Tuesday, March 25, 2014


There are many different planets and different year legnths and circumstances that none of us would be able to survive, but Keppler in its five years of devoted service has given NASA and the world a sort of road map to other worlds in just one tiny segment of the sky. Think og the shear numbers of stars in that region – 160,000, and then figure AT LEAST one planet around each and you have a slight idea.

Keppler has been through a lot during these last five years. 2012 saw one of her reaction wheels failing but NASA made sure Kepler preservered and extended her mission to 2016. May of 2013 yet another of the reaction wheels failed but NASA made it all work out with just some modification to the size of sky and mission modification (now using a new method known as K2).   

So planets observed to date? Keppler at first look had come up with some 3600 possible planets but scientists have closed in on 961 identified. Think about it – Keppler only looks at part of the sky, take that amount of worlds and multiply it by, well, the rest of the sky and then perhaps a layer of stars beyond what we can see. Thanks to Keppler we know that most stars have planets around them and 1 in 5 of them could possibly to suppport life. That gives you 40 billion habitable worlds in our galaxy alone. That’s gotta make you think about all sorts of possibilities!

Allow me to offer a sampling of the strange new worlds Keppler has identified to date:

Discovered in 2011, Kepler-22b. A world around 2.4 times the size of Earth orbiting a Sun-like star in the region referred to as the ‘habitable zone’. (The habitable zone is the region within which an Earthlike planet can orbit its star and possess water in the liquid phase on its surface – apparently a requirement for life as we understand it. 

In September 2011, Star Wars fans as well as those who could imagine a sky with a double sunset and sigh, all cheered over the discovery of Keppler-16b. After that Keppler located at least 6 others that orbit and survive around double stars.

Discovered in 2013, Keppler-78b. Earth sized planet with Earth-like mass – a rock and iron based world orbiting very close to its star in the constelation of Cygnus. A mere 400 light years from Earth.

There’s Keppler-10b, 1.4 times the size of Earth – that’s probably a good thing. More room to expand for the human race! It’s big enough to hold an atmosphere with its gravity and not too big - but there is another characteristic that a bit important. Keppler-10b is twenty times closer to its star than say Mercury. Since Mercury is a hell on, well, Mercury, imagine 20 times closer!

There’s Keppler-11 whose star is a yellow dwarf, similar to our Sun. It is in a system claims about six planets but at least five orbits are too close and the sixth orbit is between say Venus and Mars – to give you some perspective. And a year? Lets’ just say it is hard enough to get everything done in a day but many goals are given a year. What if that year were 118 days? Of course that’s the farthest planet out. Go to the inner most and now a year is more around the length of one month.

AND allow me to review some wild and strange planets;

In 2012 Keppler found a planet that was disintegrating and had a comet like tail. Apparently it revolves around star KIC12557548 a star that is both smaller and cooler than our own. The object or planet candidate has an orbit of 16 hours and a surface temperature of about 3,300 degrees. This means it has a lava type surface but is hot enough to evaporate it and with the strong winds blow dust and gas into space – giving it a ‘tail’.

Keppler-37b is a planet smaller than Mercury with a 13 day orbit. Actually it is the smallest planet yet identified. A mere 210 light years away in the constellation Lyra; it is believed not to have an atmosphere so we won’t be moving there anytime soon.

Kepler-78b actually zooms around its star every 8.5 hours, another hot place.

AND more recently, Keppler-413b, a planet that wobbles on its axis and its orbit racing through an up & down cycle that on Earth takes 26,000 years but on this planet takes only 11 years. It’s orbit, 66 days around a pair of red dwarf stars. While it claims the habitable zone, it is a gas giant. But don’t dismiss it right away, if it has a moon, that could be a destination. Think Avatar. Avatar takes place on a moon of a gas giant in the habitable zone of its star.

Obviously this is just a smattering of what NASA & Keppler have located thus far, but certainly this is enough of a taste to get the wheels turning and imagination flowing about the variety and fun places we might go! Over the next 20-50 years ‘we’ will gain the ability to travel in new and amazing ways so it’s great to have options!


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