“Kepler has now discovered over 2,000 new worlds around other stars, most of them smaller than twice the size of Earth, and many probably having water,” said Geoff Marcy, professor of astronomy, University of California, Berkeley. “This flood of nearly Earth-size planets offers the first opportunity for us humans to hunt for other intelligent species that may have evolved on them.”
Marcy, who kicked off the search for extrasolar planets 20 years ago, plans to sift through data from the Kepler space telescope in search of evidence for civilizations advanced enough to have built massive orbiting “solar” power stations. Marcy is a member of the Kepler space telescope team that is observing the light from 160,000 stars in our galaxy in search of ones that dim periodically because of a planet passing or transiting in front of them. Theoretical physicist Raphael Bousso will look for ways of detecting universes other than our own, and try to understand what these alternate universes, or multiverses, will look like.
Marcy realized that the Kepler data might also reveal stars with orbiting power stations called Dyson Spheres: megastructures that orbit a star and capture a large proportion of its energy. They were proposed by physicist Freeman Dyson more than 50 years ago as a likely way for advanced civilizations to power their power-hungry societies. Marcy will look at 1,000 of Kepler’s extrasolar systems in search of solar arrays that pass in front of stars and make them wink on and off.
Marcy and Bousso are among 20 innovative researchers who will share more than $4 million in New Frontiers in Astronomy & Cosmology International Grants that were announced Thursday, Oct. 4, by the University of Chicago. The grants were made possible through funding from the Pennsylvania-based John Templeton Foundation as a way to encourage scientists and students worldwide to explore fundamental, big questions in astronomy and cosmology that engage groundbreaking ideas on the nature of the universe.
Many of the recipients, including Marcy, will describe their projects during a joint conference Oct. 12 and 13 at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia. Marcy’s grant ‑ $200,000 for two years – will also pay for time on the enormous Keck telescopes in Hawaii to take spectra of 1,000 planet-hosting stars in search of laser emissions from advanced civilizations,
Bousso, a professor of physics, is known for his proposal with Joseph Polchinski, a UC Berkeley Ph.D. now at UC Santa Barbara, that string theory implies that the universe is comprised of possibly an infinite number of multiverses, each with its own physical characteristics but operating under the same laws of physics. Though we are unlikely to be able to visit them or even see them with the largest telescopes – light hasn’t had time to travel that far since the universe began – he is optimistic that it’s possible to find predictions of the hypothesis that can be tested. His two-year, $125,000 grant will help him explore the implications of his hypothesis.
“People were initially skeptical of Einstein’s general theory of relativity, but now, decades later, your GPS runs on it and it has led to incredibly profound questions in physics, such as how the universe began and what happens inside a black hole,” Bousso said. “We are just at the early stages of this multiverse theory, but it is a very serious, plausible proposition that we have to take seriously and test – and try to shoot down as hard as we can.”
The NASA’s Kepler mission image at the top of the page illustrates two newly discovered planetary systems that include super-Earth-size planets in the “habitable zone”, the range of distance from a star where the surface temperature of an orbiting planet might be suitable for liquid water.The Kepler-62 system has five planets. Four of these planets are so-called super-Earths, larger than our own planet, but smaller than even the smallest ice giant planet in our Solar System. These new super-Earths have radii of 1.3, 1.4, 1.6, and 1.9 times that of Earth. One of the five was a roughly Mars-sized planet, half the size of Earth. Two of the newly discovered planets orbit a star smaller and cooler than the sun. Kepler-62f is only 40% larger than Earth, making it the exoplanet closest to the size of our planet known in the habitable zone of another star. Kepler-62f is likely to have a rocky composition. Kepler-62e, orbits on the inner edge of the habitable zone and is roughly 60% larger than Earth. The third planet, Kepler-69c, is 70% larger than the size of Earth.
The Daily Galaxy via http://newscenter.berkeley.edu