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"Are Habitable Worlds Common in the Milky Way?" --Unanalyzed Kepler Mission Data Holds the Answer


 

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The Kepler Mission has left a gold mine of data for astronomers to analyze for years to come to find additional planets. Kepler switched into “safe mode” in May, after a gyroscope used to aim the telescope broke. At the time, its hunt for potentially habitable worlds, the mission was closing in on the answer. To date. Kepler had discovered 3,548 possible planets to date, and 135 of them — some smaller than the Earth — have been validated by other observations, including the first Earth-sized worlds found outside our solar system,  profoundly altering our sense of place in the universe.

But hundreds or thousands more planets are in the pipeline, said William Borucki of NASA’s Ames Research Laboratory, Kepler’s originator and principal investigator. “We’re going have to dig down hard to find those planets — we know we can do it,” Mr. Borucki said. “Now at the completion,” he said, “we know our galaxy is filled to the brim with planets. When you look up at the sky and see it filled with stars, most of those stars have planets.

Kepler’s enduring legacy will be its contributions to our knowledge about how common planets of various sizes are in other solar systems in the Milky Way. The telescope’s rich data base has spurred a new field of astroseismology, in which researchers study the internal structure of stars and their rotation and oscillation.

“At the beginning of our mission, no one knew if Earth-size planets were abundant in the galaxy. If they were rare, we might be alone,” William Borucki, Kepler science principal investigator at NASA’s Ames Research Center, said in a statement. “The data holds the answer to the question that inspired the mission: Are Earths in the habitable zone of stars like our Sun common or rare?”

“We had some really interesting experiments to do on the extended mission. Certainly, they would have been worth doing. But we can hardly complain given that we filled the baseline mission and we have a terrific dataset to work on,” said David Latham, a co-investigator for Kepler at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, where about two dozen astronomers analyze the data from the mission. Latham said he is already preparing for the next planet-hunting mission, called TESS. That mission is expected to launch in early 2018.

NASA scientists are holding out hope that some other scientific use can be made of the spacecraft, calling on the scientific community to send ideas about how it can be repurposed. But the telescope will be best known for the way it has profoundly altered our sense of place in the universe.

The Daily Galaxy via NASA/Kepler Mission and New York Times

Image credit: With thanks to Shutterstock

Comments

Yes, just look at the other earths that have periodically existed solely within our solar system!

Remember that even if a planet is Earth-sized and in the "Goldilocks Zone," it might not be habitable by humans. A lot more than that has to be right -- not too much or too little water, the presence of at least one tidal moon, the right density and composition of atmosphere, and much more.

Also, even with all those things, these planets won't necessarily have sapient life capable of civilization. Humans have many characteristics lending ourselves to that, that might not necessarily develop elsewhere: upright stance, manipulative limbs (hands), endothermic systems, and many other things that allow us to adapt to different climates and environments, use tools to build, quickly process information, and so forth. Whether one assumes random evolution or intelligent design (or something in between), each of those two approaches has its own reasons that those characteristics might not be so common in the universe.

Well, reading that was a waste of time...the article really didn't answer the question it posed.

With variable planetary conditions there may be many habitable planets outside the goldilocks zone. Lots of assumptions being used and we won't know until we look.

The definitions of HABITABLE certainly may differ on other planets with different creatures.
I look forward to more discoveries being made, here on Mother Earth, and everywhere else as we explore SpaceTime!

It's really still beyond our capability to fathom the enormity of our Galaxy let alone The Universe and the infinite variables.

We want to believe we are unique, we are within our solar system, but in Galactic terms let alone Universal, not so much..

We want to think we are important, we are to ourselves but if we were gone tomorrow the Galaxy wouldn't even notice..

Remember everything is energy, everything, and the material world or worlds we are able to see are an illusion..

i hope we make first contact in my lifetime................;-)

The definition of habitability must change.Or else we should say we are looking for another planet and ecosystem exactly same as Earth.And THAT is I think really difficult as you have to match hell lot of conditions. Better put it another way we may not find humanoid creature or another super Earth but what we do find in future is another eco system conditioned with it's own rules and regulation. We need to think out of box

i have a good question. how on planet earth they know that the milky way has 300 bilions stars???????
based on my latest calculation it has only a few bilion.. i divided the are by 5, wich is the average distance from one star to another (5 light year)

Had you stepped out of your space craft on Earth before it had photosynthesis, you'd have found it teaming with life...not intelligent life but life, and choked to death trying to breathe CO2, methane and nitrogen likeky mixed with volcanic SO2 as well. As photosynthesis contaminated the atmosphere with the then toxic oxygen, life had to adapt to this new toxic gas for all life was anerobic. Slowly aerobic life evolved to use O2 for metabolism instread of CH4 and CO2 and all the anerobes died out or evolution/modified to tolerate free oxygen. Let's face it, if we find a planet with a methane nitrogen CO2 atmosphere we'd say it can't support Earth like life yet Earth was just like that long ago, teaming with life, and here we be folks. I think too many are jumping too soon to count life giving planets based on today's Earth when yesterday's Earth was teaming with life without a speck of free O2 and much warmer than today's global average temp.

Of course aliens who are anerobes have to bring along a methane or CO2 tank on their backs if they come form an anerobic world to visit us today. Therefore you could spot an alien way off! LOL

This seriously limits aliens' ability to just walk around and interact with us Earthlings passing the time of day...afterall, it's much more likely for a life planet to not have a speck of O2.

Free O2 doesn't exist in a planet formation for it combines so rapidly with most of what you call the periodic chart, that it takes a biologic process similar to or in fact Earth-like photosynthesis to produce it..perhaps not exactly the same photosynthesis processes we have here. Photosynthesis isn't just chlorophyll based, there are red algae as well which don't have a speck of chlorophyll in their makeup kits. So photosynthesis can occur with likely a myriad of compounds as the catalist of CO2 and water and sunlight on a myriad of planets with miriads of atmosphere mixes. And any free O2 would have to be formed by these life forms just as Earth's algae formed most of the O2 we breathe today, aided by later, land plants and fresh water algae.

Long ago a biometabolitic "system" was drawn up based on ammonia, NH4. So an ammonia based atmosphere could theoretically support all sorts of life just as our own ancient methane/CO2 atmosphere did.

Once science writers starving for stuff about which to write often times exceeding their own educational and spelling levels and some challenged exobiologists realize all this it'll make searching for "life" more understandable and thus more rewarding.

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