By spotting moving objects in brief movies made from images captured by NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE)
Space news (Astrophysics: The search for nearby planets; Backyard Worlds: Planet 9) – the outer reaches of our solar system beyond Neptune andneighboring interstellar space –
NASA’s Backyard Worlds: Planet 9 invites you to join the human journey to the beginning of space and time by helping astronomers search for undiscovered worlds on the outer fringes of our solar system and wandering in nearby interstellar space. Just by viewing brief movies created by using images taken by NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) and then picking out moving objects in the frames. You can help find interesting things for scientists to study further and you might even get your name on any scientific papers written on the subject. Watch this NASA video on the new website
“There are just over four light-years between Neptune and Proxima Centauri, the nearest star, and much of this vast territory is unexplored,” said lead researcher Marc Kuchner, an astrophysicist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “Because there’s so little sunlight, even large objects in that region barely shine in visible light. But by looking in the infrared, WISE may have imaged objects we otherwise would have missed.”
WISE is just one of many repurposed, retasked spacecraft working beyond the years’ designers and engineers first proposed for their space mission. After being told to stand down in 2011, our intrepid space explorer was reassigned a new mission by NASA in 2013, to identify hazardous near-Earth asteroids and comets. They also gave the old space horse a new name, the Near-Earth Object Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (NEOWISE).
People deciding to join the human journey to the beginning of space and time through this invitation search for unknown objects beyond Neptune using data provided by NEOWISE. You’ll be looking for asteroids and comets possibly on a collision course with Earth. You could also discover the fabled Planet X or a brown dwarf star too faint to be seen in nearby interstellar space, like the brown dwarf star called WISE 0855-0714.
“Brown dwarfs form like stars but evolve like planets, and the coldest ones are much like Jupiter,” said team member Jackie Faherty, an astronomer at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. “By using Backyard Worlds: Planet 9, the public can help us discover more of these strange rogue worlds.”
You might be wondering what your tired eyes can do to help NASA scientists? Objects closer to the solar system move across the sky at different rates, unlike ones further away. The most efficient way to search for them is by systematically looking for moving objects in NEOWISE data. Computers are normally used for this job, but human eyes are often better at picking out important movingobjects among all the other things on the screen.
Watch short animations
On Backyard Worlds: Planet 9, millions of people from around the world watch millions of short animations showing how a small patch of the sky has changed over many years. Any important moving objects noticedcan be flagged by astronomers for further study. The discoverer could even be given credit in scientific papers written on the subject. This is your chance to join the human journey to the beginning of space and time and get noticed.
“Backyard Worlds: Planet 9 has the potential to unlock once-in-a-century discoveries, and it’s exciting to think they could be spotted first by a citizen scientist,” said team member Aaron Meisner, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of California, Berkeley, who specializes in analyzing WISE images.
Will study dark energy, conduct a census of discovered exoplanets, and image and analysis their spectroscopy using coronagraphy.
Space news (Astrophysics: next generation infrared telescope; WFIRST) – Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC), Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) and Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) –
Scheduled for launch sometime in 2020, the exact date hasn’t been set in stone, NASA’s Wide Field Infra-Red Survey Telescope (WFIRST)’s currently in the formation stage in various science institutions around the United States. NASA’s next generation wide-field infrared survey telescope, WFIRST’s expected to open a wider window on the infrared cosmos and unravel secrets of the universe.
“WFIRST has the potential to open our eyes to the wonders of the universe, much the same way Hubble has,” said John Grunsfeld, astronaut and associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate at Headquarters in Washington. “This mission uniquely combines the ability to discover and characterize planets beyond our own solar system with the sensitivity and optics to look wide and deep into the universe in a quest to unravel the mysteries of dark energy and dark matter.”
