New data from the European Space Agency shows that there may be tens of billions of rocky "super-Earths" orbiting in the habitable zones of red dwarf stars in our galaxy, and 100 of them are probably with just 30 light years of us. But how many of these planets are really "Earth-like?" Probably not nearly that many.
The University of Arizona's Wolfgang Fink has a different vision of what robot missions to other worlds should entail. His proposed tier-scalable reconnaissance involves sending a variety of different 'bots to work together instead of just one specialized lander. Here's his Tuscon Explorer II (or TEX II), which is designed to skim across alien bodies of water.
Astronomers use two basic methods to find planets around other stars: watching to see if a star dims when a planet passes in front of it, and watching to see if a star wobbles when a planet orbits around it. Neither of these methods are very good at seeing planets directly, but a giant zeppelin-mounted aerial starshade might be able to change that.
It's going to be a very, very long time before we have a telescope big enough to spot little green men waving at us from the surface of another world. What we might be able to spot in the near future, though, are their farms and gardens, with a spectral technique that looks for the signatures of alien plants in polarized light.
Our galaxy is home to about three hundred billion stars. That's a lot of stars. New research suggests that for every one of those stars, there may be a hundred thousand homeless planets wandering the galaxy. If you're counting, that's like 30,000,000,000,000,000 planets, and some of them may be home to life.
According to astronomer Zachory Berta, "GJ1214b is like no planet we know of." That's because a "huge fraction" of the planet is made up of water — a concept that's hard to drink in when one considers the fact that GJ1214b is a scant 1.3 million miles from its native star and boils at 450 ° Fahrenheit. It's unlike any other planet Hubble has spied to date.
The Kepler planet hunting space telescope has done pretty well finding planets that exist in the "habitable zone" around alien stars, but so far, all of these planets have been significantly larger than Earth. Today, NASA announced that Kepler has discovered the first Earth-sized planets orbiting another star.
Stop me if you've heard this before, but astronomers have used the Kepler planet huntin' space telescope to find the most (potentially) habitable alien planet yet.
Here on Earth, we make it very obvious that a (mostly) intelligent species lives here. We broadcast signals on nearly every wavelength imaginable, and one of those is visible light: every night, we inform the universe of our presence through our rampant light pollution, and extraterrestrials may be doing the same thing.
First it was solving a complex protein puzzle related to the HIV virus, and this time it is the 40,000 registered users of the game Planet Hunters who have identified 69 potential new planets and two very strong candidate planets outside the Earth's solar system. We think we see a new trend in the making.