A jaw-dropping video of all the 2299 currently discovered exoplanets and candidates, circling around one hypothetical star. This gives a good view of all the variation in size and orbit of currently discovered planets (including smaller, Earth-like ones).
This is pretty astonishing, if you remember that before 1988, no exoplanet had ever been discovered, and during the 1990s, only a few. But recent technological advances have made it possible to identify and confirm thousands of exoplanets – gas giants like Jupiter, but also Earth-like ones – only in the last couple of years. You can look them up in the Exoplanet Orbit Database or the Extrasolar Planets Encyclopedia.
As of 2012, 777 exoplanets in 623 planetary systems have been confirmed, and about 2300 are awaiting confirmation. It is estimated that more than 50% of Sun-like systems have planets (and planets have been discovered circling other types of stars as well). And of course, all of these have moons as well.
Yet, aside from on the internet, this facet of astronomy – unlike other big scientific projects of this era, such as CERN, the ISS and the Mars rover Curiosity – doesn’t get that much attention. Yet, NASA’s Kepler space telescope mission, searching for habitable planets, has done hugely important work, showing how even a small section of the universe is teeming with all kinds of objects.
The Drake equation is a theory, developed by astronomer Frank Drake in 1961, purportedly estimating how many extraterrestrial civilizations are likely to exist in the universe.
If you think about the gazillions of stars in the universe; and if you think about the gazillions and gazillions of planets likely circling these stars (the last five years, thousands have been discovered in our solar neighbourhood only!), the chance of alien life not existing must be very tiny. And the odds of intelligent life and civilizations developing must therefore also be high, just looking at the statistics of the universe.
The BBC has a very cool interactive infographic exploring the Drake equation. It also includes its detractors: after all, if alien civilizations must exist, why hasn’t any sign of them been found yet? The universe is already 13.5 billion years old, after all. Chances are that no civilization has ever developed to the point of interstellar communication without first destroying itself… More here.
The news is already a day old, but I still want to highlight it: for the first time, a rocky exoplanet has been discovered in the habitable zone surrounding a Sun-sized star. The planet, Kepler-22b, is only 2,4 times the size of Earth, its average temperature is a comfortable 22 degrees Celcius (perfect!), and according to NASA scientists the surface might consist of rock. One caveat: this is not exactly sure, and it might be that only the core consists of rock and the rest is gas…
But let’s not spoil the fun! Let’s also not spoil it by the fact that it is 600 lightyears away. Kepler is probably teeming with extraterrestrial life, and will otherwise make a great spot for colonization efforts. I can’t wait! Also check out this nice Habitable Exoplanets Catalog, a database containing the hundreds and hundreds of exoplanets currently discovered.
A new planet outside Earth’s solar system has been identified with many similarities to our own – making it the latest best potential target for life.
Kepler 22-b, which is about 2.4 times the size of Earth and lies in the so-called “Goldilocks zone”, has a relatively comfortable surface temperature of about 22C (72F) and orbits a star not unlike Earth’s sun.
But while astronomers believe that it “probably” also possesses water and land, earthlings secretly harbouring hopes that such a planet could potentially host new colonies from our own increasingly overpopulated home may be in for a disappointment.
About 600 light-years from Earth, Kepler 22-b is a considerable trek away while experts are not yet sure if it is made mostly of rock, gas or liquid.
The discovery was made by Nasa‘s Kepler planet-hunting telescope. It is the first time Kepler confirmed a planet outside Earth’s solar system in the not-too-hot, not-too-cold habitable zone.
Twice before, astronomers have announced planets found in that zone, but neither was as promising. One was disputed; the other is on the hot edge of the zone.
More than 1,000 new planet candidates have been discovered by the Kepler telescope, nearly doubling the previously known count. Ten of the candidates are close to Earth’s size while Kepler-22b is the smallest yet found to orbit in the middle of the habitable zone of a star similar to our sun.
“This is a major milestone on the road to finding Earth’s twin,” said Douglas Hudgins, Kepler program scientist at Nasa headquarters in Washington.
“Kepler’s results continue to demonstrate the importance of Nasa’s science missions, which aim to answer some of the biggest questions about our place in the universe.”
“Fortune smiled upon us with the detection of this planet,” said William Borucki, Kepler principal investigator at Nasa’s Ames Research Center at Moffett Field, California, who led the team that discovered Kepler 22-b. “The first transit was captured just three days after we declared the spacecraft operationally ready. We witnessed the defining third transit over the 2010 holiday season.”
