February 2, 2011

Kepler's Groundhog Day Exoplanets

Groundhog Day, year 2011. The Kepler Mission team announces new exoplanet discoveries and releases data on more than a thousand new exoplanet candidates giving a clear sign of what is to come: There will be more exoplanet discoveries, again and again, over and over, for decades onwards.

The latest exoplanet announcements from Kepler are six “Neptune-type” planets all of are in tight orbits around their parent star called Kepler-11.

But even more exciting than the announcement of these six planets around Kepler-11 is the Kepler team's public release of data that contains more than a thousand new exoplanet candidates that have yet to be confirmed. Approximately 90% is expected to turn out as true exoplanets from this data set alone. They would most likely include many super-earths, and even more earth-size planets some of which lie in the habitable zone.

There will be more exoplanets in the coming months and years. I cannot even fathom what this would mean for our generation. We are witnessing a historic event in humanity's quest to find our place in the universe.

Consider this: in the Cygnus constellation alone, an area in the sky smaller than a coin held at arms length harbors thousands of planets, if not millions. A few thousand of those planets are as small, or smaller than our own, orbiting within the Habitable Zone. I cannot even dare say (because it's an understatement) that at least one of these worlds could harbor some form life.

Are you having an existential shock now? Well, get used to it. This will happen over and over again.

Happy Groundhog Day!

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