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  • richardmitnick 1:40 pm on September 1, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , Exoplanets,   

    From Carnegie: “A distant planet’s interior chemistry may differ from our own” 

    Carnegie Institution for Science
    Carnegie Institution for Science

    1
    The crystal structure of magnesium peroxide, MgO2, courtesy of Sergey Lobanov, created using K. Momma’s program for drawing crystal structures.

    As astronomers continue finding new rocky planets around distant stars, high-pressure physicists are considering what the interiors of those planets might be like and how their chemistry could differ from that found on Earth. New work from a team including three Carnegie scientists demonstrates that different magnesium compounds could be abundant inside other planets as compared to Earth. Their work is published by Scientific Reports.

    Oxygen and magnesium are the two most-abundant elements in Earth’s mantle. However, when scientists are predicting the chemical compositions of rocky, terrestrial planets outside of our own Solar System, they shouldn’t assume that other rocky planets would have Earth-like mantle mineralogy, according to a research team including Carnegie’s Sergey Lobanov, Nicholas Holtgrewe, and Alexander Goncharov.

    Stars that have rocky planets are known to vary in chemical composition. This means that the mineralogies of these rocky planets are probably different from each other and from our own Earth, as well. For example, elevated oxygen contents have been observed in stars that host rocky planets. As such, oxygen may be more abundant in the interiors of other rocky planets, because the chemical makeup of a star would affect the chemical makeups of the planets that formed around it. If a planet is more oxidized than Earth, then this could affect the composition of the compounds found in its interior, too, including the magnesium compounds that are the subject of this study.

    Magnesium oxide, MgO, is known to be remarkably stable, even under very high pressures. And it isn’t reactive under the conditions found in Earth’s lower mantle. Whereas magnesium peroxide, MgO2, can be formed in the laboratory under high-oxygen concentrations, but it is highly unstable when heated, as would be the case in a planetary interior.

    Previous theoretical calculations had indicated that magnesium peroxide would become stable under high-pressure conditions. Taking that idea one step further, the team set out to test whether stable magnesium peroxide could be synthesized under extreme conditions mimicking planetary interiors.

    Using a laser-heated, diamond-anvil cell, they brought very small samples of magnesium oxide and oxygen to different pressures meant to mimic planetary interiors, from ambient pressure to 1.6 million times normal atmospheric pressure (0-160 gigapascals), and heated them to temperatures above 3,140 degrees Fahrenheit (2,000 Kelvin). They found that under about 950,000 times normal atmospheric pressure (96 gigapascals) and at temperatures of 3,410 degrees Fahrenheit (2,150 Kelvin), magnesium oxide reacted with oxygen to form magnesium peroxide.

    “Our findings suggest that magnesium peroxide may be abundant in extremely oxidized mantles and cores of rocky planets outside our Solar System,” said Lobanov, the paper’s lead author “When we develop theories about distant planets, it’s important that we don’t assume their chemistry and mineralogy is Earth-like.”

    “These findings provide yet another example of the ways that high-pressure laboratory experiments can teach us about not only our own planet, but potentially about distant ones as well,” added Goncharov.

    Because of its chemical inertness, MgO has also long been used as a conductor that transmits heat and pressure to an experimental sample. “But this new information about its chemical reactivity under high pressure means that such experimental uses of MgO need to be revised, because this very stable at ambient conditions material could be creating unwanted reactions at high pressures,” Goncharov added.

    The other co-authors are Qiang Zhu and Artem Oganov of Stony Brook University and Clemens Prescher and Vitali Prakapenka of University of Chicago.

    This study was funded by the Deep Carbon Observatory, the National Science Foundation, DARPA, the Government of the Russian Federation, and the Foreign Talents Introduction and Academic Exchange Program. Calculations were performed on XSEDE facilities and on the cluster of the Center for Functional Nonomaterials Brookhaven National Laboratory, which is supported by the DOE-BES.

    See the full article here.

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    Carnegie Institution of Washington Bldg

    Andrew Carnegie established a unique organization dedicated to scientific discovery “to encourage, in the broadest and most liberal manner, investigation, research, and discovery and the application of knowledge to the improvement of mankind…” The philosophy was and is to devote the institution’s resources to “exceptional” individuals so that they can explore the most intriguing scientific questions in an atmosphere of complete freedom. Carnegie and his trustees realized that flexibility and freedom were essential to the institution’s success and that tradition is the foundation of the institution today as it supports research in the Earth, space, and life sciences.

     
  • richardmitnick 11:28 am on July 31, 2015 Permalink | Reply
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    From JPL- “Exoplanets 20/20: Looking Back to the Future: 

    JPL

    July 31, 2015
    Pat Brennan, NASA-JPL

    1
    Artist’s rendering of a Jupiter-sized exoplanet and its host, a star slightly more massive than our sun. Image credit: ESO

    Geoff Marcy remembers the hair standing up on the back of his neck. Paul Butler remembers being dead tired. The two men had just made history: the first confirmation of a planet orbiting another star.

    The groundbreaking discovery had been announced less than week earlier by the European team of Michel Mayor and Didier Queloz. But the news was met with some initial skepticism in the astronomical community. By a stroke of good luck, Marcy and Butler happened to have previously scheduled observation time on a 120-inch telescope at the Lick Observatory, atop California’s Mount Hamilton.

    UCO Lick Shane Telescope
    UCO Lick Shane Telescope interior
    UCO Lick Shane 120″ telescope

    The scientists, who would become two of the world’s most famous planet hunters, remember driving down the mountainside together in October 1995. They’d spent four straight nights making their observations. And while further processing would be needed to make the scientific case, their data seemed clear and unmistakable — and almost impossible. A huge planet, at least half the size of Jupiter, was not only orbiting its host star more tightly than Mercury hugs the sun. It was racing around that star, making a complete orbit in just four days.

    The planet, called 51 Pegasi b, would open a new era in humanity’s exploration of our galactic neighborhood. It would be the first in a series of “hot Jupiters” — giant planets in fast, tight orbits — discovered in rapid succession. The rush of new worlds would propel Marcy, Butler and their research team into the media spotlight, and forever change our view of the cosmos.

    ‘A spine-tingling experience’

    But for the moment, on that solemn drive down the mountainside, Marcy and Butler were alone with their world-altering news. “We knew we were the only people on the planet to be sure that 51 Peg, the planet, really did exist,” Marcy said recently. “It was exhilarating. We were absolutely thrilled to know an historic moment in science history was happening before our eyes. It was a truly spine-tingling experience.”

