The Kepler mission, a space observatory designed to examine deep space, has only been operational for six weeks but it already is starting to pay dividends. The observatory has located 140 suspected Earth-like planets among 700 suspected new planet discoveries. Previously, telescopes looking outside our solar system have identified only large gas giants.
Scientists need to confirm that the suspected planets are, in fact, planets, but their speculation based on the findings to date is that there may be as many as 100 million habitable planets in the Milky Way galaxy.
Imagine — the possibility of 100 million habitable planets in our galaxy, some of which may have their own life forms. Increasingly, science fiction is becoming reality. When will we begin to boldly go where no man has gone before?
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The Kepler space telescope, launched by NASA earlier this year, already is paying some very cool dividends.
Gas giant detected by Kepler telescope
The Kepler telecope is intended to identify planetary bodies in other solar systems and then determine which ones may be capable of supporting life. In a test run, before official science operations have even begun, the telescope focused on a planet, called HAT-P-7, orbiting a star 1,000 light years away and was able to determine that the planet has an atmosphere. Of course, it’s not a planet any of us would be interested in visiting — it is a gas giant slightly larger than Jupiter that is 26 times closer to the star than the Earth is to the Sun, and the planet orbits the star in a dizzying 2.2 days. The dayside temperature of the planet is 4310 degrees Fahrenheit. Be sure to bring a cool drink when you visit!
Image of Planet HAT-P-7
Sometimes we forget how extraordinary our technological advances have been, so we should all pause for a moment and consider how amazing it is that we can figure out significant details about a planet that is more than 1,000 light years away — and remember, one light year is 5.88 trillion miles!
The NASA website and BBC reports on the discovery are here and here.
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