Thursday, February 3, 2011
Yet one more science problem solved with huge cameras and rocketry. But seriously, it is great news. We now know that planets are normal and common. It is only a small leap to suggest that life is also probably quite common. I am generally pessimistic about space exploration during my lifetime, largely because my generation was denied it's Mars mission. But the unmanned probes have time and again exceeded expectations. This is indeed the century of astronomy and space exploration, and it looks likely that life will be found elsewhere within the next 100 years. I would not rule out signatures of life in the atmospheres of these planets (free oxygen etc.) within the next 10 years, particularly after the JWST comes online.
The Bad Astronomy Article extrapolates the math out to the whole Galaxy: "70 million Earth-size planets, and a million in the habitable zone of their stars. A frakking million. In our galaxy alone." (Note that "frakking" is an si unit = 1.34 metric shit-loads.)
NY Times Article
Right now, I am reading "The Starflight Handbook: A Pioneer's Guide to Interstellar Travel" by Matloff and Mallove. Today it feels a bit less like fantasy, and bit more like preparation for the future.
Read more about this at Centauri Dreams (the next book on the list). Also check out the abstract about one particular system, Kepler 11 from Nature. Kepler 11 has six planets, all pretty close to a Sun-like star. (All within .5 AU, one within .1!) In the image below, A is the star and it is to scale with the distances. The other objects are the planets scaled up by a factor of 50. In other words, they are 2.4 frakks close!
Source: Kepler 11 Wiki