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Astronomers: We could find Earth-like planets soon

Discussion in 'The Okie Corral' started by Smashy, Jan 8, 2010.

  1. Smashy

    Smashy

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    Jan 7, 2010 (4:09p CST)
    By SETH BORENSTEIN (AP Science Writer)

    WASHINGTON - Astronomers say they are on the verge of finding planets like Earth orbiting other stars, a key step in determining if we are alone in the universe.

    A top NASA official and other leading scientists say that within four or five years they should discover the first Earth-like planet where life could develop, or may have already. A planet close to the size of Earth could even be found sometime this year if preliminary hints from a new space telescope pan out.

    At the annual American Astronomical Society conference this week, each discovery involving so-called "exoplanets" - those outside our solar system - pointed to the same conclusion: Quiet planets like Earth where life could develop probably are plentiful, despite a violent universe of exploding stars, crushing black holes and colliding galaxies.

    NASA's new Kepler telescope and a wealth of new research from the suddenly hot and competitive exoplanet field generated noticeable buzz at the convention. Scientists are talking about being at "an incredible special place in history" and closer to answering a question that has dogged humanity since the beginning of civilization.

    "The fundamental question is: Are we alone? For the first time, there's an optimism that sometime in our lifetimes we're going to get to the bottom of that," said Simon "Pete" Worden, an astronomer who heads NASA's Ames Research Center. "If I were a betting man, which I am, I would bet we're not alone - there is a lot of life."

    Even the Roman Catholic Church has held scientific conferences about the prospect of extraterrestrial life, including a meeting last November.

    "These are big questions that reflect upon the meaning of the human race in the universe," the director of the Vatican Observatory, the Rev. Jose Funes, said Wednesday in an interview at this week's conference.

    Worden told The Associated Press: "I would certainly expect in the next four or five years we'd have an Earth-sized planet in the habitable zone."

    Worden's center runs the Kepler telescope, which is making an intense planetary census of a small portion of the galaxy.

    Unlike the Hubble Space Telescope, which is a general instrument, Kepler is a specialized telescope just for planet-hunting. Its sole instrument is a light meter that measures the brightness of more than 100,000 stars simultaneously, watching for anything that causes a star to dim. That dimming is often a planet passing in front of the star.

    Any planet that could support life would almost certainly need to be rocky rather than gaseous. And it would need to be in just the right location. Planets that are too close to their star will be too hot, and those too far away are too cold.

    "Every single rock we turn over, we find a planet," said Ohio State University astronomer Scott Gaudi. "They occur in all sorts of environments, all sorts of places."

    Researchers are finding exoplanets at a dizzying pace. In the 1990s, astronomers found a couple of new planets a year. For most of the last decade, it was up to a couple of planets every month.

    This year, planets are being found on about a daily basis, thanks to the Kepler telescope. The number of discovered exoplanets is now well past 400. But none of those has the right components for life.

    That's about to change, say the experts.

    "From Kepler, we have strong indications of smaller planets in large numbers, but they aren't verified yet," said Geoff Marcy of the University of California at Berkeley. He is one of the founding fathers of the field of planet-hunting and a Kepler scientist.

    But there is a big caveat. Most of the early exoplanet candidates found by Kepler are turning out to be something other than a planet, such as another star crossing the telescope's point of view, when double- and triple-checked, said top Kepler scientist Bill Borucki.

    Kepler is concentrating on about one-four hundredth of the nighttime sky, scanning more than 100,000 stars, ranging from a few hundred to a few thousand light years away. A light year is about 5.9 trillion miles. So such planets are too far to travel to, and they cannot be viewed directly like the planets in our solar system.

    If there were an Earth-like body in the area Kepler is searching, the telescope would find it, Marcy said. But it can take three years to confirm a planet's orbital path.

    What Kepler has confirmed so far keeps pointing to the idea that there are many other Earths. Before Kepler, those bodies were too small to be seen. Borucki this week announced the finding of five new exoplanets - all discovered in just the first six weeks of planet-hunting. But all those planets were too large and in the wrong place to be like Earth.

    When Kepler looked at 43,000 stars that are about the same size as our sun, it found that about two-thirds of them appeared to be as life-friendly and nonviolent as our nearest star.

    Marcy, who this week announced finding a planet just four times larger than Earth, does not like to speculate how many stars have Earth-like planets. But when pressed, he said Thursday: "70 percent of all stars have rocky planets."

    "If you are in the kitchen and are trying to cook up a habitable planet, we already know that in the cosmos, all the ingredients are there," he said.

    While astronomers at the convention are excited about exoplanets, Marcy is more skeptical, as is Jill Tarter, director of the SETI Institute, which seeks out intelligent life by monitoring for electromagnetic transmissions. They said there is still the chance that the searches can come up empty.

    Marcy said there is the small possibility that planets do not form easily at Earth's size, and that most are bigger.

    Tarter - who was the basis for a character portrayed in the movie "Contact" by Jodie Foster - said: "I always worry that we talk ourselves into thinking we know more than we know."

    Once an Earth-like planet is found in the right place, determining if there are the ingredients for life there will pose another hurdle.

    It will require costly new telescopes. A massive space telescope to scan Earth-like planets for oxygen, water, carbon dioxide - and even faint signs of industrial emissions from civilization - would cost about $5 billion.