    Still, the astronomical pioneers had a few struggles ahead to gain the acceptance of the scientific community. The hunt for extrasolar planets — exoplanets, for short — had a poor track record, with decades’ worth of false detections. Among them was the thrilling discovery of a planet orbiting Barnard’s star in the 1960s; it turned out to be an unnoticed shift of a telescope lens. Once the shift was accounted for, the “planet” disappeared.

    The early ’90s had seen the actual detection of “pulsar planets,” but these seemed too strange to count, orbiting a rapidly spinning, radiation-spewing stellar remnant called a pulsar. Most scientists would reserve the “first” designation for a planet orbiting a normal star.

    “The whole field had a snake-oil sort of feel to it,” Butler said in a recent interview. “For the previous fifty years or so, there were many announcements, all proved to be wrong. If we went to a meeting and said we were looking for extrasolar planets, we might as well have said we were looking for little green men.”

    Even Marcy greeted the announcement of 51 Peg, made at a scientific conference in Florence, Italy, by Mayor and Queloz, with a bit of a yawn — at first.

    “This claim on October 6, 1995, of the first planet ever discovered was sort of business as usual,” he said. “Here’s another false claim. This one is more obviously a false claim. The orbital period is claimed to be 4.3 days. Nobody in their right mind thought planets could orbit so close to a star.”

    But the four nights of observations at the Lick Observatory — perfectly coinciding with 51 Peg’s four-day orbit — changed all that. Both the Mayor and Marcy teams had been trying to develop a planet-hunting technique based on wobbling stars. The wobbles, known as the star’s “radial velocity,” were induced by the gravitational tugs of orbiting planets. The starlight wavelength was compressed, then stretched, as the star moved toward and away from astronomers’ telescopes.

    Now, Mayor and Queloz had proven that the technique worked. And a few days later, Marcy and Butler validated both the method used by Mayor’s team and their own very similar detection method.

    But Marcy and his team realized something more. The only thing that had kept them from beating Mayor’s group to that first detection was a perfectly reasonable assumption: that big planets moved in stately orbits, like the 12 years it took Jupiter to take one lap around the sun.

    Either they would have to watch stars for a very long time, or they would have to refine their wobble detector until it could pick up the very tiny shifts in a star’s position caused by small planets in tighter, faster orbits.

    They were working on just this type of refinement when Mayor announced his discovery. More importantly, they had been recording observations with their wobble-detecting device, known as a spectrograph. Sure enough, when they took another look, big, star-hugging planets began popping out of their data.

    Planets proper

    At a meeting of the American Astronomical Society in January 1996, Marcy announced two more planet discoveries: 70 Virginis and 47 Ursae Majoris. The first had a 116-day orbit — far more reasonable than 51 Peg’s scorching four days — and its orbit was elliptical, making it unlikely to be anything but a planet. The orbit of 47 Ursae Majoris was more reasonable still: 2.5 years. Together, they provided a “bridge” to our own solar system, Marcy said, with planets behaving themselves as proper planets should.

    The discoveries vaulted Marcy and his team into scientific celebrity status, with appearances on nationwide nightly news shows; their new planets even made the cover of Time magazine.

    And the Marcy-Butler team was just warming up. The floodgates were opened. They discovered at least 70 of the first 100 exoplanets that were found in the years that followed. Their pioneering, planet-hunting safari went on for a decade. Soon, however, the landscape would change yet again.

    The gold rush of planet finding kicked into high gear with the launch of the Kepler Space Telescope in 2009.

    NASA Kepler Telescope
    Kepler

    This spacecraft nestled into an Earth-trailing orbit, then fixed its eye on a small patch of sky — and kept it there for four years.

    Within that patch were more than 150,000 stars, a kind of cross-section of an arm of our own Milky Way galaxy, as if Kepler were shining a searchlight into deep space. Kepler was looking for planetary transits — the infinitesimally tiny dip in starlight that occurs when a planet crosses the face of the star it is orbiting.

    The method only works for distant solar systems whose planets’ orbits, from our perspective, are seen edge-on. This way, an exoplanet is silhouetted as it passes between Kepler and its host star, reducing the starlight measured by Kepler.

    The fifth time’s the charm

    Kepler was the brainchild of William Borucki of the NASA Ames Research Center in Moffet Field, California. Borucki, who retired in early July 2015, doggedly pressed his case for Kepler. During the ’90s, his proposed designs were rejected no less than four times. He finally won approval from NASA in 2001.

    But no one knew what Kepler might find, or even if it would find anything at all.

    “We launched Kepler, to some extent, like Magellan or Columbus went to sea, not knowing quite what we were going to encounter,” said James Fanson, deputy manager in the Instruments Division at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. Fanson was Kepler’s project manager when the spacecraft was launched.

    “We knew we were going to make history,” he said. “We just didn’t know what history we were going to make.”

    Kepler’s transit watch paid off, however, identifying more than 4,600 candidate planets hundreds to thousands of light-years distant. So far, 1,028 of those have been confirmed — some of them Earth-sized planets that orbit within their star’s so-called habitable zone, where liquid water can exist on a planet. Scientists are still mining Kepler data, regularly turning up new planetary candidates and confirming earlier finds.

    Kepler itself ended its initial mission in 2013, when two of four reaction wheels used to keep the spacecraft in a stable position failed. But the Kepler science team developed clever ways to continue squeezing useful data out of the space telescope, relying on the subtle pressure of sunlight to stabilize it on one axis. Kepler is now in its second phase of life, and it’s still discovering planets.

    Preceding Kepler was the groundbreaking COROT satellite, a European venture launched in 2006 that discovered numerous planets before it ceased functioning in 2012 — including the first rocky planet found to orbit a sun-like star. COROT used the transit method to detect exoplanets, and was the first space mission dedicated to that purpose.

    ESA CoRoT
    ESA/CoRoT

    The prolific discoveries still flowing from the Hubble Space Telescope include not only exoplanets, but characterizations of exoplanet atmospheres, identifying a variety of gases. And the Spitzer Space Telescope has found water vapor in exoplanetary atmospheres as well as weather patterns.

    NASA Hubble Telescope
    NASA/ESA Hubble

    Both the wobble and transit methods, relied upon by the exoplanet pioneers, are still in use today, along with several other techniques. And 20 years after the first discovery, the exoplanet total is up to more than 5,000 candidates, with more than 1,800 of those confirmed.

