How Many Planets in our Galaxy? How Does 50 Billion Sound

The Discovery Channel did the math and extrapolated how many possible planets there could be in our galaxy based on the data already received from the Kepler probe, which has already discovered over 1200 planets.

The answer?

50 BILLION.

And they estimate 500 MILLION of those could be habitable.

That really puts the vastness of our galaxy into perspective.

Take the numbers further and imagine how many planets there could be in other galaxies in the universe and the numbers easily go beyond the Trillions.

Source.

We really need to get out there and start exploring!

Holy Crap This is Amazing: All 1200 Kepler Planets Visualized

The title says it all.

This is a visualization of the 1236 exoplanet candidates observed by Kepler.

As you can see, the vast majority of these planets orbit their stars at a distance less than Earth. This is likely due to the relatively short observation period – it is highly probable that many more planets will be found as the duration of study increases.

Two candidates are highlighed: KOI 326.01 and KOI 314.02. Out of all the candidates, those two may have the best chances of satisfying some of the “habitability” criteria astronomers tend to use.

Kepler Exoplanet Candidates from blprnt on Vimeo.

Exoplanets: Planetary System Discovered – Keplar Telescope discovers a boatload of Planets

Big news in the search for planets outside our solar system last week. I’ll try to summarize all the news that came out in one post.

Nasa scientists discover planetary system

Astronomers have discovered a planetary system made up of six planets orbiting a Sun-like star that is more than 2,000 light years from Earth. It is the largest number of planets found so far around a single star.

Jack Lissauer, a scientist at Nasa’s Ames research centre in California and a lead author on a paper published tomorrow in the journal Nature, said that the Kepler-11 finding was “the biggest thing in exoplanets since the discovery of 51 Pegasi B, the first exoplanet, back in 1995″.

The five inner planets of the Kepler-11 system are between 2.3 and 13.5 times the mass of the Earth, and make their orbits in less than 50 days. All of them are so close to their star that their orbits would fit within that of Mercury in our solar system. The sixth planet has an orbital period of 118 days and sits at a distance from its star that is half the Sun-Earth distance. Lissauer said it was unexpected to find a system where planets could be so close to one another and there could be so many of them on such a flat plane. “The Kepler-11 system is flatter than a CD,” he said. “If placed within our solar system, Kepler-11’s six planets would lie between those of the sun’s innermost planets, Mercury and Venus.”

Read more here.

Exoplanet hunt turns up 54 potentially habitable worlds

Astronomers have identified some 54 new planets where conditions may be suitable for life.

Five of the candidates are Earth-sized.

The data release also confirmed a unique sextet of planets around a single star and 170 further solar systems that include more than one planet circling far-flung stars.

Read more here.

Kepler Telescope discovers 1200 new worlds

In fifteen years, astronomers have detected just over 500 planets orbiting other stars. Now, after less than two years in orbit, the Kepler telescope has more than tripled that figure, discovering more than 1,200 possible new worlds. Even better, at least 54 of them are in their star’s habitable zone, and five of these are Earth-sized planets. But here’s the best part – Kepler only looked at one tiny corner of our galaxy. We really might be surrounded by millions of Earth-like planets after all.

Turns out yesterday’s story about a tightly packed solar system was just a tease for the really big news. After just 23 months in orbit, NASA’s Kepler telescope has discover 1,235 potential planets orbiting around the 156,000 stars it’s been charged with observing. It should be stressed that these are still just possible planets, but in all likelihood the vast majority of these observations will stand up, so we’re still probably looking at at least a thousand new exoplanets.

So what sorts of planets has Kepler found? There appear to be 68 Earth-sized planets, 288 rocky planets that are considerably bigger and known as Super-Earths, 662 relatively small gas giants around the size of Neptune, 165 Jupiter-sized planets, and 19 that are even bigger than Jupiter. The discovery of nearly 70 Earth-like planets is particularly exciting, considering we had only detected a handful of them before this.

Read more here.

Definitely exciting times in Astronomy and I wholeheartedly believe this is just the beginning. There’s got to be hundred of thousands of planets our there – if not billions in the entire universe.

Help Find Exoplanets on your Own!

How would you like to play your part in helping astronomers discovers planets outside our solar system? Well, now you can thanks to a new program by the folks at Zooniverse.

I’ll let Bad Astronomy Explain:

The idea is pretty cool: they have data from NASA’s orbiting Kepler Observatory, a telescope that is staring at one part of the sky and observing a hundred thousand stars all day and night. If a planet orbits a star — and its orbit lines up just right — the planet will pass directly in front of the star, blocking its light for a few hours.

That dip in light can be detected, revealing the presence of the planet!

With Planet Hunters, you’re presented with the data, and you look for those dips. Astronomers have programmed computers to look too, but the Zooniverse people think that humans can do better. It’s not a bad assumption; it’s the devil’s own work teaching a computer to sift through this kind of data. And there are lots and lots of people out there who can do this… and I’m guessing more than a few BABloggees are in that set.

I tried it out and it’s pretty easy – a lot of fun too.

So, maybe you can help find the next planet! Maybe it will be Earthlike!

Check out Planethunters here.

Astronomers Discover an ‘Impossible Planet’

This made the rounds on most of the major media outlets this week so I thought it was worth a mention.

Astronomers have discovered a planet that was formed outside of our Galaxy, but is now within our galaxy.

io9 explains it pretty well:

Before the discovery of this gas giant, it was incredibly rare to find planets orbiting ancient stars – and even more rare to find them orbiting a star like this one because it lacks the necessary metals to form planets. This planet’s star, amazingly, is both old and metal-poor, and what’s more the star has entered its red giant phase, in which it expands to an incredible size and threatens to engulf its planets. That’s what you can see in the rather mind-blowing, somewhat impressionistic artist’s conception up top. That black dot just to the lower right of center is the planet in question.

So this planet is impossible for three reasons, all to do with the extreme conditions of its star.

Just to add to the strangeness, the star should have swallowed up its planet, based on the planet’s position relative to the star. But that’s nothing compared to the story of its birth. This star is part of a group that was once part of a satellite galaxy apart from the Milky Way, which was gravitationally disrupted and assimilated into our galaxy several billion years ago. In all likelihood, this planet predates that merger, meaning it’s technically the first planet we’ve discovered that’s from another galaxy.

Source.

Rich Exoplanet System Discovered – 5 Planets!

This news comes via the BBC – Astronomers have discovered an Exoplanet Star System only 127 light years away.

So far they’ve detected 5 planets in the system – 1 of which is almost the same size as the Earth – making it a viable solar system for life.

From the BBC article:

Astronomers have discovered a planetary system containing at least five planets that orbit a star called HD 10180, which is much like our own Sun.

The star is 127 light years away, in the southern constellation of Hydrus.

The researchers used the European Southern Observatory (Eso) to monitor light emitted from the system and identify and characterise the planets.

They say this is the “richest” system of exoplanets – planets outside our own Solar System – ever found.

Christophe Lovis from Geneva University’s observatory in Switzerland was lead researcher on the study. He said that his team had probably found “the system with the most planets yet discovered”.

The discovery could provide insight into the formation of our own Solar System

“This also highlights the fact that we are now entering a new era in exoplanet research – the study of complex planetary systems and not just of individual planets,” he said.

Check out the rest of the article here.