One thing I’ve always found fascinating, is that whatever we do – eat, drink, party, fuck, solve poverty, cure diseases, end war, build civilizations – at some point, it’s all useless. Because in 6 billion years, the Sun will turn into a red giant, vanguish this planet, and then turn into a small white dwarf. Of course, given the technological progress of the last half millennium, you might imagine a civilization so advanced that it can escape in space ships, or perhaps even move the Earth to another star (or re-boot the Sun, or any other alternative). But even then, at some point, all stars will disappear. And after that, either the universe will keep expanding and turn into a black void, or start shrinking, and in a reverse Big Bang implode into itself.
Now I know these are extreme thought extrapolations, and that it doesn’t matter at all, given the unthinkable span of time it will take before this occurs. But still. At one point, everything, the whole universe will be gone. Everything you’ve lived and died for is completely gone. Even if there’s a multiverse with more cosmoses, this universe will be gone, and there’s no escape possible.
Sooo… that is what this extremely cool BBC Horizon episode, which I just happened to see on tele, is about. It’s not run of the mill astronomy but asks those crazy hyperbolic questions about the end of it all. Start watching at the middle, because then it gets good.
NASA’s Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope has unveiled a previously unseen structure centered in the Milky Way — a finding likened in terms of scale to the discovery of a new continent on Earth. The feature, which spans 50,000 light-years, may be the remnant of an eruption from a supersized black hole at the center of our galaxy.
“What we see are two gamma-ray-emitting bubbles that extend 25,000 light-years north and south of the galactic center,” said Doug Finkbeiner, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA) in Cambridge, Mass., who first recognized the feature. “We don’t fully understand their nature or origin.”
At more than 100 degrees across, the structure spans more than half of the sky, from the constellation Virgo to the constellation Grus. It may be millions of years old.
More astronomy: a beautiful video that zooms out of Earth to show the solar system, the Milky Way, billions of galaxies, quasars, the cosmic horizon, and ultimately the entire universe – and then it zooms back in again, thus showing the absolute enormity of the universe, and the extreme smallness of our planet. In between it shows you satellites, stars, the extent of humanity’s radio signals, and so on. Really well done.
Light Sound Dimension is proud to present you (via Huffington Post): the first-ever picture of an alien planet! That is, a planet that is in another solar system. While images of exoplanets have been released before, these were always composed from data of indirect observations, such as gravitational fluctuations. This however is a real image, taken by telescopes on Earth.
Here it is: a gas giant eight times the size of Jupiter, in the 1RXS 1609 system, 500 light-years from Earth.
Betelgeuse is a red supergiant star, 500-600 light years away from Earth, and the ninth brightest star in the sky. To give you an idea how big Betelgeuse is: if it were in the centre of our solar system, it would stretch out to between Mars and Jupiter.
Also, it’s about to go supernova. At least, that’s been the estimation for a while now. Although it’s not very old (only a few million years), it apparently has evolved and grown too rapidly, and the expection was that it would explode at some point in the next millennium.
And now there’s rumors that it might happen in just a few weeks time!
If that happens, it will outshine the Moon in the night sky, and be visible in broad daylight. So that’s gonna be a show, unlike anything ever seen before on this planet.
Betelgeuse has been shrinking continuously since 1993, at an increasing rate. By June 2009, it had shrunk 15% from its size as measured in 1993.
But wait! There’s more. It is rumored, though I have been unable to find any reliable confirmation of the source (which is claimed to be first-hand) that the latest observations from Mauna Kea show that Betelgeuse is now shrinking so fast it is no longer round. (Due to conservation of angular momentum, when a massive star collapses gravitationally, it collapses faster at the poles, becoming increasingly oblate — flattened — as its final collapse accelerates.)
What does this mean?
Well, briefly, what it means — if true — is that Betelgeuse could be within as little as weeks of a Type II (core collapse) supernova. (Astronomers have considered for some time that Betelgeuse has the potential to go supernova any time in the next thousand years or so. “Any time” may just turn out to be rather sooner than expected.)
IF this happens, not to put too fine a point on it, it will almost undoubtedly be among the most dramatic astronomical events ever observed by human eyes. A type II supernova can briefly outshine an entire galaxy … and this one will be only a little over five hundred LY away. The supernova that created the Crab Nebula, SN 1054, was bright enough to see in daylight for 23 days, and remained visible for 653 days … and it was 6,300 LY away. Betelgeuse is almost 12 times closer, and can be expected to appear around 140 times brighter by virtue of that alone. And as noted at the beginning of this post, Betelgeuse is the ninth largest star known to exist in the universe.
If the rumor is true, this is going to be one hell of a show, and we’ll have a front-row seat.