Saturday, April 5, 2014

E is for Exoplanets

Exoplanet: An exoplanet is any planet located outside our solar system.
 
The Goldilocks Zone, or the Habitable Zone: The region around a star within which planetary-mass objects with sufficient atmospheric pressure can support liquid water at their surfaces. Translation: they can support intelligent life.
 
* The search for exoplanets has been in full tilt since the 1970s, but the first one was discovered by accident in 1992.
 
* Kepler is a space observatory launched by NASA to discover Earth-like planets orbiting other stars. The spacecraft, named after the Renaissance astronomer Johannes Kepler was launched on March 7, 2009.
 
Kepler Space Observatory
* In February, 2014 NASA announced sstronomers announced today that 715 exoplanet candidates found by NASA’s Kepler spacecraft have been confirmed as planets. The bonanza nearly quadruples the number of already confirmed alien worlds found by Kepler, and raises the total number of known planets beyond the Solar System from 1,035 to 1,750.
 
* But Kepler has incurred technical difficulties. NASA is attempting to fix the problems. Stay tuned.
 
* There are potentially hundreds of billions of planets in our galaxy. And there approximately 100 too 200 million galaxies. You don’t have to do the math to conclude there are a lot of exoplanets out there.

* Then there are the moons that could orbit these exoplanets. Our solar system alone has 8 planets (sorry Pluto) and 166 moons. So it’s not only exoplanets, but the moons, that could fall into the “Goldilocks Zone.”
 
* The closest exoplanet to us is Alpha Centauri Bb. It orbits our Sun’s closest star at just over 4 light years away and was discovered in 2012.
 
* So far 10 exoplanets have been discovered where liquid water could exist on their surface.
 
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