Subscribe free to our newsletters via your
. 24/7 Space News .




EXO WORLDS
Getting to Know the Goldilocks Planet
by Dauna Coulter for NASA Science News
Huntsville AL (SPX) Apr 03, 2012


Kepler has already located a few Earth-sized planets, but they are too close for comfort to their parent stars. These recent finds have heightened the sense that a big discovery is just around the corner.

NASA's Kepler spacecraft is discovering a veritable avalanche of alien worlds. Recent finds include planets with double suns, massive "super-Earths" and "hot Jupiters," and a miniature solar system. The variety of planets circling distant suns is as wonderful as it is surprising.

As the numbers mount, it seems to be just a matter of time before Kepler finds what astronomers are really looking for: an Earth-like planet orbiting its star in the "Goldilocks zone"-that is, at just the right distance for liquid water and life.

"I believe Kepler will find a 'Goldilocks planet' within the next two years," says Shawn Domagal-Goldman, a researcher at NASA HQ who specializes in exoplanet biology. "We'll be able to point at a specific star in the night sky and say 'There it is-a planet that could support life!'"

Kepler has already located a few Earth-sized planets, but they are too close for comfort to their parent stars. These recent finds have heightened the sense that a big discovery is just around the corner.

But finding a Goldilocks planet is just the first step. Getting to know it is much more difficult.

The problem is that, in the cosmic scheme of things, Earth-sized planets are relatively small, and the ones Kepler is finding are staggeringly far away. Most are hundreds, or even thousands, of light years away from Earth. Almost completely hidden by the glare of their parent stars, these distant pinpricks are very difficult to study.

Fortunately, NASA has a plan.

"The reflected light of an exoplanet tells its story," explains Kepler Program Scientist Doug Hudgins, also at NASA HQ. "To get at that story and learn about the planet's atmosphere and composition, we can use a technique called transit spectroscopy."

The basic idea is simple: When a planet reflects the light of its parent star, the atmosphere of the planet leaves a subtle imprint on the reflection--a sort of spectral "fingerprint" that astronomers can study to learn what the planet's atmosphere is made of.

One new mission under consideration by NASA, named FINESSE, is a fingerprint specialist. Short for "Fast INfrared Exoplanet Spectroscopy Survey Explorer," FINESSE would measure the spectra of stars and their planets in two situations: once when the planet is in view, and again when the planet is hiding out behind its star.

In this way, FINESSE can separate the planet's dim light from the stellar glare and reveal the composition of the planet's atmosphere.

NASA is also considering an observatory named "TESS"--the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite. Supported in part by Google, the MIT-led mission is specifically designed to find exoplanets in the local galactic neighborhood. TESS would study hundreds of stars within 50 light years of Earth, close enough to study in some detail.

"With better detectors and instruments designed to block the glare of the parent stars, these next-generation telescopes could not only find a Goldilocks planet, but also tell us what its atmosphere is made of, what sort of cloud cover graces its skies, and maybe even what the surface is like-whether oceans cover part of the globe, how much land there is, and so on," says Hudgins.

Domagal-Goldman expects big surprises: "We've found so many unexpected things about planets that now I expect to be amazed. When we can study a Goldilocks planet, I believe we'll discover something revolutionary about how life interacts with a planetary environment. Nature is so much more diverse than we anticipated."

"The possibilities," he believes, "are limitless."

.


Related Links
Kepler Home Page
Lands Beyond Beyond - extra solar planets - news and science
Life Beyond Earth






Comment on this article via your Facebook, Yahoo, AOL, Hotmail login.

Share this article via these popular social media networks
del.icio.usdel.icio.us DiggDigg RedditReddit GoogleGoogle




Memory Foam Mattress Review
Newsletters :: SpaceDaily :: SpaceWar :: TerraDaily :: Energy Daily
XML Feeds :: Space News :: Earth News :: War News :: Solar Energy News





EXO WORLDS
Billions of Habitable Zone Rocky Planets Could be Orbiting Red Dwarf Stars
Munich, Germany (SPX) Mar 29, 2012
A new result from ESO's HARPS planet finder shows that rocky planets not much bigger than Earth are very common in the habitable zones around faint red stars. The international team estimates that there are tens of billions of such planets in the Milky Way galaxy alone, and probably about one hundred in the Sun's immediate neighborhood. This is the first direct measurement of the frequency ... read more


EXO WORLDS
Flying Formation - Around the Moon at 3,600 MPH

NASA's Grail MoonKam Returns First Student-Selected Lunar Images

Ecliptic "MoonKAM" Systems Begin Operations in Lunar Orbit

Two New NASA LRO Videos: See Moon's Evolution, Take a Tour

EXO WORLDS
The sounds of Mars and Venus are revealed for the first time

Dusty, Acidic Glaciers Could Explain Layered Deposits on Mars

Slight Drop Of Left-Front Wheel

'Mount Sharp' On Mars Links Geology's Past and Future

EXO WORLDS
New Study Calls For Recognition of Private Property Claims in Space

Conservatives' trust in science has fallen dramatically since mid-1970s

First the smart phone, now the smart home

NASA Space Network to Begin New Design Phase For Ground Segment

EXO WORLDS
China's Lunar Docking

Shenzhou-9 may take female astronaut to space

China to launch 100 satellites during 2011-15

Three for Tiangong

EXO WORLDS
Aerojet Propulsion Helps Deliver Astronaut Care Packages

Soyuz return from ISS set for April 27

European cargo vessel docks with space station

Beaming Success for ISS Fans

EXO WORLDS
Space Launch System Program Completes Step One of Combined Milestone Reviews

Russian Proton-M Puts Military Satellite into Orbit

ORS SpaceLoft-6 launch to test reliability, durability of payloads in suborbital voyage

China launches French-made communication satellite

EXO WORLDS
Getting to Know the Goldilocks Planet

Billions of Habitable Zone Rocky Planets Could be Orbiting Red Dwarf Stars

Runaway Planets Zoom at a Fraction of Light-Speed

Some orbits more popular than others in solar systems

EXO WORLDS
New understanding of how materials change when rapidly heated

Northrop Grumman Conducts Air and Missile Defense Radar System Reviews

Honeycombs of magnets could lead to new type of computer processing

Facebook fans get to play out celebrity fantasies




The content herein, unless otherwise known to be public domain, are Copyright 1995-2014 - Space Media Network. AFP, UPI and IANS news wire stories are copyright Agence France-Presse, United Press International and Indo-Asia News Service. ESA Portal Reports are copyright European Space Agency. All NASA sourced material is public domain. Additional copyrights may apply in whole or part to other bona fide parties. Advertising does not imply endorsement,agreement or approval of any opinions, statements or information provided by Space Media Network on any Web page published or hosted by Space Media Network. Privacy Statement