    A new reality

    The galaxy, it seems, is crowded with planets. Yet we are not yet able to answer the big question: Are we alone?

    A new generation of telescopes in the years and decades ahead, on the ground and in space, will continue to search for an answer. One critical tool will be the same one pioneered by Marcy and the other early planet hunters: spectroscopy. They used this method to dissect the light coming from distant stars, revealing their back-and-forth, planet-induced wobbling as the starlight was stretched and compressed; the newest generation of instruments will do the same thing to the light from the atmospheres of exoplanets. Splitting this planetary light into its constituent parts, a little like the rainbow colors of sunlight shining through a prism, should reveal which gases and chemicals are present in those alien skies.

    And one day, some of those atmospheric constituents might suggest the presence of life far beyond planet Earth.

    For more information about exoplanets and NASA’s planet-finding program, visit:

    http://planetquest.jpl.nasa.gov

    See the full article here.

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    NASA JPL Campus

    Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) is a federally funded research and development center and NASA field center located in the San Gabriel Valley area of Los Angeles County, California, United States. Although the facility has a Pasadena postal address, it is actually headquartered in the city of La Cañada Flintridge [1], on the northwest border of Pasadena. JPL is managed by the nearby California Institute of Technology (Caltech) for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. The Laboratory’s primary function is the construction and operation of robotic planetary spacecraft, though it also conducts Earth-orbit and astronomy missions. It is also responsible for operating NASA’s Deep Space Network.

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  • richardmitnick 6:43 am on July 24, 2015 Permalink | Reply
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    From Keck: “Found: Earth’s Closest Cousin Yet” 

    Keck Observatory

    Keck Observatory

    Keck Observatory

    July 23, 2015
    No Writer Credit

    1
    This artist’s concept compares Earth (left) to the new planet, called Kepler-452b, which is about 60 percent larger in diameter.
    Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/T. Pyle

    2
    This size and scale of the Kepler-452 system compared alongside the Kepler-186 system and the solar system. Kepler-186 is a miniature solar system that would fit entirely inside the orbit of Mercury. Credit: NASA/JPL-CalTech/R. Hurt

    The W. M. Keck Observatory has confirmed the first near-Earth-size planet in the “habitable zone” around a sun-like star. This discovery and the introduction of 11 other new small habitable zone candidate planets were originally made by NASA’s Kepler space telescopes and mark another milestone in the journey to finding another “Earth.”

    NASA Kepler Telescope
    Kepler

    “We can think of Kepler-452b as bigger, older cousin to Earth, providing an opportunity to understand and reflect upon Earth’s evolving environment,” said Jon Jenkins, Kepler data analysis lead at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California, who led the team that discovered Kepler-452b. “It’s awe-inspiring to consider that this planet has spent 6 billion years in the habitable zone of its star; about 1.5 billion years longer than Earth. That’s substantial opportunity for life to arise, should all the necessary ingredients and conditions for life exist on this planet.”

    The data from Kepler suggested to the team there was a planet causing the light from it’s host star to dim as is orbited around it. The team then turned to ground-based observatories including the University of Texas at Austin’s McDonald Observatory, the Fred Lawrence Whipple Observatory on Mt. Hopkins, Arizona, and the world’s largest telescopes at Keck Observatory on Maunakea, Hawaii for confirmation.

    U Texas McDonald Observatory Campus
    University of Texas at Austin’s McDonald Observatory

    CfA Whipple Observatory
    CfA Fred Lawrence Whipple Observatory

    Specifically, the ten-meter Keck I telescope, fitted with the HIRES instrument was used to confirm the Kepler data as well as to more precisely determine the properties of the star, specifically its temperature, surface gravity and metallicity.

    Keck HIRES
    HIRES

    “These fundamental properties are used to determine the stellar mass and radius allowing for precise determination of the planet size,” said Howard Isaacson, researcher in the astronomy department at UC Berkeley and mamba of the discovery team. “With the precise stellar parameters from the HIRES spectrum, we can show that planet radius is closer to the size of the Earth, than say Neptune (~4x Earth’s radius). With a radius of 1.6 times the radius of the Earth, the chances of the planet having some sort of rocky surface is predicted to be ~50%. The Keck Observatory spectrum is also used to rule out false positive scenarios. Background stars can confuses the interpretation of the planet hypothesis, and the Keck Observatory spectrum shows that no such background stars are present.”

    The newly discovered Kepler-452b is the smallest planet to date discovered orbiting a sun-like star (G2-type star) in the habitable zone — the area around a star where liquid water could pool on the surface of an orbiting planet. The confirmation of Kepler-452b brings the total number of confirmed planets to 1,030.

    Kepler-452b is 60 percent larger than Earth and is considered a super-Earth-size planet. While its mass and composition are not yet determined, previous research suggests that planets the size of Kepler-452b have a good chance of being rocky.

    While Kepler-452b is larger than Earth, its 385-day orbit is only 5 percent longer. The planet is 5 percent farther from its parent star Kepler-452 than Earth is from the Sun. Kepler-452 is 6 billion years old, 1.5 billion years older than our sun, has the same temperature, and is 10 percent larger and 20 percent brighter.

    The Kepler-452 system is located 1,400 light-years away in the constellation Cygnus. The research paper reporting this finding has been accepted for publication in The Astronomical Journal.

    In addition to confirming Kepler-452b, the Kepler team has increased the number of new exoplanet candidates by 521 from their analysis of observations conducted from May 2009 to May 2013, raising the number of planet candidates detected by the Kepler mission to 4,696. Candidates require follow-up observations and analysis to verify they are actual planets.

    Twelve of the new planet candidates have diameters between one to two times that of Earth, and orbit in their star’s habitable zone. Of these, nine orbit stars that are similar to our sun in size and temperature. These candidates are likely targets for future observing runs at Keck Observatory for confirmation.

    “We’ve been able to fully automate our process of identifying planet candidates, which means we can finally assess every transit signal in the entire Kepler dataset quickly and uniformly,” said Jeff Coughlin, Kepler scientist at the SETI Institute in Mountain View, California, who led the analysis of a new candidate catalog. “This gives astronomers a statistically sound population of planet candidates to accurately determine the number of small, possibly rocky planets like Earth in our Milky Way galaxy.”

    These findings, presented in the seventh Kepler Candidate Catalog, will be submitted for publication in the Astrophysical Journal. These findings are derived from data publically available on the NASA Exoplanet Archive.

