Kepler Data Suggests Life Bearing Planets May Be Close

Neighbors ?Credit :  Harvard

Neighbors ?
Credit : Harvard

Source : Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics

NASA”s  Kepler space telescope, which is searching for planets transiting across their home stars in one very small segment of the sky has already produced volumes of data and leading to the confirmation of  105 extra solar planets.

Now, astronomers using Kepler’s discoveries as a baseline, along with a new understanding of what constitutes the habitable zone around a star, have reached the conclusion that there are likely a number of potentially life supporting worlds in our immediate solar neighborhood, and equally as important it may not take very long to discover them.

The basis for that claim rests on three critical facts. First, and perhaps most significantly, Red Dwarf stars which are smaller and much cooler than our own sun, were previously considered very poor candidates to host Earth like planets. Now however, data from Kepler has revealed that among the tiny fraction of such stars which have been examined, a surprising 6%  do indeed seem to have small rocky, “Earthlike” planets in close orbits. And because the stars themselves are much cooler than our own, a planet in a close in orbit would likely receive a level of light and heat to fall within the requirements of life as we currently understand it.

Second, because such planets orbit close in,  and are  proportionally larger in relation to their parent star, they are actually easier to spot than similar planets further out, and much easier to verify because the orbits sometimes only a take matter of a few weeks.

Finally, our own Sun happens to be located in a region of space with a higher than normal percentage of red dwarfs.  Consequently, we are likely to both have a larger number of potential planets in our immediate vicinity, and are now in an excellent to position to uncover them.

What is particularly compelling about the potential for life supporting planets around Red Dwarfs is the fact that the stars themselves are so dim, they are invisible to the naked eye.  With other research already leading to the conclusion that there is on average, at least one planet for every star you do see in the night sky, there is also an entire unseen galaxy overhead as well, with mysteries and wonders which we are only just beginning to comprehend.

The full press release is here, and it is certainly worth a read. Better yet, a visual representation of the unseen sky is here, and it is both fascinating and  even a little creepy.  (double click on page to activate)

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