A new satellite, Kepler, which I don’t recall even announced launched*, with a mission to seek out other life-bearing planets in the Milky Way, has discovered five new exoplanets yesterday, according to the NASA site. Confirmation coming from ground-based observatories tracking the data over six weeks since input started coming in from Kepler, on May 12th, 2009,** that the signatures observed by the satellite, which tracks 150,000 stars simultaneously, are in fact fiery hot balls of fire inconducive to the development of life.
Said Jon Morse, director of the Astrophysics Division at NASA Headquarters in Washington:
“We expected Jupiter-size planets in short orbits to be the first planets Kepler could detect. It’s only a matter of time before more Kepler observations lead to smaller planets with longer period orbits, coming closer and closer to the discovery of the first Earth analog.”
According to The San Francisco Chronicle, the planets are nothing like our own, none being smaller than Neptune, and many of them being larger than Jupiter. As to the possibility of life on these gaseous orbs, William J. Borucki, the astronomor who came up with the Kepler Project twenty-five-years ago, heading it from NASA’s Ames Research Center in Mountain View, said:
“[A]ll five simply glow[;] they’re like looking into a blast furnace – but that’s simply no place to look for life.”
The three largest planets have temperatures of 1,800° Farenheit or upward of 3,000° Farenheit. One of the planets is particularly exceptional in its weight, being extremely light, as if it were made of Styrofoam, according to Borucki. These are just the first steps though, according to planetary astronomer Jack Lissauer, also at the Ames Research Center, mission headquarters:
“We’re achieving the kind of precision we really need to detect true Earth analogues. And seeing that so many of those suns out there are so quiet will enable us to learn much more about the interior of the stars themselves.”
NASA is certainly starting the year off with a bang**, and given the President’s impending decision on their budget, it’s certainly good they’re prevalent in the news lately, and for big things too – NASA is important and certainly deserves an increase.
*Oh yeah, ’cause they did it at night, on March 6th of last year.
**Given this information, they’ve been sitting on this story since May, July 2009 at the latest.