    HIRES (the High-Resolution Echelle Spectrometer) produces spectra of single objects at very high spectral resolution, yet covering a wide wavelength range. It does this by separating the light into many “stripes” of spectra stacked across a mosaic of three large CCD detectors. HIRES is famous for finding planets orbiting other stars. Astronomers also use HIRES to study distant galaxies and quasars, finding clues to the Big Bang. 


    See the full article here.

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    Mission
    To advance the frontiers of astronomy and share our discoveries with the world.

    The W. M. Keck Observatory operates the largest, most scientifically productive telescopes on Earth. The two, 10-meter optical/infrared telescopes on the summit of Mauna Kea on the Island of Hawaii feature a suite of advanced instruments including imagers, multi-object spectrographs, high-resolution spectrographs, integral-field spectrometer and world-leading laser guide star adaptive optics systems. Keck Observatory is a private 501(c) 3 non-profit organization and a scientific partnership of the California Institute of Technology, the University of California and NASA.

    Today Keck Observatory is supported by both public funding sources and private philanthropy. As a 501(c)3, the organization is managed by the California Association for Research in Astronomy (CARA), whose Board of Directors includes representatives from the California Institute of Technology and the University of California, with liaisons to the board from NASA and the Keck Foundation.
    Keck UCal

    Keck NASA

    Keck Caltech

     
  • richardmitnick 11:40 am on July 23, 2015 Permalink | Reply
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    From NASA Kepler: “NASA’s Kepler Mission Discovers Bigger, Older Cousin to Earth” 

    NASA Kepler Logo

    NASA Kepler Telescope
    NASA/Kepler

    July 23, 2015

    1
    This artist’s concept compares Earth (left) to the new planet, called Kepler-452b, which is about 60 percent larger in diameter. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/T. Pyle

    2
    This size and scale of the Kepler-452 system compared alongside the Kepler-186 system and the solar system. Kepler-186 is a miniature solar system that would fit entirely inside the orbit of Mercury. Credits: NASA/JPL-CalTech/R. Hurt

    NASA’s Kepler mission has confirmed the first near-Earth-size planet in the “habitable zone” around a sun-like star. This discovery and the introduction of 11 other new small habitable zone candidate planets mark another milestone in the journey to finding another “Earth.”

    The newly discovered Kepler-452b is the smallest planet to date discovered orbiting in the habitable zone — the area around a star where liquid water could pool on the surface of an orbiting planet — of a G2-type star, like our sun. The confirmation of Kepler-452b brings the total number of confirmed planets to 1,030.

    “On the 20th anniversary year of the discovery that proved other suns host planets, the Kepler exoplanet explorer has discovered a planet and star which most closely resemble the Earth and our Sun,” said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate at the agency’s headquarters in Washington. “This exciting result brings us one step closer to finding an Earth 2.0.”

    Kepler-452b is 60 percent larger in diameter than Earth and is considered a super-Earth-size planet. While its mass and composition are not yet determined, previous research suggests that planets the size of Kepler-452b have a good chance of being rocky.

    While Kepler-452b is larger than Earth, its 385-day orbit is only 5 percent longer. The planet is 5 percent farther from its parent star Kepler-452 than Earth is from the Sun. Kepler-452 is 6 billion years old, 1.5 billion years older than our sun, has the same temperature, and is 20 percent brighter and has a diameter 10 percent larger.

    “We can think of Kepler-452b as an older, bigger cousin to Earth, providing an opportunity to understand and reflect upon Earth’s evolving environment,” said Jon Jenkins, Kepler data analysis lead at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California, who led the team that discovered Kepler-452b. “It’s awe-inspiring to consider that this planet has spent 6 billion years in the habitable zone of its star; longer than Earth. That’s substantial opportunity for life to arise, should all the necessary ingredients and conditions for life exist on this planet.”

    To help confirm the finding and better determine the properties of the Kepler-452 system, the team conducted ground-based observations at the University of Texas at Austin’s McDonald Observatory, the Fred Lawrence Whipple Observatory on Mt. Hopkins, Arizona, and the W. M. Keck Observatory atop Mauna Kea in Hawaii. These measurements were key for the researchers to confirm the planetary nature of Kepler-452b, to refine the size and brightness of its host star and to better pin down the size of the planet and its orbit.

    U Texas McDonald Observatory Campus
    U Texas McDonald Observatory

    CfA Whipple Observatory
    CfA Whipple Observatory

    Keck Observatory
    Keck Observatory

    The Kepler-452 system is located 1,400 light-years away in the constellation Cygnus. The research paper reporting this finding has been accepted for publication in The Astronomical Journal.

    In addition to confirming Kepler-452b, the Kepler team has increased the number of new exoplanet candidates by 521 from their analysis of observations conducted from May 2009 to May 2013, raising the number of planet candidates detected by the Kepler mission to 4,696. Candidates require follow-up observations and analysis to verify they are actual planets.

    Twelve of the new planet candidates have diameters between one to two times that of Earth, and orbit in their star’s habitable zone. Of these, nine orbit stars that are similar to our sun in size and temperature.

    “We’ve been able to fully automate our process of identifying planet candidates, which means we can finally assess every transit signal in the entire Kepler dataset quickly and uniformly,” said Jeff Coughlin, Kepler scientist at the SETI Institute in Mountain View, California, who led the analysis of a new candidate catalog. “This gives astronomers a statistically sound population of planet candidates to accurately determine the number of small, possibly rocky planets like Earth in our Milky Way galaxy.”

    These findings, presented in the seventh Kepler Candidate Catalog, will be submitted for publication in the Astrophysical Journal. These findings are derived from data publically available on the NASA Exoplanet Archive.

    Scientists now are producing the last catalog based on the original Kepler mission’s four-year data set. The final analysis will be conducted using sophisticated software that is increasingly sensitive to the tiny telltale signatures of Earth-size planets.

    Ames manages the Kepler and K2 missions for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, managed Kepler mission development. Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corporation operates the flight system with support from the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at the University of Colorado in Boulder.

    For more information about the Kepler mission, visit:

    http://www.nasa.gov/kepler

    See the full article here.

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    The Kepler Mission, NASA Discovery mission #10, is specifically designed to survey our region of the Milky Way galaxy to discover hundreds of Earth-size and smaller planets in or near the habitable zone→ and determine the fraction of the hundreds of billions of stars in our galaxy that might have such planets.
    The operations phase of the Kepler mission is managed for NASA by the Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, CA. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), Pasadena, CA, managed the mission through development, launch and the start of science operations. Dr. William Borucki of NASA Ames is the mission’s Science Principal Investigator. Ball Aerospace and Technologies Corp., Boulder, CO, developed the Kepler flight system.