Utilizing a view 100 times bigger than the Hubble Space Telescope, it will compliment astrophysicists exploring dark energy, dark matter, and the origins and evolution of the cosmos. Carrying a chronograph capable of blocking the individual glare of a star, WFIRST will detect the faint light of planets, making it possible for the first time to make detailed measurements of the chemical makeup of alien atmospheres light-years away. By making a survey of the atmospheres of many alien worlds astronomers will add to our knowledge of their origins and physics and search for planetary atmospheres capable of sustaining life.
“WFIRST is designed to address science areas identified as top priorities by the astronomical community,” said Paul Hertz, director of NASA’s Astrophysics Division in Washington. “The Wide-Field Instrument will give the telescope the ability to capture a single image with the depth and quality of Hubble, but covering 100 times the area. The coronagraph will provide revolutionary science, capturing the faint, but direct images of distant gaseous worlds and super-Earths.”
Designed and engineered to compliment the discoveries of the Hubble Space Telescope, the Kepler Space Telescope, and future Transiting Exoplanet Survey Telescope (TESS), WFIRST will follow the launch of the James Webb Space Telescope around 2018. One of NASA’s next generation astrophysics observatories, WFIRST will offer a treasure trove of astronomical data and survey the cosmos to discover the mysteries of the universe.
“In addition to its exciting capabilities for dark energy and exoplanets, WFIRST will provide a treasure trove of exquisite data for all astronomers,” said Neil Gehrels, WFIRST project scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “This mission will survey the universe to find the most interesting objects out there.”
WFIRST’s sensitivity and wide view of the cosmos will allow astronomers to conduct a large-scale survey of exoplanets by monitoring the brightness of millions of stars. Utilizing numerous methods, astrophysicists will use this space observatory to investigate the ways dark energy and dark matter have altered, affected the evolution of the cosmos.
Go for launch!
NASA’s chiseled a tentative date on paper of sometime in the 2020s for the launch of WFIRST, but delays and even improvements of this timetable are possible. After reaching space, NASA’s next generation wide-field infrared survey telescope will travel to an L2 point millions of miles from Earth, before starting astrophysical operations and improving and enhancing our view of the infrared cosmos.
Data shows at least one of two exoplanets studied orbits within the habitable zone of host red dwarf star in system TRAPPIST-1
Space news (the search for Earth 2.0: the first atmospheric study of Earth-sized exoplanets; TRAPPIST-1 system) – searching for possible atmospheres surrounding exoplanets TRAPPIST-1b and TRAPPIST-1c 40 light-years from Earth toward the constellation Aquarius –
Astronomers using the Hubble Space Telescope to search for suitable exoplanets to act as a cradle for a new human genesis recently sampled the atmospheres of two exoplanets orbiting a red dwarf star 40 light-years from Earth. They used Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3 to observe TRAPPIST-1b and TRAPPIST-1c in near-infrared wavelengths to look for signs of an atmosphere. They discovered these two exoplanets probably don’t have the fluffy, hydrogen-dominated atmospheres found around larger, gaseous exoplanets.
The image seen at the top of the page is an artist’s portrayal of TRAPPIST-1b and 1c, two Earth-sized exoplanets shown passing in front of their host red dwarf star. Astronomers used the Hubble Space Telescope to look for hints of atmospheres surrounding these distant worlds and detected signs increasing the chances of habitability.
“The lack of a smothering hydrogen-helium envelope increases the chances for habitability on these planets,” said team member Nikole Lewis of the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) in Baltimore. “If they had a significant hydrogen-helium envelope, there is no chance that either one of them could potentially support life because the dense atmosphere would act like a greenhouse.”
Julien de Wit of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge and a team of astronomers used spectroscopy to decipher the light, revealing clues to the chemical composition of an atmosphere surrounding these candidates. By taking advantage of a rare double-transit of both exoplanets across the face of their host star, they collected starlight passing through any gas envelope surrounding these exoplanets. This event only occurs every two years, but it allowed for a simultaneous measurement of atmospheric characteristics. The exact composition’s still a mystery at this point, further observations are required to determine more clues. This is an exciting and promising start.