    For now, such a high price is a budget-buster, but that could change. Cornell University astronomer Martha Haynes said: "We are at a very special moment in the history of mankind."

    On the Net:

    NASA's Kepler Telescope: http://kepler.nasa.gov/

    NASA's Exoplanet Exploration Program: http://exep.jpl.nasa.gov/

    The Extrasolar Planets Encyclopaedia: http://www.exoplanet.eu/

    American Astronomical Society: http://aas.org/


    http://kai03.qwest.com/WindowsLive/...&id=D9D35N7O0@news.ap.org&client=gadget&qid=0
     
  2. JMag

    JMag

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    Criminologists: We could also find Jimmy Hoffa very soon.


    :)
     

  3. Smashy

    Smashy

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    :rofl:
     
  4. PoiDog

    PoiDog Gun Cultured

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    C'mon, he's in Chicago. He's voted in all of the last elections since his demise.

    Strangely enough, he voted straight democrat every single time. I'm sure it's just some kind of coincidence.
     
  5. major

    major Rejected member

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    Don't fall for this people. To be truly "earth-like" will be virtually a mathematical impossibility. There are just way too many variables that have to exist and be EXACTLY right to be truly "earth-like".
     
  6. goldenlight

    goldenlight

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    There ARE some variables. But, from an astronomic perspective, not really very many, at all. The circumstances that produced the Earth are really not very complex.

    And, there are FAR more stars, to make the likelihood of other Earth like planets a virtual certainty: 3 to 7 × 10^22 stars, or 30 to 70 sextillion stars.

    That's roughly 5 followed by 22 zeros: 50,000,000,000,000,000,000,000.

    It's is estimated that about 70% of stars have planets circling them.

    Let's be EXTREMELY conservative, and say only 1%.

    That means there are 500,000,000,000,000,000,000 stars with a planetary systems.

    What are the odds that NONE of those planets are Earth like?

    So close to zero, that I can't figure out the math. It ALL comes down to mathematics, and chance occurrences.

    The big question isn't IF there are other Earth like planets; the question is: can we, with our technology, PROVE it, by finding, and documenting one, or more than one. Yes, we absolutely can.

    It's just a question of how much money to put into such a project, given our current economy.

    And, the technology to build the instruments that can detect small, Earth like planets planets, circling nearby stars is only just barely emerging.
     
  7. jp3975

    jp3975

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    Whats 5bil when we're spending trillions? Not like any of its being spent on a worthy cause anyway.
     
  8. airmotive

    airmotive Tin Kicker

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    Bingo!
    Thanks for saving me a lot of typing. It's called the Drake equation.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nvBWiZi99Dk

    When you stop and look at the sheer number of stars in just our own galaxy (400,000,000,000) and then look at JUST the number of galaxies we can see (80,000,000,000) and suddenly the odds of there being an earth-like planet out there are millions of times more likely than you losing a Powerball drawing.

    Remember, when you look up at night, all the stars you see (except for one) are within our own galaxy (a very faint 'star' near Orion's belt is actually the Andromada Galaxy...another 100,000,000,000 stars...with planets).

    Here's a section of sky you could cover with a pencil eraser held at arms length. Every blob of light (including the faint, tiny blobs) is a galaxy containing 10-100 billion solar systems. Like major said...do the math.
    [​IMG]
     
    Last edited: Jan 10, 2010
  9. airmotive

    airmotive Tin Kicker

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  10. stevelyn

    stevelyn NRA Life Member

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    It doesn't have to be exactly "earth-like". It just has to have the ingredients to support lifeforms.


    "Zactly. I rather see $5 billion go to building an instrument that is going to be beneficial to us in the long run than the crap we've been pissing it away on in the form of bailouts and political pay-offs.
     
  11. major

    major Rejected member

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    Ah..........thank you. Something with the "ingredients to support lifeforms" is a LONG way from producing life as we know it, i.e., humans.
    ______

    Also.........yes, I know the Drake equation. Sounds really scientific but in a nutshell all it boils down to is just sheer guesswork.
     
  12. jp3975

    jp3975

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    But if you read airmotives post and look over that picture its hard to believe there isnt life out there.
     
  13. Smashy

    Smashy

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    Who counted them all? :headscratch:
     
  14. Chad Landry

    Chad Landry Cajunator® CLM

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    Giggity!
     
  15. TerdSlayer

    TerdSlayer

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    Isn't anyone gona make a Uranus joke !
     
  16. Caver 60

    Caver 60

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    I'm with major.

    Just look at the complexity of DNA or the human eye. To think there is another earth with any kind of life, let alone humans. There just aren't enough quad zillions of stars, or what ever number you want to use, to produce another earth with life like ours.
     
  17. Chad Landry

    Chad Landry Cajunator® CLM

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    Are you serious?

    You really think we're something special and unique in such a vast universe?

    We're a simple answer to a complex question. That same answer is so simple that it's more than likely to have been repeated over and over again.


    ETA: That doesn't mean "humans". It means sustainable life.
     
  18. Danimal3805

    Danimal3805

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    LOL go figure it'd be the guy called TERDSLAYER
    :rofl::rofl::rofl: