Kepler Discovers 8-Planet System

Moments ago, NASA announced that the Kepler space telescope, for the first time ever, has discovered a star that has a system of 8 planets, similar to our own solar system. The exceptional part of the discovery is that it was found in existing Kepler data, using google artificial intelligence software that was trained to find positive detections in over 30,000 data sets.  Known as a neural network, the software was trained to look for patterns in the intensity of light from stars.  Normally, humans would need to do this work, but with so much data, there simply wasn’t enough...

How Life on Earth Began

One of the most important questions our species has tackled is the origin of life on Earth.  If we can figure out the conditions and catalyst for the beginning of life, we can look elsewhere in the universe for those same conditions, and zero in on the potential for finding extraterrestrial life.  We know the universe is old enough for the painstakingly slow evolutionary process, but what started it? In the famous 1952 Miller-Urey experiment, a flask containing the basic natural elements water (H20), methane (CH4), Ammonia (NH4), and Hydrogen (H2), all present on the early Earth, was subjected to...

New Kepler Planets Confirmed!

In a major announcement this week, researchers with the Kepler Space Telescope science team have confirmed the existence of 1,284 new planets that had originally been found by Kepler.  This is a huge leap in the number of confirmed planets, bringing the total to over 2,300. The previous science data collection done by Kepler was completed in 2013, so why is this new news? Well the exciting part is that these are confirmed planets.  Usually when Kepler detects a signal indicating a potential planet, it needs to be verified by using some of the larger ground-based telescopes.  Kepler is not immune...

Shock Breakout Visualized

I just released a post about the Kepler Space Telescope and its observation of the shock breakout of an exploding star, the exact moment when it’s considered a supernova.  Further to this I wanted to show some of the great visualizations of the event, and to show you just how energetic and luminous a supernova really is, compared to our Sun.   The video shows the shock breakout, the bright flash lasting an hour, before the star rapidly increases in brightness to it’s maximum.  Not shown is the gradual fading of the supernova, which can take days or even weeks....

The Flash of a Star’s Death

The most violent single event in the universe is the death of a massive star, a supernova.  We have seen several different types, though the common element is a massive explosion, taking a star hiding amongst the background into an eruption that outshines it’s entire host galaxy.  We have seen the brightness grow and fade over the duration of a supernova event, but we have never seen one just as it’s starting.  Until now. Would you ever have thought that the Kepler space telescope, a planet hunter that continuously observes stars, could see supernovae?  The key is in the words ‘continuously observed.’  By keeping...

Called it! No Aliens!

Sometimes I love to say ‘I told you so,’ though in the world of science it’s more like ‘I gave you a high probability of this plausible scenario.’  A little while back a story broke about a star called KIC 8462852, with a strange ring of material surrounding it.  One potential explanation was that an extraterrestrial civilization has constructed a giant ring to harvest it’s home star’s energy.  Though this was one of a dozen possible explanations, it of course gathered the most steam among the general populace. In a statement today, officials from the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) confirmed that...

Incredible Exoplanets

Out of the over 2000 confirmed exoplanets, not one has been seen in the conventional sense, where we would see it’s surface, map out features and colours, and understand it’s atmosphere or surface from what we saw.  Instead all the knowledge we have of exoplanets is based on the light we see.  How big is the dip in the Kepler Telescope’s light curve? What absorption features do the reflected light of this planet show? This information is the result of careful analysis and brilliant inference, since the planets themselves are immeasurably tiny and hard to spot next to their giant...

Most Earth-Like Planets Don’t Exist Yet

The Earth, along with the rest of the solar system, was born around 4.6 Billion years ago.  At that time, Earth was part of the early group of habitable planets to form in the Universe.  According to a new theoretical study from the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI), the vast majority of Earth-like planets has yet to form. Using data from the Hubble space Telescope (HST) and the Kepler Space Telescope (KST), astronomers were able to come up with a theoretical model of cosmic evolution, detailing how planets will form over the entire lifespan of the Universe. “Our main motivation was...

Some Planets are More Livable Than Earth!

When the launch of the James Webb Space Telescope comes a few years from now, we will have then opportunity to probe deeper into the cosmos than ever before, to see things we had only dreamed of seeing previously.  Among the prime targets for this modern marvel of human ingenuity are potentially habitable exoplanets, where future humans could live, provided there isn’t already life occupying the real estate.  To help astronomers assign importance to the growing number of exoplanets, researchers at the University of Washington’s Virtual Planetary Laboratory have devised an index to represent the habitability of worlds, near and...

Earth’s Twin Discovered!

Since the explosion of exoplanet science in the late 1990s, our entire understanding of the universe beyond our own solar system has changed.  We have confirmed over 1,000 planets orbiting other stars, with another 3500 waiting to be confirmed by subsequent observations.  As we search, our prime directive has always been to improve our technology to determine if other Earths exist, and to seek them out.  Every year we have added another discovery that brings us closer to finding a twin of the planet Earth in space.  Today we have come one step closer, and it is indeed a big step....