An artist's illustration of an Earth-like planet. The search for planets that are similar to Earth is one of NASA's main goals. Many planets have already been discovered orbiting other stars, but so far only larger planets (the size of Jupiter or larger) have been found. New missions are being planned by NASA which will be able to detect smaller Earth-sized planets. Some of these missions will also try to detect signs of life on these planets by studying emissions in their atmospheres.


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What If The Earth Had Rings Like Saturn?

An examination of what Earth would be like with rings, from different latitudes and cities across the globe.


Kepler Mission Discovers Its First Rocky Planet

SOURCE: Spacedaily
Jan 11, 2011

NASA's Kepler mission confirmed the discovery of its first rocky planet, named Kepler-10b. Measuring 1.4 times the size of Earth, it is the smallest planet ever discovered outside our solar system.

The discovery of this so-called exoplanet is based on more than eight months of data collected by the spacecraft from May 2009 to early January 2010.

"All of Kepler's best capabilities have converged to yield the first solid evidence of a rocky planet orbiting a star other than our sun," said Natalie Batalha, Kepler's deputy science team lead at NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif., and primary author of a paper on the discovery accepted by the Astrophysical Journal.

"The Kepler team made a commitment in 2010 about finding the telltale signatures of small planets in the data, and it's beginning to pay off."

Kepler's ultra-precise photometer measures the tiny decrease in a star's brightness that occurs when a planet crosses in front of it. The size of the planet can be derived from these periodic dips in brightness. The distance between the planet and the star is calculated by measuring the time between successive dips as the planet orbits the star.

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For more information: Videos!
Kepler Discovers Its Smallest and First Rocky Planet
NASA'S Kepler Mission Discovers Its First Rocky Planet
NASA spots smallest planet yet found outside our solar system 


Can we find trees on other planets ?

SOURCE: Discovery News
Jan 2, 2011

Two scientists have come up with a method to detect forests on extrasolar worlds.

Christopher Dougherty and Adam Wolf are working on the idea that a planet covered in trees might be detectable from the Earth because the shadowing on the surface would give it a different look. Referred to as the search for "Extra-Arboreal" life the method would require a much larger telescope than is currently available but could one day be used to locate abundant life on a distant world not much unlike our own.

If a tree casts a shadow in the woods, can anyone see it from light-years away? Considering that the best extrasolar planet pictures to date are dots in deep-space exposures, this question may sound ludicrous. But a pair of scientists thinks that detecting alien forests might be doable, at least in theory. Call it the search for Extra-Arboreal life.

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Could we detect trees on other planets?


Super-Earth's atmosphere analyzed for first time


Scientists say alien air likely to be thick with water vapor, or haze

The first-ever analysis of the atmosphere of an alien planet classified as a so-called "super-Earth" has revealed a distant world that is likely covered with either water vapor or a thick haze, scientists announced Wednesday.

The exoplanet GJ 1214b, which orbits a star 40 light-years from Earth, offers astronomers a unique chance to study its atmosphere because it passes directly in front of its parent star from Earth's line of sight. That means that once an orbit, the star's light is filtered as it passes through the planet's atmosphere on its way to Earth, taking with it an imprint from the chemicals there. [ Illustration of alien planet GJ 1214b]

"We're trying to get at, what's the main component of this planet's atmosphere?" said lead researcher Jacob Bean, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Mass.

GJ 1214b is called a super-Earth because it is larger than our home planet, but still smaller than gas giants like Jupiter and Saturn. It was first discovered in 2009 and has been studied ever since.

A watery super-Earth?

In a comparison with our solar system's inhabitants, GJ 1214b most closely resembles Neptune, Bean said. The alien planet has a radius 2.5 times the size of Earth's and is about 6.5 times the mass of our planet, researchers said.

Astronomers have discovered more than 500 alien planets beyond our solar system so far, with hundreds more expected to be confirmed in upcoming months.

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For more information:
First Super-Earth Atmosphere Analyzed
First super-earth atmosphere analysis shows water may exist


Odds of Life on Newfound Earth-Size Planet '100 Percent,' Astronomer Says

29 September 2010

An Earth-size planet has been spotted orbiting a nearby star at a distance that would makes it not too hot and not too cold — comfortable enough for life to exist, researchers announced today (Sept. 29).

If confirmed, the exoplanet, named Gliese 581g, would be the first Earth-like world found residing in a star's habitable zone — a region where a planet's temperature could sustain liquid water on its surface. [Illustration of planet Gliese 581g.]

And the planet's discoverers are optimistic about the prospects for finding life there.

"Personally, given the ubiquity and propensity of life to flourish wherever it can, I would say, my own personal feeling is that the chances of life on this planet are 100 percent," said Steven Vogt, a professor of astronomy and astrophysics at the University of California, Santa Cruz, during a press briefing today. "I have almost no doubt about it."