    In October 2009, oversight of the Kepler project was transferred from the Discovery Program at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, AL, to the Exoplanet Exploration Program at JPL

    NASA

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  • richardmitnick 8:56 am on July 23, 2015 Permalink | Reply
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    From MIT: “New technique allows analysis of clouds around exoplanets” 


    MIT News

    March 3, 2015
    Helen Knight

    Team describes use of method to determine properties of clouds surrounding the exoplanet Kepler-7b.

    1
    Analysis of data from the Kepler space telescope has shown that roughly half of the dayside of the exoplanet Kepler-7b is covered by a large cloud mass. Statistical comparison of more than 1,000 atmospheric models show that these clouds are most likely made of Enstatite, a common Earth mineral that is in vapor form at the extreme temperature on Kepler-7b. These models varied the altitude, condensation, particle size, and chemical composition of the clouds to find the right reflectivity and color properties to match the observed signal from the exoplanet. Courtesy of NASA (edited by Jose-Luis Olivares/MIT)

    Meteorologists sometimes struggle to accurately predict the weather here on Earth, but now we can find out how cloudy it is on planets outside our solar system, thanks to researchers at MIT.

    In a paper to be published in the Astrophysical Journal, researchers in the Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences (EAPS) at MIT describe a technique that analyzes data from NASA’s Kepler space observatory to determine the types of clouds on planets that orbit other stars, known as exoplanets.

    NASA Kepler Telescope
    NASA/Kepler

    The team, led by Kerri Cahoy, an assistant professor of aeronautics and astronautics at MIT, has already used the method to determine the properties of clouds on the exoplanet Kepler-7b. The planet is known as a “hot Jupiter,” as temperatures in its atmosphere hover at around 1,700 kelvins.

    NASA’s Kepler spacecraft was designed to search for Earth-like planets orbiting other stars. It was pointed at a fixed patch of space, constantly monitoring the brightness of 145,000 stars. An orbiting exoplanet crossing in front of one of these stars causes a temporary dimming of this brightness, allowing researchers to detect its presence.

    Researchers have previously shown that by studying the variations in the amount of light coming from these star systems as a planet transits, or crosses in front or behind them, they can detect the presence of clouds in that planet’s atmosphere. That is because particles within the clouds will scatter different wavelengths of light.

    Modeling cloud formation

    To find out if this data could be used to determine the composition of these clouds, the MIT researchers studied the light signal from Kepler-7b. They used models of the temperature and pressure of the planet’s atmosphere to determine how different types of clouds would form within it, says lead author Matthew Webber, a graduate student in Cahoy’s group at MIT.

    “We then used those cloud models to determine how light would reflect off the atmosphere of the planet [for each type of cloud], and tried to match these possibilities to the actual observations from the Kepler mission itself,” Webber says. “So we ran a large set of models, to see which models fit best statistically to the observations.”

    By working backward in this way, they were able to match the Kepler spacecraft data to a type of cloud made out of vaporized silicates and magnesium. The extremely high temperatures in the Kepler-7b atmosphere mean that some minerals that commonly exist as rocks on Earth’s surface instead exist as vapors high up in the planet’s atmosphere. These mineral vapors form small cloud particles as they cool and condense.

    Kepler-7b is a tidally locked planet, meaning it always shows the same face to its star — just as the moon does to Earth. As a result, around half of the planet’s day side — that which constantly faces the star — is covered by these magnesium silicate clouds, the team found.

    “We are really doing nothing more complicated than putting a telescope into space and staring at a star with a camera,” Cahoy says. “Then we can use what we know about the universe, in terms of temperatures and pressures, how things mix, how they stratify in an atmosphere, to try to figure out what mix of things would be causing the observations that we’re seeing from these very basic instruments,” she says.

    A clue on exoplanet atmospheres

    Understanding the properties of the clouds on Kepler-7b, such as their mineral composition and average particle size, tells us a lot about the underlying physical nature of the planet’s atmosphere, says team member Nikole Lewis, a postdoc in EAPS. What’s more, the method could be used to study the properties of clouds on different types of planet, Lewis says: “It’s one of the few methods out there that can help you determine if a planet even has an atmosphere, for example.”

    A planet’s cloud coverage and composition also has a significant impact on how much of the energy from its star it will reflect, which in turn affects its climate and ultimately its habitability, Lewis says. “So right now we are looking at these big gas-giant planets because they give us a stronger signal,” she says. “But the same methodology could be applied to smaller planets, to help us determine if a planet is habitable or not.”

    The researchers hope to use the method to analyze data from NASA’s follow-up to the Kepler mission, known as K2, which began studying different patches of space last June. They also hope to use it on data from MIT’s planned Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) mission, says Cahoy.

    NASA TESS
    NASA/TESS

    “TESS is the follow-up to Kepler, led by principal investigator George Ricker, a senior research scientist in the MIT Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research. It will essentially be taking similar measurements to Kepler, but of different types of stars,” Cahoy says. “Kepler was tasked with staring at one group of stars, but there are a lot of stars, and TESS is going to be sampling the brightest stars across the whole sky,” she says.

    This paper is the first to take circulation models including clouds and compare them with the observed distribution of clouds on Kepler-7b, says Heather Knutson, an assistant professor of planetary science at Caltech who was not involved in the research.

    “Their models indicate that the clouds on this planet are most likely made from liquid rock,” Knutson says. “This may sound exotic, but this planet is a roasting hot gas-giant planet orbiting very close to its host star, and we should expect that it might look quite different than our own Jupiter.”

    See the full article here.

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  • richardmitnick 9:04 am on July 16, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , Exoplanets,   

    From space.com: “Ingredients for Earth-Like Planets Are Found All Around the Milky Way” 

    space-dot-com logo

    SPACE.com

    July 10, 2015
    Elizabeth Howell

    The building blocks to create another Earth are found at solar systems across our Milky Way galaxy, a new study reveals.

    By saying that carbon, oxygen, magnesium and silicon are in rocky planets everywhere, this new study contradicts previous research that’s said only some rocky planets have this recipe. Previously, scientists said there were three kinds of rocky planets: those similar to Earth, those that had more carbon, and some that had a lot more silicon than magnesium.

