The Kepler mission
has changed the way we think about extrasolar planets and their abundance
. It turns out that nature produces a bewildering variety
of planetary systems, each in their own infinite majesty
. But maybe, just maybe, you can do better
? [more inside]
NASA has announced
that the latest Kepler data dump
contains 1,091 extrasolar planet
candidates, with 196 Earth-sized planets among them. The data shows "a clear trend toward smaller planets at longer orbital periods is evident with each new catalog release. This suggests that Earth-size planets in the habitable zone are forthcoming if, indeed, such planets are abundant." Total Kepler candidates as of February 27, 2012: 2,321
. [more inside]
lets users comb through data from the Kepler mission
in search of exoplanets
. [via Bad Astronomy
A direct detection of a brown dwarf
only 12.7 light years away (practically next door in interstellar terms)
adds another substellar object to the list of those relatively close by. While not quite the closest such object yet detected,
it’s notable for being pinpointed with a combination of ground-based adaptive optics
and Simultaneous Differential Imaging,
a special set of filters designed to subtract out starlight while leaving the light from substellar objects. This could be an important milestone in the ongoing quest to directly detect extrasolar planets,
as opposed to finding their traces indirectly via methods such as stellar wobble or gravitational microlensing.
Direct detection, among other things, makes it much easier to analyze planetary atmospheres for traces of life.
An object that could be as small as 9 Jupiter masses, less than 13 light years away, is a heck of a good step forward, especially considering that the very first indirect detections of extrasolar planets weren't made until the 1990’s,
and I recall serious arguments being made in the 1980’s that they did not, in fact, exist.
These planets are big
Perhaps they are populated by a species of supergiants!