“These initial Hubble observations are a promising first step in learning more about these nearby worlds, whether they could be rocky like Earth, and whether they could sustain life,” says Geoff Yoder, acting associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. “This is an exciting time for NASA and exoplanet research.”
Estimates put the age of the host red dwarf star at around 500 million years, which is young for a star with a potential lifespan of trillions of years. Red dwarf stars burn a lot cooler, but completely consume their supply of hydrogen, unlike more massive types of stars. The most common star in the cosmos, astronomers think 20 out of 30 near-Earth suns could be red dwarfs. The numbers indicate searching nearby red dwarfs for an exoplanet with the right ingredients for habitability is a good place to begin our search.
The team and other astronomers plan on making follow-up measurements of these two exoplanets using the Hubble Space Telescope, the Kepler Space Telescope, the TRAPPIST telescope at ESO’s La Silla Observatory, and other assets to look for thinner gas layers containing heavier atoms than hydrogen as in Earth’s atmosphere.
“With more data, we could perhaps detect methane or see water features in the atmospheres, which would give us estimates of the depth of the atmospheres,” said Hannah Wakeford, the paper’s second author, at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.
Toward the future
In the years ahead, using assets like NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, astronomers should be able to determine the exact composition of any atmospheres surrounding these exoplanets and others. Finding the signatures of water vapor and methane, or even carbon dioxide and ozone is a significant step toward possible habitability for lifeforms. The power of Webb should also allow planetary scientists to measure the surface and atmospheric temperature and pressure of each exoplanet. Both key factors to determining if these exoplanets orbiting red dwarf TRAPPIST-1 are possible cradles for the genesis of life.
“Thanks to several giant telescopes currently under construction, including ESO’s E-ELT and the NASA/ESA/CSA James Webb Space Telescope due to launch for 2018, we will soon be able to study the atmospheric composition of these planets and to explore them first for water, then for traces of biological activity. That’s a giant step in the search for life in the Universe,” says Julien de Wit.
“These Earth-sized planets are the first worlds that astronomers can study in detail with current and planned telescopes to determine whether they are suitable for life,” said de Wit. “Hubble has the facility to play the central atmospheric pre-screening role to tell astronomers which of these Earth-sized planets are prime candidates for more detailed study with the Webb telescope.”
Space news (March 28, 2016) – Searching 200,000 stars looking for transiting Earth-to–gas giant size bodies passing in front of their home sun in relation to Sol–
The Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite’s (TESS) anextgeneration planet-finding spacecraftdesigned to enable the search for Earth 2.0. TESS will conduct a three-year mission to monitor the brightness of over 200,000 suns, looking for temporary drops in brightness as exoplanets pass in front of their parent sun in relation to Earth.It will undertake the firsttwo-year all-sky transit survey to identify exoplanets ranging from Earth-sized to gas giants, orbiting at a range of orbital distances and various stellar types. TESS will search for small rocky planets lying within the Goldilocks zone of their home stars we could call Earth 2.0.
Earth 2.0 refers to an exoplanet suitable for Earth-based life to survive and prosper, with the ingredients-of-life humans need to continue as a species. Astrophysicists expect TESS to detect more than 3000 transiting exoplanet candidates, including about 500 Earth-sized to Super-sized bodies, less than twice Earth’s radius. Planetary scientists will catalog the brightest and nearest sunsto Solwith transiting rocky exoplanets.
This catalog of prime candidates for Earth 2.0 is scheduled for additional study using current Earth and space-based telescopes. In the future, astrophysicists will use the James Webb Space Telescope and new ground-based instruments to take a closer look at each candidate. These follow-up observations will refine measurements of each planets’ mass, radius, density and atmospheric conditions. The hope is to identify exoplanets with the right ingredients-of-life, which could act as a cradle for the next human Genesis.The world we could one day live on!