    “The ratio of elements on Earth has led to the chemical conditions ‘just right’ for life,” said lead researcher Brad Gibson, an astrophysicist at the University of Hull in the United Kingdom. “Too much magnesium or too little silicon, and your planet ends up having the wrong balance between minerals to form the type of rocks that make up the Earth’s crust,” Gibson added. “Too much carbon, and your rocky planet might turn out to be more like the graphite in your pencil than the surface of a planet like the Earth.”

    The new results come from a simulation of how the Milky Way formed. While Gibson said he was worried at first that the model was wrong, he added that it predicted different parts of our galaxy correctly — such as how frequently stars formed and died.


    Download is available at video

    The researchers also examined observations and found uncertainties concerning how many rocky-planet systems had recipes similar to Earth’s. “Removing these [uncertainties],” Gibson said, “observations agreed with our predictions that the same elemental building blocks are found in every exoplanet system, wherever it is in the galaxy.”

    Specifically, the uncertainties happened because observations tend to come from large planets that are orbiting bright stars, which are easier to see from Earth. This creates uncertainties of 10 percent to 20 percent, the researchers said.

    Also, oxygen and nickel spectra are hard to see from a distance, which adds to the uncertainty. Newer techniques will make these observations more accurate, the researchers added.

    The research was presented Wednesday (July 8) at the National Astronomy Meeting in Llandudno, Wales.

    See the full article here.

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  • richardmitnick 1:39 pm on May 1, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , Exoplanets, Twinkle   

    From Twinkle: “A British Space Mission to Explore Faraway Worlds” 

    1

    Twinkle is a small, low-cost mission that will use spectroscopy to decode the light from hundreds of extrasolar planets. Twinkle will be able to reveal, for the first time, the chemical composition, weather and history of worlds orbiting distant stars. The Twinkle satellite will be built in the UK and launched into a low-Earth orbit within 3 to 4 years, using a platform designed by Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd and instrumentation led by UCL.

    Follow the mission on twitter:
    @twinkle_mission

    The mission web site is here.

     
  • richardmitnick 3:39 pm on April 21, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , Exoplanets, NASA NExSS,   

    From Yale: “Yale joins new NASA team searching for life outside the solar system” 

    Yale University bloc

    Yale University

    April 21, 2015
    Jim Shelton

    1
    Artist’s conception of Kepler-186f, the first validated Earth-size planet to orbit a distant star in the habitable zone.

    2
    The search for life beyond our solar system requires unprecedented cooperation across scientific disciplines. NASA’s NExSS collaboration includes those who study Earth as a life-bearing planet (lower right), those researching the diversity of solar system planets (left), and those on the new frontier, discovering worlds orbiting other stars in the galaxy (upper right).
    Credits: NASA

    NASA is enlisting teams of scientists around the nation, including a group from Yale, to collaborate on a new approach for finding life on planets outside our solar system.

    The joint effort is called Nexus for Exoplanet System Science (NExSS), and it will create a “virtual institute” of scientists from 10 universities, three NASA centers, and two research institutes. NASA selected teams based on proposals from across NASA’s Science Mission Directorate.

    Yale astronomy professor Debra Fischer will lead a team that is building new spectrometers with the stability and precision to detect Earth-like planets orbiting nearby stars. A critical part of the team’s work involves new statistical techniques to distinguish “noise” — velocities in the photospheres of the stars — from the reflex velocities induced by planets.

    Fischer’s team also will continue to enlist amateur astronomers to search NASA’s Kepler public archive data for exoplanets, which are planets orbiting around other stars. Fischer has been at the forefront of citizen science efforts to search for exoplanets via the Planet Hunters program. Citizen scientists have found more than 100 transiting exoplanets not previously detected. Many of these planets orbit in the habitable zones of their host stars.

    Fischer’s team also is analyzing the planet occurrence rates for different types of stars.

    “NExSS is building collaboration and open-sourcing of ideas in ways that have been tried and true in competitive businesses,” Fischer said. “This signals a new era where we spend more time problem-solving and team-building than competing and excluding our colleagues. We have heard from all of the founding partners about their research, and we’ve brainstormed about how our related skills and expertise might enrich their science. It’s a win-win for science and humanity.”

    Since the launch of NASA’s Kepler space telescope six years ago, more than 1,800 exoplanets have been confirmed.

    NASA Kepler Telescope
    Kepler

    There are thousands more exoplanet candidates waiting for confirmation.

    In order to determine the habitability of these planets and look for signs of life on them, NExSS will coordinate scientific research into the various components of exoplanets. It’s a “system science” approach to understanding how biology interacts with the atmosphere, geology, oceans, and interior of a planet, and how the host star affects these interactions.

    NExSS will draw from the scientific expertise in each division of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. Earth scientists will develop a systems science approach by studying our home planet; planetary scientists will look at other planets in our solar system; heliophysicists will study how the Sun interacts with orbiting planets; and astrophysicists will provide data on exoplanets and host stars.

    “This interdisciplinary endeavor connects top research teams and provides a synthesized approach in the search for planets with the greatest potential for signs of life,” said Jim Green, NASA’s director of planetary science. “The hunt for exoplanets is not only a priority for astronomers, it’s of keen interest to planetary and climate scientists as well.”

    NExSS will be led by scientists from the NASA Ames Research Center, the NASA Exoplanet Science Institute at the California Institute of Technology, and the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies.

    See the full article here.

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    Yale University Campus

    Yale University comprises three major academic components: Yale College (the undergraduate program), the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, and the professional schools. In addition, Yale encompasses a wide array of centers and programs, libraries, museums, and administrative support offices. Approximately 11,250 students attend Yale.

     
  • richardmitnick 8:07 am on March 20, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , Exoplanets   

    From Science 2.0- “ESA’s CHEOPS Satellite: The Pharaoh of Exoplanet Hunting” 

    Science 2.0 bloc

    Science 2.0

    March 19th 2015
    Tomasz Nowakowski

    ESA CHEOPS
    CHEOPS

    Just like the Pharaoh Cheops, who ruled the ancient Old Kingdom of Egypt, ESA’s CHaracterising ExOPlanet Satellite (CHEOPS) could be someday ruling in the field of exoplanet hunting.

    It will be the first mission dedicated to search for transits by means of ultrahigh precision photometry on bright stars already known to host planets. “CHEOPS looks at stars that are already known to host planets and attempts to observe transits. I say attempts because its main targets are planets that have been discovered through Doppler techniques,” Don Pollacco of the University of Warwick, UK spokesperson for the CHEOPS mission, told me.