Read the full story here:

For more information:

New Earth-like planet discovered
Gliese 581g is in the 'Goldilocks zone' of its solar system, where liquid water could exist, and is a strong contender to be a habitable world

Earth-Like Planet Can Sustain Life
Located in a solar system that parallels our own, the new world could be habitable -- or even inhabited.

New Planet: There's Life! See Video!
Michio Kaku: Earth-Like Planet Discovered See Video!
Newly discovered planet to save human race See Video!

To learn more about: Gliese 581 Solar System.


Can We Spot Volcanoes on Alien Worlds? Astronomers Say Yes

SOURCE: Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics
September 07, 2010

Cambridge, MA - Volcanoes display the awesome power of Nature like few other events. Earlier this year, ash from an Icelandic volcano disrupted air travel throughout much of northern Europe. Yet this recent eruption pales next to the fury of Jupiter's moon Io, the most volcanic body in our solar system.

Now that astronomers are finding rocky worlds orbiting distant stars, they're asking the next logical questions: Do any of those worlds have volcanoes? And if so, could we detect them? Work by theorists at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics suggests that the answer to the latter is a qualified "Yes."

"You would need something truly earthshaking, an eruption that dumped a lot of gases into the atmosphere," said Smithsonian astronomer Lisa Kaltenegger. "Using the James Webb Space Telescope, we could spot an eruption 10 to 100 times the size of Pinatubo for the closest stars," she added.

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706 Earthlike Planets Discovered By NASA Spacecraft‏

18 June 2010

NASA's Kepler spacecraft hunting for Earth-like planets around other stars has found 706 candidates for potential alien worlds while gazing at more than 156,000 stars packed into a single patch of the sky.

If all 706 of these objects pass the stringent follow-up tests to determine if they are actually planets, and not false alarms, they could nearly triple the current number of known extrasolar planets. They were announced as part of a huge release of data from the mission's first 43 days by NASA's Kepler science team this week.

The Kepler space observatory monitors stars for subtle changes in their brightness, which could indicate the presence of alien planets passing in front of them as seen from Earth. Astronomers will use the newly-released data from Kepler to determine if orbiting planets are responsible for the variation in brightness of several hundred stars.

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For more information:

Millions of Earths? Talk causes a stir See Video!
A World of Difference between 'Earth-Like' and 'Earth-Sized'
140 Earth-like planets discovered in the Milky Way by Kepler See Video!
Dimitar Sasselov: How we found hundreds of Earth-like planets See Video!


NASA's Kepler Space Telescope Discovers Five Exoplanets

January 04, 2010

PASADENA, Calif. -- NASA's Kepler space telescope, designed to find Earth-size planets in the habitable zone of sun-like stars, has discovered its first five new exoplanets, or planets beyond our solar system.

Kepler's high sensitivity to both small and large planets enabled the discovery of the exoplanets, named Kepler 4b, 5b, 6b, 7b and 8b. The discoveries were announced Monday, Jan. 4, by members of the Kepler science team during a news briefing at the American Astronomical Society meeting in Washington.

"These observations contribute to our understanding of how planetary systems form and evolve from the gas and dust disks that give rise to both the stars and their planets," said William Borucki of NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif. Borucki is the mission's science principal investigator. "The discoveries also show that our science instrument is working well. Indications are that Kepler will meet all its science goals."

Read the full story here:

For more information:

The First Five Worlds of Kepler See Video!
Searching for Alien Earths: The Kepler Space Telescope


Earth-like planets could be found soon: astronomers

January 8, 2010

Astronomers say they are on the verge of finding planets like Earth orbiting other stars, a key step in determining if we are alone in the universe.

A top NASA official and other leading scientists say that within four or five years they should discover the first Earth-like planet where life could develop, or may have already. A planet close to the size of Earth could even be found sometime this year if preliminary hints from a new space telescope pan out.

At the annual American Astronomical Society conference this week, each discovery involving so-called "exoplanets" — those outside our solar system — pointed to the same conclusion: Quiet planets like Earth where life could develop probably are plentiful, despite a violent universe of exploding stars, crushing black holes and colliding galaxies.

NASA's new Kepler telescope and a wealth of new research from the suddenly hot and competitive exoplanet field generated noticeable buzz at the convention. Scientists are talking about being at "an incredible special place in history" and closer to answering a question that has dogged humanity since the beginning of civilization.

"The fundamental question is: Are we alone? For the first time, there's an optimism that sometime in our lifetimes we're going to get to the bottom of that," said Simon (Pete) Worden, an astronomer who heads NASA's Ames Research Center. "If I were a betting man, which I am, I would bet we're not alone — there is a lot of life."

Read the full story here:
Astronomers: We could find Earth-like planets soon