and has found a few thousand of those to have planet candidates. If the candidates were randomly distributed among Kepler's stars, only a handful would have more than one planet candidate. However, Kepler observed hundreds of stars that have multiple planet candidates. Through a careful study of this sample, these 715 new planets were verified.

This method can be likened to the behavior we know of lions and lionesses. In our imaginary savannah, the lions are the Kepler stars and the lionesses are the planet candidates. The lionesses would sometimes be observed grouped together whereas lions tend to roam on their own. If you see two lions it could be a lion and a lioness or it could be two lions. But if more than two large felines are gathered, then it is very likely to be a lion and his pride. Thus, through multiplicity the lioness can be reliably identified in much the same way multiple planet candidates can be found around the same star.

"Four years ago, Kepler began a string of announcements of first hundreds, then thousands, of planet candidates --but they were only candidate worlds," said Lissauer. "We've now developed a process to verify multiple planet candidates in bulk to deliver planets wholesale, and have used it to unveil a veritable bonanza of new worlds."

These multiple-planet systems are fertile grounds for studying individual planets and the configuration of planetary neighborhoods. This provides clues to planet formation.

Four of these new planets are less than 2.5 times the size of Earth and orbit in their sun's habitable zone, defined as the range of distance from a star where the surface temperature of an orbiting planet may be suitable for life-giving liquid water.

One of these new habitable zone planets, called Kepler-296f, orbits a star half the size and 5 percent as bright as our sun. Kepler-296f is twice the size of Earth, but scientists do not know whether the planet is a gaseous world, with a thick hydrogen-helium envelope, or it is a water world surrounded by a deep ocean.

"From this study we learn planets in these multi-systems are small and their orbits are flat and circular -- resembling pancakes -- not your classical view of an atom," said Jason Rowe, research scientist at the SETI Institute in Mountain View, Calif., and co-leader of the research. "The more we explore the more we find familiar traces of ourselves amongst the stars that remind us of home."

This latest discovery brings the confirmed count of planets outside our solar system to nearly 1,700. As we continue to reach toward the stars, each discovery brings us one step closer to a more accurate understanding of our place in the galaxy.

Launched in March 2009, Kepler is the first NASA mission to find potentially habitable Earth-size planets. Discoveries include more than 3,600 planet candidates, of which 961 have been verified as bona-fide worlds.

The findings papers will be published March 10 in The Astrophysical Journal and are available for download at: http://www.nasa.gov/ames/kepler/digital-press-kit-kepler-planet-bonanza

The histogram shows the number of planets by size for all known exoplanets. The blue bars on the histogram represents all the exoplanets known, by size, before the Kepler Planet Bonanza announcement on Feb. 26, 2014. The gold bars on the histogram represent Kepler's newly-verified planets. Image Credit: NASA Ames/W Stenzel

The histogram shows the number of planet discoveries by year for roughly the past two decades of the exoplanet search. The blue bar shows previous planet discoveries, the red bar shows previous Kepler planet discoveries, the gold bar displays the 715 new planets verified by multiplicity. Image Credit: NASA Ames/SETI/J Rowe

There's a good presentation from NASA's Kepler team here as a pdf file.

The big plus about this article is that you don't have to read any dross from the WUWT comments :)


  1. Replies
    1. Isn't it. I wonder how many people on those planets have discovered our solar system :)

    2. Isn't that the thing though?! I simply cannot believe that we're the only living things in the Universe. We may never meet our cosmic neighbours, but I bet they're kicking about somewhere.

    3. It is indeed awesome.

      "I wonder how many people have discovered our solar system." They're here already with an underground colony somewhere in the Arctic Circle. ;-)

      On a more serious note ... it does raise the perplexing theological question of the existence of multiple Christs to redeem those people on some of that multitude of planets. Plus, will they look like us because they will have been created in the image of God? Or is it a case of "There's Klingons on the starboard bow!"?

      Dr. Spencer! Roy! We have a belief system's crisis!

    4. Vitaminccs, I wish that I could be as optimistic about life in other solar systems but I am growing ever more doubtful that it would be a common occurrence. There are just too many preconditions that need aligning for multicellular life to flourish, and especially to lead to intelligence of the sort that could become technological. The sweet spot really is small.

      I think though that we should be able to get a better idea of the odds in the coming decade or two (assuming that our own technology doesn't result in a planetary self-immolation...) when extraterrestrial atmospheric analyses become reliably possible.

      The big life signature will be the presence of an oxygen-rich atmosphere around a rocky planet - a sure sign of autotrophism and an essential precondition for multicellular life. It's possible that other oxidative elements/compounds might replace oxygen, but given their known reaction products and their physical properties I wonder just how many non-carbon- and/or non-oxygen-based life systems are possible.

      And without an oxidative atmosphere the chance for any planet to harbour little green people is extremely low. So - to the spectrum analyses, Robin!

  2. "Four years ago, Kepler began a string of announcements of first hundreds, then thousands, of planet candidates --but they were only candidate worlds," said Lissauer. "We've now developed a process to verify multiple planet candidates in bulk to deliver planets wholesale, and have used it to unveil a veritable bonanza of new worlds."

    It seems like only yesterday the first exo-planet discovery was announced. The pace of advance is stunning.

  3. I'm waiting for a fake sceptic blog to spin the idea that there is "no global warming in other solar systems" - just wait.

  4. Thank you. I found images 2 and 3 helpful to my current project. jg


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