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Crowded cosmos: In Milky Way, planets more plentiful than stars, even in unexpected places

 
 
Reply Thu 12 Jan, 2012 10:52 am
Crowded cosmos: In Milky Way, planets more plentiful than stars, even in unexpected places
By Associated Press, Published: January 11, 1012

WASHINGTON — The more astronomers look for other worlds, the more they find that it’s a crowded and crazy cosmos. They think planets easily outnumber stars in our galaxy and they’re even finding them in the strangest of places.

And they’ve only begun to count.

( Zdenek Bardon/ProjectSoft, European Souther Observatory / Associated Press ) - This 2011 handout photo provided by the European Southern Observatory, shows the Milky Way above the La Silla Observatory in Chile. The more distant telescope in the photo was used to survey planets in our galaxy using a time consuming technique. The results indicate that on average there are 1.6 larger planets per star in our solar system, but that’s mostly looking at planets that are far from their star. Other methods look more on close-in planets and putting those techniques together, astronomers think that means stars in the Milky Way probably average well over two planets.

( Lynette R. Cook, San Diego State University / Associated Press ) - This handout illustration provided by San Diego State University, shows a newly discovered planet, called Kepler 35, that circles not one but two stars. Scientists thought this type of two-sun system _ made famous as the home planet of the fictional Luke Skywalker _ is too unstable to support planets. But so far they’ve found three of these planets with two suns, showing that planets seem to be everywhere. The study is in this week’s journal Nature.

( Zdenek Bardon/ProjectSoft, European Souther Observatory / Associated Press ) - This 2011 handout photo provided by the European Southern Observatory, shows the Milky Way above the La Silla Observatory in Chile. The more distant telescope in the photo was used to survey planets in our galaxy using a time consuming technique. The results indicate that on average there are 1.6 larger planets per star in our solar system, but that’s mostly looking at planets that are far from their star. Other methods look more on close-in planets and putting those techniques together, astronomers think that means stars in the Milky Way probably average well over two planets.

Three studies released Wednesday, in the journal Nature and at the American Astronomical Society’s conference in Austin, Texas, demonstrate an extrasolar real estate boom. One study shows that in our Milky Way, most stars have planets. And since there are a lot of stars in our galaxy — about 100 billion — that means a lot of planets.

“We’re finding an exciting potpourri of things we didn’t even think could exist,” said Harvard University astronomer Lisa Kaltenegger, including planets that mirror “Star Wars” Luke Skywalker’s home planet with twin suns and a mini-star system with a dwarf sun and shrunken planets.

“We’re awash in planets where 17 years ago we weren’t even sure there were planets” outside our solar system, said Kaltenegger, who wasn’t involved in the new research.

Astronomers are finding other worlds using three different techniques and peering through telescopes in space and on the ground.

Confirmed planets outside our solar system — called exoplanets — now number well over 700, still-to-be-confirmed ones are in the thousands.

NASA’s new Kepler planet-hunting telescope in space is discovering exoplanets that are in a zone friendly to life and detecting planets as small as Earth or even tinier. That’s moving the field of looking for some kind of life outside Earth from science fiction toward just plain science.

One study in Nature this week figures that the Milky Way averages at least 1.6 large planets per star. And that is likely a dramatic underestimate.

That study is based on only one intricate and time-consuming method of planet hunting that uses several South American, African and Australian telescopes. Astronomers look for increases in brightness of distant stars that indicate planets between Earth and that pulsating star. That technique usually finds only bigger planets and is good at finding those further away from their stars, sort of like our Saturn or Uranus.

Kepler and a different ground-based telescope technique are finding planets closer to their stars. Putting those methods together, the number of worlds in our galaxy is probably much closer to two or more planets per star, said the Nature study author Arnaud Cassan of the Astrophysical Institute in Paris.

Dan Werthimer, chief scientist at the University of California Berkeley’s search for extraterrestrial intelligence program and who wasn’t part of the studies, was thrilled: “It’s great to know that there are planets out there that we can point our telescopes at.”

Kepler also found three rocky planets — tinier than Earth — that are circling a dwarf star that itself is only a bit bigger than Jupiter. They are so close to their small star that they are too hot for life.

“It’s like you took your shrink ray gun and you set it to seven times smaller and zap the planetary system,” said California Institute of Technology astronomer John Johnson, co-author of the study presented Wednesday at the astronomy conference.

Because it is so hard to see these size planets, they must be pretty plentiful, Johnson said. “It’s kind of like cockroaches. If you see one, then there are dozens hiding.”

It’s not just the number or size of planets, but where they are found. Scientists once thought systems with two stars were just too chaotic to have planets nearby. But so far, astronomers have found three different systems where planets have two suns, something that a few years ago seemed like purely “Star Wars” movie magic.