    Large ground-based high-precision Doppler spectroscopic surveys carried out during the last years have identified hundreds of stars hosting planets in the super-Earth to Neptune mass range and will continue to do so into the foreseeable future. The characteristics of these stars and the knowledge of the planet ephemerids make them ideal targets for precision photometric measurements from space. CHEOPS will be the only facility able to follow-up all these targets for precise radius measurements.

    “Doppler surveys have been going on for some time and have found a significant fraction of multiple and duper earth massed planets, well before Kepler did this.

    NASA Kepler Telescope
    NASA/Kepler

    Some proportions of these are expected to transit their host star – maybe 10%. As you know when these transits are meant to occur you can look at these targets specifically at that time and avoid wasting too much time,” Pollacco said. “10% doesn’t sound much but these will be important targets in that they’ll be bright, already have Doppler curves and hence able to determine their densities. It’s likely that a few tens of planets maybe discovered this way, there’s a handful from Kepler if that.”

    Knowing where to look and at what time to observe, makes CHEOPS the most efficient instrument to search for shallow transits.

    With an accurate knowledge of masses and radii for an unprecedented sample of planets, CHEOPS will set new constraints on the structure and hence on the formation and evolution of planets in this mass range.

    “By knowing where to look and at what time, CHEOPS is the most efficient instrument to detect shallow transits. It will significantly increase the sample of exoplanets for which we know both mass and radius, providing new insights and constraints on formation models,” said Willy Benz from the University of Bern, Switzerland, the Principal Investigator for CHEOPS.

    ESA is the mission architect for CHEOPS, responsible for spacecraft development and launch, and for the interface with the science community during science operations in orbit.

    CHEOPS is the first of the small-size (S class) missions of ESA, and was selected from 26 other proposed missions. These missions are designed to take full advantage of known technologies. They should be low cost and rapidly developed missions, in order to offer greater flexibility in response to new ideas from the scientific community.

    “The need for a pointed space telescope to do high precision transit observations, has been known for a while and there were various concepts already explored. In the UK we had something nicknamed “BEE” which was meant to follow up SuperWASP discoveries. CHEOPS was already under development when the first S mission opportunity arose and so it was in good shape to be submitted to this,” Pollacco revealed. “The S missions were meant to be opportunities for smaller ESA members to demonstrate their space industries and take the lead so CHEOPS was extremely well placed.”

    Pollacco admitted that CHEOPS is different to NASA exoplanet hunting missions like Kepler spacecraft or Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS).

    NASA TESS
    NASA/TESS

    These are survey missions that look at large areas of the sky and discover transiting planets, while CHEOPS looks at stars that are already known to have orbiting planets.

    “For TESS it really remains to be seen what can be achieved but in any case CHEOPS with its superior accuracy will produce more accurate transits, and hence densities of Doppler confirmed TESS planets,” he said. “A second aim for CHEOPS is to follow up transits discovered from other surveys, like the Next-Generation Transit Survey (NGTS), again because of its superior accuracy.”

    The satellite will fly at an altitude of between 650 and 800km, in a dusk-dawn helio-synchronous orbit, and will have a design lifetime of 3.5 years. “For CHEOPS scheduling will be important given its low orbit meaning that it can’t stare long in many directions,” Pollacco added.

    CHEOPS should be able to cover at least 50% of the whole sky for a minimum total duration of 50 days of observation per year and per target. The observation may be interrupted up to 50% (goal would be 20%) of the satellite orbital duration (Earth eclipse, Sun, etc.).

    The Prime contractor for CHEOPS is Airbus Defence and Space, Spain. The spacecraft is based on the Airbus Defence and Space AstroBus family of low cost satellite platforms (following on from e.g. Spot 6&7, KazEOSat-1), and the ninth for an ESA program following on from Sentinel 5 Precursor and the MetOp Second Generation satellites.

    CHEOPS mission will be implemented in partnership with Switzerland, through the Swiss Space Office (SSO), a division of the Swiss State Secretariat for Education, Research and Innovation (SERI). The University of Bern leads the consortium of 11 ESA Member States contributing to the mission and represented in the CHEOPS Science Team.

    The science instrument is led by the University of Bern, with important contributions from Italy, Germany, Austria, and Belgium. Other contributions to the science instrument in the form of hardware, or in the science operations and exploitation, are provided by the United Kingdom, France, Hungary, Portugal and Sweden. The Mission Operations Centre is under the responsibility of Spain, while the Science Operations Centre is located at the University of Geneva, Switzerland.

    “For historical reasons UK industry is not playing a major role in CHEOPS. In the original baseline we expected the UK to run the mission operations but for a number of reasons that never happened,” Pollacco said. “However we retain some software contributions and so some elements of the UK exoplanet community have stayed in touch with the mission. It’s worth noting that Didier Queloz [Swiss astronomer] moved to Cambridge from Geneva over the last couple of years but retains a significant post at Geneva specifically for CHEOPS work. In other countries, e.g. Germany, Italy, there is a far larger involvement, both technically and industrially, although the Swiss remain by far the largest contributor, as it should be.”

    CHEOPS will most likely be launched into space by a Soyuz or Vega launcher from Kourou spaceport in French Guiana in December 2017.

    See the full article here.

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  • richardmitnick 9:31 am on March 18, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , Exoplanets, , Niels Bohr Institute   

    From Niels Bohr Institute: “Planets in the habitable zone around most stars, calculate researchers” 

    Niels Bohr Institute bloc

    Niels Bohr Institute

    18 March 2015
    Gertie Skaarup
    skaarup@nbi.dk

    Habitable planets

    Astronomers have discovered thousands of exoplanets in our galaxy, the Milky Way, using the Kepler satellite and many of them have multiple planets orbiting the host star.

    NASA Kepler Telescope
    NASA/Kepler

    By analysing these planetary systems, researchers from the Australian National University and the Niels Bohr Institute in Copenhagen have calculated the probability for the number of stars in the Milky Way that might have planets in the habitable zone. The calculations show that billions of the stars in the Milky Way will have one to three planets in the habitable zone, where there is the potential for liquid water and where life could exist. The results are published in the scientific journal, Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

    1
    Planets outside our solar system are called exoplanets. The Kepler satellite observes exoplanets by measuring the light curve of a star. When a planet moves in front of the star there is a small dip in brightness. If this little dip in brightness occurs regularly, there might be a planet orbiting the star and obscuring its light.

