Once again, Kepler is reshaping our understanding of planets

Sep 19, 2011

This has been a good year for Kepler, NASA's planet-hunting satellite telescope.

Last week, a team of astronomers announced they had discovered a planet that orbits two stars – a discovery that already has the field rethinking how planets are formed. And earlier this year, it was announced there are hundreds of possible planets in a small region of the Milky Way Galaxy, including 20 that have already been confirmed. Planets are also being found in a diversity of solar systems. All of this possible because of .

Three prominent researchers – Jack J. Lissauer, NASA's Ames Research Center; UC Berkeley's Geoffrey W. Marcy; and MIT's Sara Seager – recently discussed how Kepler's discoveries are reshaping thinking about exoplanets. Among the topics: whether scientists need to revisit what they regard as the "habitable zone" in a planetary system – the distance from a star where liquid water on a planet can exist and possibly life.

"The diversity of exoplanets has really forced us to reconsider what the habitable zone really is," said Seager, professor of Physics and the Ellen Swallow Richards Professor of Planetary Science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and faculty member at the MIT Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research. "For example, some super-Earths are massive enough that they could retain a different atmosphere than we have on Earth. These super-Earths may hold on to the light gases, hydrogen or hydrogen and helium. In this case, if they have a massive atmosphere they could have a massive greenhouse effect. This could actually increase the range of the in a planetary system."

Marcy agreed. "We have very Earth-centric views of what conditions are necessary for life…. ut we now know there are many other types of planets, maybe even moons around planets, where there could be the conditions necessary for life," said Marcy, professor of astronomy at the University of California, Director of U.C. Berkeley's Center for Integrative Planetary Science, and a co-investigator on the Kepler space mission. "So we're beginning to broaden our perspective about what types of and environments might be suitable for life."

Explore further: NASA's space station Robonaut finally getting legs

More information: The complete dialogue is available at: www.kavlifoundation.org/science-spotlights/astrophysics-exoplanets-milky-way

Provided by The Kavli Foundation

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User comments : 5

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omatumr
1 / 5 (8) Sep 19, 2011
Congratulations on these new findings! I agree,

"We have very Earth-centric views of what conditions are necessary for life


And also a very Earth-centric view of the causes of climate change.

With kind regards,
Oliver K. Manuel

kevinrtrs
1 / 5 (2) Sep 19, 2011
Last week, a team of astronomers announced they had discovered a planet that orbits two stars

OK, so what else did you want to say about the planet? Is this really ALL there is to say in the WHOLE article? The rest of the article deals with some other ideas and opinions, not the planet itself.
kevinrtrs
1 / 5 (2) Sep 19, 2011
"So we're beginning to broaden our perspective about what types of planets and environments might be suitable for life."

This statement is somewhat ambiguous : Is she really trying to say [or hint] that they are beginning to broaden their perspective about what types of planets and environments might be suitable for the spontaneous generation/creation of life? or is she just saying we're looking for other places to find life, not necessarily where it could have arisen? I somehow suspect she is saying the latter but actually putting in a hopeful hint for the former.
OckhamsRazor
5 / 5 (1) Sep 19, 2011
OK, so what else did you want to say about the planet? Is this really ALL there is to say in the WHOLE article? The rest of the article deals with some other ideas and opinions, not the planet itself.


Go and read the article on this particular discovery: http://www.physor...net.html
GSwift7
not rated yet Sep 20, 2011
OK, so what else did you want to say about the planet? Is this really ALL there is to say in the WHOLE article? The rest of the article deals with some other ideas and opinions, not the planet itself


There is a seperate article about the planet in the binary system, as Ockham pointed out. This article is about how we are finding types of planets we didn't expect.

In regard to our Earth-centric view, that's a bit of a mischaracterization I think. Everyone expects to find things we didn't expect, and it is generally assumed that the variety of planets in the universe will be diverse. The problem is that we have no prior knowledge of what those planets will be like, so the only things we "know for certain" are the things we can directly observe in our own solar system. In regard to life, the only measuring stick we have is the Earth. Astronomers tend to be more cautious than some other fields of study, so they rarely accept new claims without independent verification. [/b]

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