NASA: "Goldilocks Planet Will Be Found Within Next Two Years"
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March 30, 2012

NASA: "Goldilocks Planet Will Be Found Within Next Two Years"

         

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Certainly you remember the story of Goldilocks and the tree bears told to you as a child by a knowing adult? What does a fairy tale have to do with Space exploration? As the numbers mount, it seems to be just a matter of time before finds what astronomers are really looking for:  an Earth-like planet orbiting its star in the "Goldilocks zone"—that is, at just the right distance for liquid water and life.

"I believe Kepler will find a 'Goldilocks planet' within the next two years," says Shawn Domagal-Goldman, a researcher at HQ who specializes in exoplanet biology. "We'll be able to point at a specific star in the night sky and say 'There it is—a planet that could support life!'"

Kepler has already located a few Earth-sized , but they are too close for comfort to their parent stars.  These recent finds have heightened the sense that a big discovery is just around the corner. 

But finding such a planet is just the first step.  Getting to know it is much more difficult.

 In the cosmic scheme of things, the problem is that, Earth-sized planets are relatively small, and the ones Kepler is finding are staggeringly far away.  Most are hundreds, or even thousands, of light years away from Earth.  Almost completely hidden by the glare of their parent stars, these distant pinpricks are very difficult to study.

Fortunately, NASA has a plan.

"The reflected light of an exoplanet tells its story," explains Kepler Program Scientist Doug Hudgins, also at NASA HQ. "To get at that story and learn about the planet's atmosphere and composition, we can use a technique called transit spectroscopy."

The basic idea is simple:  When a planet reflects the light of its parent star, the atmosphere of the planet leaves a subtle imprint on the reflection--a sort of spectral "fingerprint" that astronomers can study to learn what the planet's atmosphere is made of.

One new mission under consideration by NASA, named FINESSE, is a fingerprint specialist.  Short for "Fast INfrared Exoplanet Spectroscopy Survey Explorer,"  FINESSE would measure the spectra of stars and their planets in two situations: once when the planet is in view, and again when the planet is hiding out behind its star.  In this way, FINESSE can separate the planet's dim light from the stellar glare and reveal the composition of the planet's atmosphere.

NASA is also considering an observatory named "TESS"--the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite.  The MIT-led mission is specifically designed to find exoplanets in the local galactic neighborhood.  TESS would study hundreds of stars within 50 light years of Earth, close enough to study in some detail.

"With better detectors and instruments designed to block the glare of the parent stars, these next-generation telescopes could not only find a Goldilocks planet, but also tell us what its atmosphere is made of, what sort of cloud cover graces its skies, and maybe even what the surface is like—whether oceans cover part of the globe, how much land there is, and so on," says Hudgins.

Domagal-Goldman expects big surprises:  "We've found so many unexpected things about planets that now I expect to be amazed. When we can study a Goldilocks planet, I believe we'll discover something revolutionary about how life interacts with a planetary environment. Nature is so much more diverse than we anticipated."

"The possibilities," he believes, "are limitless."

Perhaps fairytales are not just for the young.

The Daily Planet via Science@NASA

The image above of an infant exoplanet courtesy of NASA

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Comments

How can somebody look at the diversity of life on this 1 single planet and then look up at the stars where the other trillions of planets reside and legitimately think we are the only planet with life? The idea of it is pure stupidity. The arguments for it make no sense scientifically or even just as common sense. The probability of something happening only once in trillions of tries is pretty slim.

http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/kepler/news/kepscicon-briefing.html

Nasa found a planet in the goldilocks zone already (see link) and something like 1000 others as possible candidates for habitability. So why would they "announce" that they expect to find something they announced in Dec 2011 as already found?

NASA can't find a goldilocks planet in 2 years if Kepler funding runs out in a just a few months. Anybody heard if it'll be renewed?

Kepler already has a publicly announced candidate, KOI-494.01, that is a very good habitability candidate. There are also several other good habitability candidates in the publicly released data. All of these planet candidates are quite far away around dim stars, so they may be hard to confirm. This comment may indicate that KOI-494.01 or one of the others is edging closer to confirmation, or it may indicate a candidate that's newer than the publicly released data.

Has any real work been done to confirm the planets in the zeta reticula star system? The system where the greys who crashed at Roswell supposedly come from? That would stop all the conspiracy theory bullshit in its tracks. All they have to do is point these powerful telescopes in that direction and look for planets. If they are there, then we obviously have evidence of the biggest cover up in the history of the human race. I have a feeling nobody will be allowed to look in that direction. The one place our US government knows aliens come from for a fact.

Nice point Matthew. Gary Mckinnon hacked into NASA and found that they have an entire department dedicated to airbrushing artifacts out of NASA images. A smoking gun, in my opinion, for a huge cover up of other civilizations they don't care to tell us about. Also the goldilocks zone is a bit of a misnomer, as we continually find life in the most "inhospitable" places even on our own planet. It doesn't take one big leap of the imagination to realize the possibility of life in most regions of space; some of which is undoubtedly self aware and advanced.

Kepler can find earth-sized planets, but since the stars he look at have low luminosity, it is hard to measure the planet mass and the planet atmosphere. Hence the need for a mission like Plato (ESA) or Tess (NASA). The latter however will not look for planets orbiting in 1yr duration orbits like th Earth.

That'll be a sad day. What unfortunate planet Will be next decimated byHumans when we get there.

We'll be able to point at a specific star in the night sky and say 'There it is—a planet that could support life!

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