Launch’s just months away
The tentative working launch date for TESS is August of 2017, but June 2018 could be closer to the mark. SpaceX’s Falcon 9 will liftoff from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and deliver it to the correct orbital position. From its position high above the Earth, TESS will survey the night sky looking for slight dips in the brightness of distant stars as unseen exoplanets pass in front. Slight dips that could reveal the existence of an exoplanet where life could exist. A place called Earth 2.0!
No need not worry, according to planetary scientists, the majority of potential cradles for a new human Genesis have yet to be born
Space news (October 24, 2015) – The journey to Mars –
Earthlings thinking about moving to Mars, or another planet, with the first spacecraft leaving, can breathe a sigh of relief. Peter Behroozi and Molly Peeples of NASA’s Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) have completed a studyof the percentage of Earth-like planets created during the life of the universe, so far, andaccording to estimates, the majority of Earth-like planets have yet to be born.
“Our main motivation was understanding the Earth’s place in the context of the rest of the universe,” said study author Peter Behroozi of the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) in Baltimore, Maryland, “Compared to all the planets that will ever form in the universe, the Earth is actually quite early.”
“There is enough remaining material [after the big bang] to produce even more planets in the future, in the Milky Way and beyond,” added co-investigator Molly Peeples of STScI.
By Earth-like we mean an exoplanet the right distance from its parent star for water to exist in liquid form and the Genesis of life to take place. Earth is the only planet we know life exists on, but considering estimates of the size of the cosmos, one would certainly expect life has popped its head up somewhere else. If their estimates of the amount of gas left over for the formation of new stars is correct, the Milky Way and universe will be making new stars for a very long time.
There’s still lots of time to invent, or order on the uni-net (Universal Internet), a faster-than-light spacecraft to help in your search for a new home. Current estimates indicate there are at least 1 billion Earth-sized planets in the Milky Way. How many are suitable homes you can live on? Maybe by the time you get the spacecraft you need, they’ll have a better estimate of exactly how many are Earth-like.
You still have time to prepare!
Unless you’re a time traveler from the future, you have time to prepare, and this team of intrepid astronomers has time to refine their estimate. Hopefully, by then, we’ll be permanently connected to the uni-net, and you can just look online for the best property on an exoplanet far, far away.
You can learn more about NASA’s mandate to travel to the stars here.
NASA space scientists have discovered the first nearly Earth-sized exoplanet lying within the habitable zone of its Sun-like parent star
Space news (July 23, 2015) – 1,400 light-years away in the constellation Cygnus –
Twenty years after proving other planets do exist the human journey to the beginning of space and time draws nearer to finding an Earth-like cradle for a new human Genesis.
NASA’s Kepler spacecraft has discovered the first nearly Earth-sized exoplanet orbiting within the habitable zone of a star much like our own Sun. Called Kepler-452b and roughly 60 percent bigger than our home planet, this exoplanet is the smallest planet found orbiting at a distance from its parent star where liquid water could exist.
“On the 20th anniversary year of the discovery that proved other suns host planets, the Kepler exoplanet explorer has discovered a planet and star which most closely resemble the Earth and our Sun,” said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate at the agency’s headquarters in Washington. “This exciting result brings us one step closer to finding an Earth 2.0.“
A Star Like Our Sun
Kepler-452b’s parent star is an older cousin to the Sun, a G2 type star approximately 20 percent brighter, 1.5 billion years older, and 10 percent bigger than Earth’s home star.
“We can think of Kepler-452b as an older, biggercousin to Earth, providing an opportunity to understand and reflect upon Earth’s evolving environment,” said Jon Jenkins, Kepler data analysis lead at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California, who led the team that discovered Kepler-452b. “It’s awe-inspiring to consider that this planet has spent 6 billion years in the habitable zone of its star; longer than Earth. That’s substantial opportunity for life to arise, should all the necessary ingredients and conditions for life to exist on this planet.”
A Rocky Exoplanet like Earth?
