Scientists pleasantly surprised by number of Earth-size, distant planets
The planet Kepler-10b orbits a star similar to our own Sun in its temperature, mass and size.
February 19th, 2011
06:02 PM ET

Scientists pleasantly surprised by number of Earth-size, distant planets

Where might extraterrestrials live? The first step is figuring out what other planets out there have conditions like our own.

Scientists using NASA's Kepler space telescope are working hard to find candidates for inhabitable planets. So far, it seems that for approximately every two stars in the galaxy, there is one possible planet, NASA's William Borucki said Saturday at the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual meeting in Washington.

Researchers have found some 1,200 candidate-planets and, of them, about 54 are earth-size candidate planets in habitable zones - in other words, perhaps at a distance from their stars that may be suitable for life. Earlier this month officials at NASA announced the discovery of five probable planets about the size of Earth, as well as six larger than our planet that are orbiting a single star. But bear in mind that Venus is also considered an "Earth-sized planet," and clearly no lifeforms live there (as far as we know).

Scientists on the Kepler mission revealed Saturday that you're probably going to have to wait until at least 2012 to find out anything substantial about the habitability of what appear to be Earth-sized planets. That's because scientists need to be able to see three transits of a planet around a star in three years before they'd be willing to say too much about them, and the project has only been going since 2009 (after all, our planet goes around the sun three times in three years).

And even then, Kepler wasn't designed to look at individual planets. But it might identify some that the James Webb Space Telescope, which will launch in 2014, can probe in further detail, looking at atmospheres and such. And note that the probability of having found our own particular planet using Kepler technology is only 12%.

And we won't be traveling to meet our potential new neighbors anytime soon. The stars about the size our sun that Kepler has been looking at are about 1,000 to 3,000 light years away, where one light year is about 6 trillion miles.

But there have been some fascinating surprises from the Kepler mission. One of them is that there appear to be a remarkable number of planets about the size of Neptune, which has a diameter four times that of Earth, said Sara Seager, physicist at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The planet Kepler-10b, shown in the photo above, is a particularly interesting find because it likely has no atmosphere, but does have liquid oceans that are essentially lava lakes, she said.

The existence of many small planets in the galaxy that Kepler has found also amazed scientists, because there was a possibility that they would have been destroyed by larger planets long ago.

"It was a wonderful surprise to see this large number of small planets we have found," Borucki said.

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Filed under: Science • Space
soundoff (325 Responses)
  1. Cesar

    @banasy, I can't believe I typed star instead of planet, I must be getting like Cecil. You're hot tonight, banasy, very observant. Please, if you can tell what Cecil is talking about, will you kindly relay it to me. Thank you again.

    February 19, 2011 at 8:44 pm | Report abuse |
  2. banasy

    @Cesar: no, it wasn't a typo, the word was spelled correctly. It just wasn't the word that should have been used. Therefore, you are correct, it *isn't* a typo. But his use of a "less than" > sign *was* a typo. Hence, you are correct again! 🙂
    Boy, isn't this FUN? Lol!

    February 19, 2011 at 8:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • Death Panel Sarah

      Uh.... that's a 'greater than' sign.....

      February 19, 2011 at 9:46 pm | Report abuse |
  3. syz2

    If there is civilization in other galaxies, why they have not visited us so far? They must have been thousands of years advanced than us.

    February 19, 2011 at 8:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • Death Panel Sarah

      I wouldn't visit us, either....cheap trash worried about a dollar.

      February 19, 2011 at 9:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ken

      Too civilized to visit without a proper invitation?

      March 18, 2011 at 3:38 pm | Report abuse |
  4. banasy

    Sb, Cesar and I are just having a little fun with each other. That's all. It's ok, we're buddies, it's allowed.

    February 19, 2011 at 8:49 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Cesar

    @Cecil, I spent a long time looking for the error. I'm sorry I said the "m" word, I was just so frustrated. Thank you for pointing out the error. It is kind of funny though, looking for " inhabitable planets". Bye Cecil, again sorry.

    February 19, 2011 at 8:50 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Timco

    If Jesus really loved us, like we claim, then he would give us a ride to one of these earth-like planets. I mean, really! How could so easily pop down from Heaven (located somewhere is Tuscany, I think) and give us a lift. I'd spring for gas money or quark-dissolving ion fluid or whatever he drives. Seriously, it would be awesome. Road trip!!!

    February 19, 2011 at 8:52 pm | Report abuse |
  7. John Not

    With today's technology know-how we could apparently get to Alpha Centauri in about 45years. Search for the Orion Project using Nuclear Propulsion.

    February 19, 2011 at 8:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • John Not

      OMG my post actually showed up! The Project Orion (nuclear propulsion) concept of Freeman Dyson, and Ted Taylor could reach a maximum speed @ .1c and would take at least 44years to reach Alpha Centauri, not including the 36 days of constant acceleration @ 1g and 36 days for deceleration.

      February 19, 2011 at 8:54 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Timco

    Cecil, inhabitable is the correct word for a place where one could inhabit. It's not a typo or a mistake.

    February 19, 2011 at 8:56 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Richard Allen

    i sense more religion wars when we finally contact our 'neighbors". They will have surely dreamed up a superior being similar to our gods here. interstellar wars based on religion...i can see it now...sigh.

    February 19, 2011 at 8:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mmmmm

      Aliens and their existence is not a contradiction to christianity

      February 19, 2011 at 9:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • Death Panel Sarah

      Yeah... maybe they are at the center of the universe that we were supposed to be at! They stole our position in the universe! They rounded our flat earth! Let's have an inter-stellar crusade and kill them all and get our 'holy position' back!!

      February 19, 2011 at 9:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • Death Panel Sarah

      That's why God has earth on auto-pilot. He's helping THEM. I say we kill all the 'Ables' on the other planets.

