Monday, 21 February 2011

Kepler telescope finds five Earth-like planets

Two years ago, almost to the day, I blogged about NASA launching the Kepler telescope after they calculated that there are probably a hundred billion Earth-sized planets in our galaxy alone. And now we have some results. Kepler has discovered 1,235 planets including 5 Earth-sized planets in their star's Goldilocks zone - the zone around a star in which water is liquid and life as we know it may be possible.

Kepler has also found six confirmed planets orbiting a sun-like star, Kepler-11. This is the largest group of transiting planets orbiting a single star yet discovered outside our solar system. The Kepler team reckon that one star in two has a planetary system.

The Daily Telegraph has published this photograph...

 ...which they amusingly claim is a photo taken by the Kepler telescope.

Of course there's no chance it's a real picture from Kepler; planets don't line up like that to be snapped in a single photo, and anyway those planets are far too large relative to the star.

What we need now is an even bigger telescope to peer closely at the 5 Earth-like planets to see what's going on down there. At the moment their presence is being inferred by a dimming of the parent star as the planet passes in front of it. But with a bigger telescope we could resolve the planets themselves. Will there be oceans? Greenery? Perhaps even a large herd of migratory animals could be made out! We live in interesting times for astronomers.

(Readers may be wondering what this all has to do with nationalism. Well continue wondering - this blog is about my interests, not yours!)

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