Kepler-452b is the twelfth exoplanet the human journey to the beginning of space and time has viewed lying within the habitable zone of its parent star. Data collected by both space and Earth-based telescopes indicates planets of this size are often rocky in nature. Indicating the possibility this exoplanet could have an atmosphere and environment that could act as a cradle for a new human Genesis to begin.
A New Human Genesis!
Humans traveling across spacetime to Kepler-452b would evolve during a voyage lasting thousands or even hundreds of years. Extended hibernation of some type would certainly make the journey easier, but this kind of technology hasn’t been developed. An alternative solution to extended periods living in space during a voyage unlike any humans have undertaken is probably a necessity.
Once we land on Kepler-452b, learning to survive and live on this foreign planet will evolve us once again. Humans are designed to evolve in order to survive living in different environments. We would likely survive as a species, but doing so would change us in ways we can’t begin to imagine.
521 New Candidates for the Exoplanet Zoo
At the same time, NASA released this news it announced the Kepler mission’s discovery of 521 new exoplanet candidates for the exoplanet zoo. 12 of these candidates orbit their parent star within the habitable zone and nine have home stars similar to the Sun in both size and temperature. Great news for the human desire to locate a second Earth to live on.
“We’ve been able to fully automate our process of identifying planet candidates, which means we can finally assess every transit signal in the entire Kepler dataset quickly and uniformly,” said Jeff Coughlin, Kepler scientist at the SETI Institute in Mountain View, California, who led the analysis of a new candidate catalog. “This gives astronomers a statistically sound population of planet candidates to accurately determine the number of small, possibly rocky planets like Earth in our Milky Way galaxy.”
NASA space scientists will now take a closer look at each of the exoplanet candidates and specifically the ones lying within the habitable zone of their parent star. There could be a second Earth, a cradle for a new human Genesis, waiting to be discovered. An event that would change the course of human history on planet Earth and the way we view ourselves as cosmic beings.
Structures created during cataclysmic collisions between objects left over from planet formation or something unknown?
Space news (July 13, 2015) – collisions indicating possible gravitational effects of unseen orbiting exoplanets or consequences of the star traveling through interstellar space –
Space scientists using the Hubble Space Telescope recently completed a visible-light imaging survey of the debris field systems around 10 young stars between the ages of 10 million to 1 billion years old. Debris fields they studied in order to better understand the early solar system and formation of the planets.
“It’s like looking back in time to see the kinds of destructive events that once routinely happened in our solar system after the planets formed,” said survey leader Glenn Schneider of the University of Arizona’s Steward Observatory.
What did the survey find?
Space scientists studying the evolution of stars and the formation of planets used to think debris fields surrounding young stars should be composed of simple pancake-like structures.
The complexity and diversity in debris fields studied in this recent survey strongly suggest this scenario is a little more involved than theories suggest. Facts indicate the possibility of gravitational effects of unseen exoplanets hidden within the dusty debris, the results of the young star traveling through interstellar space, or something unthought of as the reason for the deviation from theory.
“We find that the systems are not simply flat with uniform surfaces,” Schneider said. “These are actually pretty complicated three-dimensional debris systems, often with embedded smaller structures. Some of the substructures could be signposts of unseen planets.” The astronomers used Hubble’s Space Telescope
Imaging Spectrograph to study 10 previously discovered circumstellar debris systems.
Star HD 181327 Shows Huge Debris Spray
The ring-like debris system surrounding star HD 181327 has irregularities space scientists think could be due to a recent collision between two bodies on the outer part of the system.
“This spray of material is fairly distant from its host star — roughly twice the distance that Pluto is from the sun,” said co-investigator Christopher Stark. “Catastrophically destroying an object that massive at such a large distance is difficult to explain, and it should be very rare. If we are in fact seeing the recent aftermath of a massive collision, the unseen planetary system may be quite chaotic.”
“Another interpretation for the irregularity is that the disk has been mysteriously warped by the star’s passage through interstellar space, directly interacting with the unseen interstellar material. “Either way, the answer is exciting,” Schneider said. “Our team is currently analyzing follow-up observations that will help reveal the true cause of the irregularity.”