      February 19, 2011 at 10:13 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mmmmm

      @death panel gotta lotta raising cane in you...

      February 20, 2011 at 12:34 am | Report abuse |
  10. banasy

    @Cesar: turns out you were right about Jupiter. Right on! I corrected you in error. I apologize. But I'm still hot!

    February 19, 2011 at 8:57 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Kristen Ann Winslet

    The Universe is Full of Life . . . To think otherwise is outright foolish.

    No surprise at all about the findings from the Keppler Space Telescope.

    February 19, 2011 at 8:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sunspot

      Fact: There is not one shred of evidence for any life anywhere in the universe except Planet Earth. Hopefully someday this eviednce will be found.

      February 19, 2011 at 10:28 pm | Report abuse |
  12. banasy

    Turns out I'm wrong all around! Well, I'm going to be quiet and skulk out of the room...

    February 19, 2011 at 9:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mmmmm

      ...do you mean skunk out or sulk out?

      February 19, 2011 at 10:03 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Be aware

    This is all false. Other planets existing outside of our solar system (universe) do not exist. The lies about these places existing is just a ploy by the atheist science world to debunk the true God and his true universe. They must think we are pretty stupid.

    February 19, 2011 at 9:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • Geoff

      You say the planets outside our solar system are fake? Heck, we must be living on a flat surface! I hope you don't fall over the edge, buddy! Also, the Solar System is not the "universe" in your so-called "Atheist science". I don't see an updated Bible with silly propoganda about how science is fake. If science is fake, do you have a brain?

      February 19, 2011 at 10:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sunspot

      So what are the stars???

      February 19, 2011 at 10:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • Geoff

      Did you go to fourth grade? Stars are (in a nutshell) giant balls of hot gas. Basically, it's a massive fireball running on a large supply of fuel. If you go to the very BEGINNING of creationism/science, nothing makes sense, because something had to exist before God to create him, and matter didn't just explode out of nowhere.

      February 19, 2011 at 10:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sunspot

      Geoff – I know what stars are. I was asking the idiot above stating that the solar system is the whole universe. I've been studying astronomy for 50 years. I know what the science says.

      February 19, 2011 at 10:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • Geoff

      @Sunspot, I apologize, I thought you were asking me.

      February 19, 2011 at 10:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sunspot

      Oh, and – Geoff – current cosmology is starting to accept the concept of multiple universes, some with up to eleven dimensions. One "theory" is that our universe was created in a minor collision between two four-dimensional universes. Beats me, way beyond my comprehension, but some people are working on the issue. Is it testable, that's the question...

      February 19, 2011 at 10:42 pm | Report abuse |
    • Electro-Cute

      Since you claim science is fake. You probably own a fake-car(no science there) that you drove on a fake-road to your fakejob and opened the door with a fake-smart-card, then you cooked your lunch in a fake-micro-oven and after work you drove home and posted your comment on a fake-computer (no science there either).

      Then on holiday you went with a fake-air-plane( no science there either just magic!) and landed on a fake-airport (the length of the airfields have nooothing at all to do with science.. its just fake and randomly invented!).

      I could claim: "Only in America it is considered cool and smart to be stupid." and sometimes I'm sure that it is true.

      February 19, 2011 at 10:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sunspot

      Geoff – no problemo. I was actually typing my response when you posted yours.
      Isn't it fascinating to see what people think about these issues? Bizarre, really. A sad commentary on the failings of the american education system. Or lack thereof...

      February 19, 2011 at 10:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sunspot

      Electro-cute – great points! To expand that – everyone, look at what's in your room. Not ONE ITEM in your room could exist without science. Materials, manufacturing processes, the trucks to deliver the stuff and ,often, the electricity to run it, is all science. If the human race didn't do science, none of that stuff could possibly exist. Including you!! Without medical science, you great-great grandfather would probably have died during childbirth.
      We use science because it works. Period! Without plenty of food to eat and a nice warm room in the winter you wouldn't be able to contemplate what the godz want from you, you'd be too busy trying to survive. Not to mention that the Internet is one of the greatest scientific inventions in all of history. If we were all rational beings, complaining about science on the internet should make your freakin' head explode!!!

      February 19, 2011 at 10:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • Geoff

      Electro-cute, that guy typed a question on a fake computer connected to a fake network called the "Internet." Ooh, magic! Narnia is real! God created talking lions to entertain people on a flat, magic, moving screen!
      Sunspot – I read about that. It's quite interesting how scientists keep coming up with new explanations... testing it would be a major problem. Assuming we were able to enter a parallel universe (if they exist,) we might not be able to 'exist' (because of different physics, etc.), and therefore, we wouldn't be able to come back with results. it's funny how people call science propaganda...These people call bad education fake, they say global warming is a Ponzi scheme... I'm getting off topic.

      February 19, 2011 at 10:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • Electro-Cute

      Thank you, Mr Geoff and Mr Sunspot!

      February 19, 2011 at 11:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • Theorert

      I figured the most abundant factor in the human body was water, for you, it's beaten by stupidity.

      February 20, 2011 at 1:28 am | Report abuse |
  14. Cesar

    @banasy, Thanks for that clarification. I really appreciate it. Just one small thing. Cecil's sign was actually greater than, not less than. FYI (pointing to the right side.) Thanks again.

    February 19, 2011 at 9:01 pm | Report abuse |
  15. AirForce777

    Since our government has knowledge of over 50 species of alien life. It is not surprising to find that many planets near thier suns.

    February 19, 2011 at 9:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sunspot

      50 species. Really!! Around which stars??? Please provide a list of these locations.
      This is a fantasy!

      February 19, 2011 at 10:34 pm | Report abuse |
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