“Nature must like to form planets because it’s forming them in places that are kind of difficult to do,” said San Diego State University astronomy professor William Welsh, who wrote a study about planets with two stars that’s also published in the journal Nature.

The gravity of two stars makes the area near them unstable, Welsh said. So astronomers thought that if a planet formed in that area, it would be torn apart.

Late last year, Kepler telescope found one system with two stars. It was considered a freak. Then Welsh used Kepler to find two more. Now Welsh figures such planetary systems, while not common, are not rare either.

“It just feels like it’s inevitable that Kepler is going to come up with a habitable Earth-sized planet in the next couple of years,” Caltech’s Johnson said.

Photos: http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/crowded-cosmos-in-milky-way-planets-more-plentiful-than-stars-even-in-unexpected-places/2012/01/11/gIQAf5EDrP_story.html?tid=pm_politics_pop
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RexDraconis111
 
  1  
Reply Thu 12 Jan, 2012 04:28 pm
@BumbleBeeBoogie,
That's pretty wild stuff. And it's why I don't believe that we're alone in the Universe. When I think that there could be an average of two planets per star in our galaxy, I think that there's got to be life on at least one other planet. Who knows, there may be highly advanced races out there that know about us and are just waiting for us to join them in the vastness of space.

I think all these possibilities are pretty cool.
smcmonagle
 
  1  
Reply Thu 12 Jan, 2012 10:58 pm
@RexDraconis111,
we are alone....the odds of a situation exactly like ours taking place are next to zero. Take theory of evolution and walk it backwards. The events that took place to bring us where we are and who we are will never be duplicated, especially not in the same order
RexDraconis111
 
  1  
Reply Fri 13 Jan, 2012 10:05 am
@smcmonagle,
The odds may be slim-to-nil, but that's as far as we know. There's still a lot we don't know.

With this, I still think that it's possible we're not alone.
0 Replies
 
Joe Nation
 
  1  
Reply Fri 13 Jan, 2012 10:56 am
@smcmonagle,
It's not about duplication of what we consider life.
Evolution's beauty is that it takes whatever path opens.
On some other planet, organic chemicals might be based on ammonia, completely different from our carbon based ones, lungs might have to take in sulfuric hydroxide instead nitrogen and oxygen or maybe they wouldn't have lungs, just take in nutrients and expel waste without any form respiration.

All while writing what is considered, on that planet, great opera.

Joe(which they will taste rather than hear)Nation
PandaFan
 
  1  
Reply Fri 13 Jan, 2012 05:55 pm
A planet with two suns...sounds like a vacation paradise in the making tome! Buy my ticket now.
Smile
BumbleBeeBoogie
 
  1  
Reply Sat 14 Jan, 2012 10:50 am
@PandaFan,
When you're in an unopulated area and gaze up at the night sky, it's easy to be overwhelmed by the profusion of stars. But what's truly overwhelming is this: All the stars that are visible from earth represent only 0.00000000000000001 percent of all the stars in the known universe.
0 Replies
 
smcmonagle
 
  1  
Reply Sat 14 Jan, 2012 11:16 am
@Joe Nation,
I understand. However, the complexity of the evolution of lungs are unique to our evolutionary path. Even the idea that another planet existing to recreate this is slim to nil.

This brings me to my next point. I believe perhaps somehow the answer to "are we alone in the universe"? and "are there other hidden dimensions?" are answered by the same.
Now if you take what you said one step further and use the table of elements more like the electromagnetic spectrum, you will come to the conclusion that life may be out there, but because it is on another point on the "element scale" we just cant see it, hear it, or touch it.

For example, we are large percent water, water exist only in a certain range of temperatures, which is the range in which we exist. Now if you tip the scale and say another life form was a large percent nitrogen. They just couldnt exist on our planet but may on a planet in which nitrogen flows like water. And you can take the infinite possibilities and combos of elements and come to a final conclusion that life simply evolved in ways that we cant understand
So...LIFE ON OTHER PLANETS ARE OTHER DIMENSIONS,
I understand this was a short explanation, but try the thought process yourself and you will come to it too

Joe Nation
 
  1  
Reply Sun 15 Jan, 2012 11:00 am
@smcmonagle,
The elements, no matter where they are in the universe, will behave exactly the same way anywhere else in the universe.

Joe(Other than that we agree. )Nation
smcmonagle
 
  1  
Reply Sun 15 Jan, 2012 06:21 pm
@Joe Nation,
Yes, But on a colder planet, nitrogen will flow more commonly like water and water would be the equivelent to rocks on that same planet. Try and look at the elements more like a spectrum laid on a temperature scale
0 Replies
 
hater
 
  1  
Reply Mon 15 Jul, 2013 09:57 pm
@BumbleBeeBoogie,
so what, none of them are like earth so it doesnt matter at all
0 Replies
 
 

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