As of 07/09/2015 space scientists have verified the existence of 1858 exoplanets, including 468 exosolar systems with multiple planets, and 92 Earth-size terrestrial-type planets. The structure and overall architecture of the systems discovered so far are more diverse than astrophysicists first proposed.
During this time, space scientists have only viewed about two dozen light-scattering, circumstellar debris systems due to their comparative faintness and proximity to their parent stars. Despite the small sample size in exoplanetary debris systems astronomers view a surprising variety of architectures.
“We are now seeing a similar diversity in the architecture of the accompanying debris systems,” Schneider said. “How are the planets affecting the disks, and how are the disks affecting the planets? There is some sort of interdependence between a planet and the accompanying debris that might affect the evolution of these exoplanetary debris systems.”
Space scientists will now use the results obtained through this survey and the overall study of the debris system disks viewed to devise new theories and experiments to determine more about the evolution and growth of young stars in the cosmos.
They’ll also use the data and information gained to begin looking at how our solar system formed and evolved during the past 4.6 billion years. They want to study collisions between objects like HD 181327 and Earth-like planets to give more insight into the birth and evolution of our planet and the Moon during the first moments of the solar system.
You can learn more about and follow NASA’s space mission here.
Four percent of star systems seen during human journey to the beginning of space and time contain four stars
Space news (March 09, 2015) – 136 light-years away in the constellation Aries –
Astronomers operating instruments fitted to the Palomar Observatory in San Diego recently discovered the second exoplanet found existing in a quadruple star system. The first such exo-planet, KIC 4862625, was found in 2013 by citizen researchers using data obtained using the Kepler Space Telescope. This latest discovery indicates to many scientists and interested citizens that it’s more common for planets to exist in multiple star systems than first thought.
“About four percent of solar-type stars are in quadruple systems, which is up from previous estimates because observational techniques are steadily improving,” said co-author Andrei Tokovinin of the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in Chile.
Called 30 Ari, this newly discovered quadruple star system is just 136 light-years away in the constellation Aries. The exo-planet is huge at over ten times the mass of Jupiter and orbits the parent star in an interesting 335 days. Could life exist on such a planet? Astronomers and space scientists think this is unlikely, but what do they know for certain?
The planet only orbits the primary star, not the second star which is relatively close to the first star at 23 astronomical units. The third and fourth stars are locked in a gravitational battle with this pair of stars at a distance of 1,670 A.U. from the primary star.
What would the view be like from the surface of this exoplanet? The first pair of the four stars would appear as a single small sun in the sky, along with two exceedingly bright stars visible during the day. Life existing on this planet would be one tough customer.
The image below is an artists conception of the 30 Ari star system.
This planet could have brothers and sisters orbiting one of the stars within the system and even moons itself. Life could exist on one of these worlds. But we best leave these thoughts and ideas for the science fiction books.
We have discovered star systems with as many as four suns during the human journey to the beginning of space and time. So far, about four percent of systems viewed have at least four stars, and we have just started the journey. What will we discover next?
What’s next for astronomers and planetary scientists? A detailed study of multiple star systems, including 30 Ari, and their family dynamics. This should also hopefully tell us more about other possible exoplanets and moons in the 30 Ari star system.
Astronomers also want to take a look at why the second star, which in fact was only recently discovered, doesn’t seem to have changed the orbit of the exoplanet discovered. This does seem rather odd? We’ll have to wait and see what they discover.
Were there even suitable planets upon which life could survive?
Space news (February 03, 2015) 117 light-years away in the constellation Lyra –
Astronomers have often wondered if life could have evolved in the early universe? Space scientists using data provided by NASA’s Kepler mission recently discovered a planetary system containing as many as five earth-sized planets that formed when the universe was two billion years old.
The five earth-sized planets discovered orbit close to their home star in the star system called Kepler-444, range in size between Mercury and Venus. They also take less than ten days to complete each orbit, which means the weather on these planets is hotter and more extreme than any planet in our solar system.
