Now 54 Extra-Solar Planets in Habitable Zone

And of those 54, five are Earth sized. This is huge, and that’s no exaggeration. There’s not much we can say about this that wouldn’t be ridiculously inadequate, so we won’t even try.

We’ll just give you an excerpt or two from the NASA press release and suggest that you click over to the NASA website to read NASA Finds Earth-Size Planet Candidates In Habitable Zone, Six Planet System. The bold font was added by us:

NASA’s Kepler mission has discovered its first Earth-size planet candidates and its first candidates in the habitable zone, a region where liquid water could exist on a planet’s surface. Five of the potential planets are near Earth-size and orbit in the habitable zone of smaller, cooler stars than our sun.

Five Earth-size planets in the Goldilocks zone! Let’s read on:

The discoveries are part of several hundred new planet candidates identified in new Kepler mission science data, released on Tuesday, Feb. 1. The findings increase the number of planet candidates identified by Kepler to-date to 1,235. Of these, 68 are approximately Earth-size; 288 are super-Earth-size; 662 are Neptune-size; 165 are the size of Jupiter and 19 are larger than Jupiter.

Of the 54 new planet candidates found in the habitable zone, five are near Earth-sized. The remaining 49 habitable zone candidates range from super-Earth size — up to twice the size of Earth — to larger than Jupiter.

One more excerpt:

The fact that we’ve found so many planet candidates in such a tiny fraction of the sky suggests there are countless planets orbiting sun-like stars in our galaxy,” said William Borucki of NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif., the mission’s science principal investigator. “We went from zero to 68 Earth-sized planet candidates and zero to 54 candidates in the habitable zone, some of which could have moons with liquid water.”

If you’re interested — and if you’re aren’t, what’s wrong with you? — click over to NASA and read it all. As always, we’re awaiting the creationist response. It’s certain to be amusing.

Copyright © 2011. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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20 responses to “Now 54 Extra-Solar Planets in Habitable Zone

  1. Two options:

    1 These planets do NOT have life of any kind. The Earth is unique.

    2 If they do, we must spread the Gospel to them.

    Simple. Next challenge? 🙂

  2. Hmmmm, my “satire on” and “satire off” tags didn’t show up. Sorry.

  3. Science tells new stories every day. Religion tells the same old stories over and over again.

    Is there really any contest?

  4. Creationist Response: See, isn’t gawd wonderful? He just proved his existence by putting these planets out there just like that.

    Or at least, that’s what they said last time, isn’t it? Not like they have really come up with anything new since the dark ages…

  5. A rough back-of-the-envelope guesstimate from those numbers — ((5/150,000)*300,000,000,000) — suggests there are on the order of 10,000,000 earth-sized planets in the ‘habitable zone’ in the Milky Way. That’s actually way fewer than I would have guessed given that there are roughly 300 billion stars in the galaxy.

  6. There will probably be more than ten million, RBH. Our instruments are still inadequate for the task, and we’re just getting started. The fact that our relatively primitive searches lead you to calculate ten million should suggest that the actual number will turn out to be far greater.

  7. Yeah, I thought after I posted that it was a lower limit given the factors you mention. I was just proud of multiplying those big numbers! 🙂

  8. retiredsciguy

    Here’s a video of creatures found on one of those planets:

  9. Gabriel Hanna

    Good news: Kepler can only detect a fraction of planets that happen to be oriented the right way, so however many planets Kepler finds we know there will be many more, about 215 times more.

    Bad news: Bear in mind that all Kepler does is measure the change in brightness when a planet, or something, passes in front of a star. Before we can get excited about this news, we need to figure out how many of these candidates are indeed planets, and how many of these planets actually turn out to have water.

    Extrasolar planets have been almost nothing but surprises. Partly this may be due to the nature of what we can easily detect, but to some extent our notions of how planets form have got to be off. I don’t see how sure we can be that planets in the right place to have liquid water will, in fact, have it.

    So our predictions of how creationists will respond to the number of extrasolar planets with liquid water are somewhat premature. So far there’s very little to challenge them.

  10. Gabriel Hanna says: “So far there’s very little to challenge them.”

    They ought to be boggled merely by the existence of all those planets. Why should they exist at all if our lives on Earth are the entire purpose of creation?

  11. Curmudgeon: “As always, we’re awaiting the creationist response.”

    You mean “responseS.” It’s infinitely more fun when they contradict each other.

  12. YA BUT!!!!

    How many of those are ‘fine tuned’ for life like the Earth? We all know only a ‘designer’ can do that.

  13. The past decade and a half of planet discoveries have proven beyond any doubt the problem with developing theories and extending them to the rest of nature based on a sample of one. We thought, reasonably, that solar systems would be like our own – small, inner rocky worlds, and larger, outer gas giants. Ha.

    The universe is far more interesting, it turns out. Almost anything we can imagine seems to be out there, and our tools have so far not been adequate to detect the smaller planets, so as we improve our instruments we will find even more diversity than we know of today. I’m still holding out for small planets in the Alpha Centauri system….

    I takes at least two years to detect a true earth analogue – i.e. a planet orbiting a sun-like star at he same distance earth does. (That’s how long it takes to get three transits if you see the first one on the first day of operation). Since the science mission began in May 2009, we won’t have our first true earth candidates until this summer. The census of those planets should be complete after three years (for the three required transits) sometime in the summer of 2012. It will take a further three year extension of the mission to detect all the potential earth-like planets orbiting as far out as Mars, which is the outer boundary of the habitable zone. So we should be finding earth analogues continuously until about 2015, when any new candidates will be beyond the habitable zones. Ideally the mission would continue, to further explore solar system types, but using the transit method for detection of outer gas giants would take more years than the spacecraft has fuel. It would take ~24 years to confirm a Jupiter analogue around a sun-like star, and a whopping 59 years to pick up Saturn. It will be a very long time before we are able to actually “see” another system like our own.

    Another issue with extrapolating findings. We exist in a fairly benign neighborhood of the galaxy. Stars in the central zone (which are a large portion of the total) presumably exist in a zone of greater radiation, and are more likely to be early generation stars with fewer metals, which might not be as favorable to life. Similarly, dense star clusters might not be as favorable for finding earth-like worlds. So the population of potential stars for hosting earths is less than the total available stars, and to come up with a reasonably accurate estimate would need to take those factors into account.

  14. My first reaction is to start selling extraterrestrial real estate futures.

  15. Eventually, you humans will find the planet I come from, then I’ll have to go home for supper.

  16. Astronomy Pic of the Day has a nice illustration of the Kepler-11 system.

  17. Tundra Boy, everyone knows you were expelled from the Seventh Planet.

  18. Calling occupants of interplanetary craft
    Calling occupants of interplanetary craft
    Calling occupants of interplanetary, most extraordinary craft

    You’ve been observing our Earth
    And we’d like to make a contact with you

    We are your friends

  19. James F says: “We are your friends”

    That makes a lot more sense than being their enemies.

  20. This is an extraordinary discovery, especially when you consider that Kepler is only viewing about one quarter of one percent of our sky.