My God— It’s Full of Planets!

by wjw on July 26, 2010

I certainly picked an interesting time to take an intensive astronomy course.

Via David Brin, I hear that we’ve now found that our new space telescope Kepler has found 140 Earth-sized exoplanets. Kepler finds planets by detecting almost imperceptible ‘winks’ – the tiny amount of dimming that occurs each time a planet moves across the face of a star . . . ‘Transits’, as they are known, by terrestrial planets produce a small change in a star’s brightness of about 100 parts per million, lasting for 2 to 16 hours. Information such as a planet’s size and the extent of its orbit can be calculated from the amount of dimming, the length of time between ‘winks’ and the star’s mass . . .

Sasselov said: ‘There is a lot more work we need to do with this but the statistical result is loud and clear and it is that planets like our own Earth are out there.

‘Our own Milky Way galaxy is rich in these kinds of planets.’

For the next stage of the mission the team will study all of the candidate planets and try and discern which of them have the right conditions for life.

Zero to 140 overnight! And, because of the method used, the only planets they could find were those that passed between their sun and us— planets in other orbits would be invisible using this type of technology. So multiply that 1490 by, well, lots.

Meanwhile, on the freaker side of astronomy, the Hubble has spotted a blue “hypervelocity star” that has been flung out of the center of our galaxy by the supermassive black hole that lurks there, and is now zooming out of the galaxy at 1.6 million mpg.

Bye. See you next turn of the Wheel.

And in other news, astronomers have now found some super super super massive stars, 300 times the mass of our sun. Stars that big won’t last long, but with the discovery of stars weighing between 150 and 300 solar masses, the study’s findings raise the prospect of the existence of exceptionally bright, “pair instability supernovae” that blow themselves apart. These exploding stars fail to leave any remnants, and disperse up to ten solar masses of iron into their surroundings. A few candidates for such explosions have been proposed in recent years.

Time to stake your claim on the flying iron shrapnel! You’ve only got a few million years to do it.

I predict a really good season for space opera. Bunches of Earthlike planets, plus bizarro astronomical events to add the spice of cosmic weirdness. Let the scribbling begin!

ryan v July 26, 2010 at 6:12 am

Holy crap. I heard about the third link, but neither of the others. We live in strange times. 😀

Dave Bishop July 26, 2010 at 9:03 am

This new evidence for Earth-like exo-planets only serves to make the Fermi Paradox even more puzzling!

Ralf the Dog July 26, 2010 at 8:31 pm

I was under the impression that they had found 105 potential rock worlds. Some of them may be planets. Others may just be giant alien space stations the size of a planet.

I know you would be quit disappointed if some of these worlds were just big alien space stations.

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