Earth-based life would never survive on these planets unless of course, these planets were once further from their home star. If these planets were once located within the habitable zone of their home planet? It’s possible life once evolved and flourished on one or more of these early planets.
“While this star formed a long time ago, in fact before most of the stars in the Milky Way, we have no indication that any of these planets have now or ever had life on them,” said Steve Howell, Kepler/K2 project scientist at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California. “At their current orbital distances, life as we know it could not exist on these ancient worlds.”
Space scientists studying the age of planets within a star system measure small changes in the brightness of the parent sun produced by pressure waves within the star. These pressure waves result in small variations in star temperature and luminosity leading to very small changes in brightness. Asteroseismologists – asteroseismology is the study of the interior of suns – use these measurements to determine the diameter, mass, and age of the parent sun. The age of the planets within a star system is the same as the parent sun since they formed at about the same time.
The existence of earth-sized planets in the early universe indicates life could have evolved and survived. This news doesn’t tell us how common solar systems with planets of this size were, but it does mean the possibility existed.
Space scientists will now begin looking further back in time and at more early star systems to see if they can find more earth-sized planets life could have evolved on. Any intelligent life evolving in these planets would have long ago moved to another planet. Is it possible we could be descendants of life that evolved in the early universe? If any civilization had the time to develop the technology required to travel the universe and seed planets it would be one that developed on one of these early earth-sized planets.
For more information on NASA’s Kepler space mission go here.
Is a sign smaller exoplanets could have similar or more hospitable environments
Space news (November 07, 2014) 120 light-years away in the constellation Cygnus –
NASA space scientists using the Hubble, Spitzer and Kepler space telescopes detected clear skies and steamy water vapor on exoplanet HAT-P-11b. This is the first detection of molecules on an exoplanet the size of Neptune or smaller. It’s also a sign smaller exoplanets have similar or more hospitable environments.
How did space scientists detect clear skies and steamy vapor on a planet 120 light-years away in the Constellation Cygnus? Astronomers used the Hubble, Spitzer and Kepler space telescopes to observe HAT-P-11b as it passed in front of its parent star in relation to Earth. By analyzing the starlight passing through the atmosphere of the exoplanet, space scientists determined the specific molecules making it up.
This scientific technique is called Transmission Spectroscopy and it was particularly effective in the case of HAT-P-11b because of this Neptune-size exoplanet (exo-Neptune), unlike previous ones detected, has no clouds in the atmosphere to block the starlight from coming through, which allowed for the detection of water vapor molecules.
“This discovery is a significant milepost on the road to eventually analyzing the atmospheric composition of smaller, rocky planets more like Earth,” said John Grunsfeld, assistant administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. “Such achievements are only possible today with the combined capabilities of these unique and powerful observatories.”
“When astronomers go observing at night with telescopes, they say ‘clear skies’ to mean good luck,” said Jonathan Fraine of the University of Maryland, College Park, lead author of a new study appearing in Nature. “In this case, we found clear skies on a distant planet. That’s lucky for us because it means clouds didn’t block our view of water molecules.”
“We think that exo-Neptunes may have diverse compositions, which reflect their formation histories,” said study co-author Heather Knutson of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. “Now with data like these, we can begin to piece together a narrative for the origin of these distant worlds.”
“We are working our way down the line, from hot Jupiters to exo-Neptunes,” said Drake Deming, a co-author of the study also from the University of Maryland. “We want to expand our knowledge to a diverse range of exoplanets.”
NASA space scientists will now use the Hubble, Spitzer and Kepler space telescopes to begin looking at more exoplanets the size of HAT-P-11b for clear skies and water vapor. They’ll also hope to use Transmission Spectroscopy to detect smaller exoplanets, more like our home planet, called super-Earths orbiting distant stars. Once the James Webb Space Telescope comes online in 2018, they’ll begin looking at any super-Earths detected for signs of water vapor and other molecules.