    Using NASA’s Kepler satellite, astronomers have found about 1,000 planets around stars in the Milky Way and they have also found about 3,000 other potential planets. Many of the stars have planetary systems with 2-6 planets, but the stars could very well have more planets than those observable with the Kepler satellite, which is best suited for finding large planets that orbit relatively close to their stars.

    Planets that orbit close to their stars would be too scorching hot to have life, so to find out if such planetary systems might also have planets in the habitable zone with the potential for liquid water and life, a group of researchers from the Australian National University and the Niels Bohr Institute at the University of Copenhagen made calculations based on a new version of a 250-year-old method called the Titius-Bode law.

    2
    Light curves of the five planets orbiting the star Kepler-62. The dip in the light curve occur when the planet moves in front of the host star, thereby dimming the light of the star. The dip in the light curve is proportional to the size of the planet. The two light curves at the bottom of the plot are of planets in the habitable zone.

    Calculating planetary positions

    The Titius-Bode law was formulated around 1770 and correctly calculated the position of Uranus before it was even discovered. The law states that there is a certain ratio between the orbital periods of planets in a solar system. So the ratio between the orbital period of the first and second planet is the same as the ratio between the second and the third planet and so on. Therefore, if you knew how long it takes for some of the planets to orbit around the Sun/star, you can calculate how long it takes for the other planets to orbit and can thus calculate their position in the planetary system. You can also calculate if a planet is ‘missing’ in the sequence.

    “We decided to use this method to calculate the potential planetary positions in 151 planetary systems, where the Kepler satellite had found between 3 and 6 planets. In 124 of the planetary systems, the Titius-Bode law fit with the position of the planets as good as or better than our own solar system. Using T-B’s law we tried to predict where there could be more planets further out in the planetary systems. But we only made calculations for planets where there is a good chance that you can see them with the Kepler satellite,” explains Steffen Kjær Jacobsen, PhD student in the research group Astrophysics and Planetary Science at the Niels Bohr Institute at the University of Copenhagen.

    In 27 of the 151 planetary systems, the planets that had been observed did not fit the T-B law at first glance. They then tried to place planets into the ‘pattern’ for where planets should be located. Then they added the planets that seemed to be missing between the already known planets and also added one extra planet in the system beyond the outermost known planet. In this way, they predicted a total of 228 planets in the 151 planetary systems.

    2
    The illustration shows the habitable zone for different types of stars. The distance to the habitable zone is dependent on how big and bright the star is. The green area is the habitable zone (HZ), where liquid water can exist on a planet’s surface. The red area is too hot for liquid water on the planetary surface and the blue area is too cold for liquid water on the planetary surface. (Credit: NASA, Kepler)

    “We then made a priority list with 77 planets in 40 planetary systems to focus on because they have a high probability of making a transit, so you can see them with Kepler. We have encouraged other researchers to look for these. If they are found, it is an indication that the theory stands up,” explains Steffen Kjær Jacobsen.

    Planets in the habitable zone

    Planets that orbit very close around a star are too scorching hot to have liquid water and life and planets that are far from the star would be too deep-frozen, but the intermediate habitable zone, where there is the potential for liquid water and life, is not a fixed distance. The habitable zone for a planetary system will be different from star to star, depending on how big and bright the star is.

    The researchers evaluated the number of planets in the habitable zone based on the extra planets that were added to the 151 planetary systems according to the Titius-Bode law. The result was 1-3 planets in the habitable zone for each planetary system.

    4
    Exoplanetary systems where the previously known planets are marked with blue dots, while the red dots show the planets predicted by the Titius-Bode law on the composition of planetary systems. 124 planetary systems in the survey – based on data from the Kepler satellite, fit with this formula.

    Out of the 151 planetary systems, they now made an additional check on 31 planetary systems where they had already found planets in the habitable zone or where only a single extra planet was needed to meet the requirements.

    “In these 31 planetary systems that were close to the habitable zone, our calculations showed that there was an average of two planets in the habitable zone. According to the statistics and the indications we have, a good share of the planets in the habitable zone will be solid planets where there might be liquid water and where life could exist,” explains Steffen Kjær Jacobsen.

    If you then take the calculations further out into space, it would mean that just in our galaxy, the Milky Way, there could be billions of stars with planets in the habitable zone, where there could be liquid water and where life could exist.

    He explains that what they now want to do is encourage other researchers to look at the Kepler data again for the 40 planetary systems that they have predicted should be well placed to be observed with the Kepler satellite.

    Out of the 151 planetary systems, they now made an additional check on 31 planetary systems where they had already found planets in the habitable zone or where only a single extra planet was needed to meet the requirements.

    “In these 31 planetary systems that were close to the habitable zone, our calculations showed that there was an average of two planets in the habitable zone. According to the statistics and the indications we have, a good share of the planets in the habitable zone will be solid planets where there might be liquid water and where life could exist,” explains Steffen Kjær Jacobsen.

    If you then take the calculations further out into space, it would mean that just in our galaxy, the Milky Way, there could be billions of stars with planets in the habitable zone, where there could be liquid water and where life could exist.

    He explains that what they now want to do is encourage other researchers to look at the Kepler data again for the 40 planetary systems that they have predicted should be well placed to be observed with the Kepler satellite.

    Article in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society

    See the full article here.

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    Niels Bohr Institute Campus

    The Niels Bohr Institute (Danish: Niels Bohr Institutet) is a research institute of the University of Copenhagen. The research of the institute spans astronomy, geophysics, nanotechnology, particle physics, quantum mechanics and biophysics.

    The Institute was founded in 1921, as the Institute for Theoretical Physics of the University of Copenhagen, by the Danish theoretical physicist Niels Bohr, who had been on the staff of the University of Copenhagen since 1914, and who had been lobbying for its creation since his appointment as professor in 1916. On the 80th anniversary of Niels Bohr’s birth – October 7, 1965 – the Institute officially became The Niels Bohr Institute.[1] Much of its original funding came from the charitable foundation of the Carlsberg brewery, and later from the Rockefeller Foundation.[2]

    During the 1920s, and 1930s, the Institute was the center of the developing disciplines of atomic physics and quantum physics. Physicists from across Europe (and sometimes further abroad) often visited the Institute to confer with Bohr on new theories and discoveries. The Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics is named after work done at the Institute during this time.

    On January 1, 1993 the institute was fused with the Astronomic Observatory, the Ørsted Laboratory and the Geophysical Institute. The new resulting institute retained the name Niels Bohr Institute.

     
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