Highlights from the 2014 LA Auto Show

Kepler Mission

NASA's Kepler mission has detected the most Earth-like planet yet - Kepler 22b (Image: Art...

The ongoing search for Earth-like worlds has taken another promising step. On December 5, NASA announced the discovery of the planet most likely so far to sustain life outside of the Solar System. The exoplanet, given the undramatic name of Kepler 22b, was found by NASA's Kepler spacecraft as part of its mission to seek out Earth-type planets in our galaxy. Though Kepler 22b is not the first such planet to be detected in recent years, it is the first one orbiting a star similar to our Sun and at a distance where it is capable of possessing liquid water, which most scientists regard as essential for life to exist. Though this is a significant milestone, the question remains, how good a candidate for a second Earth is Kepler 22b? Could there be life there or is it a planetary blind alley?  Read More

Artist's concept illustrating Kepler-16b, the first planet known to definitively orbit two...

In news that conjures up visions of Luke Skywalker looking wistfully at the twin sunset of Tatooine accompanied by a stirring John Williams score, NASA's Kepler mission has detected the first planet orbiting two stars. The circumbinary planet, dubbed Kepler-16b, is some 200 light-years from Earth and, though gaseous and not thought to harbor life, its discovery broadens the opportunities for life in our galaxy according to Kepler principal investigator William Boruckias, because most of the Milky Way's stars are part of binary systems.  Read More

Artist's impression of Kepler-11 planetary system as three planets transit - observed by N...

NASA's Kepler space telescope has succeeded in its mission to identify potentially-habitable exoplanets. Kepler has so far observed 156,000 stars in its field of vision and has identified no less than 1235 candidate planets that sit in the “goldilocks zone” (not too close to the star, and not too far away). Of these, scientists at the NASA's Ames Research Center are excited to announce the discovery of the Kepler-11 system – a rare multiple planetary system similar to our own with five planets in the habitable zone.  Read More

Artist's impression of the yellowish star HIP 13044 and, on the bottom right, its planet H...

Astronomers have been discovering planets outside of our solar system – or exoplanets – at a steady rate in recent years. The number has now topped 500 and with earth-bound detection improving all the time and the Kepler mission out hunting with the largest camera ever sent into space, the rate is not likely to slow down anytime soon. Among these discoveries are some extraordinary finds like the first "potentially habitable" exoplanet, but what's different about this latest discovery is not the Earth-like qualities of the planet, it's the fact that it originated from outside the Milky Way – which makes it an extragalactic exoplanet.  Read More

A new survey, funded by NASA and the University of California, reveals that small planets ...

Astronomers at the W.M. Keck Observatory in Hawaii have just completed an intensive five year survey of the heavens, looking at planets orbiting 166 sun-like stars within 80 light years of our own solar system. Contrary to popular theory, the study has found that the majority of planets in close orbit to their stars are some three to ten times the size of our Earth and not, as previously thought, giants with three times the mass of Jupiter. The study has also led the researchers to speculate that there could be billions of as-yet-undetected smaller planets capable of supporting life.  Read More

An artist's rendition of the Kepler spacecraft (Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Launched on March 6, 2009, the Kepler spacecraft is continuing to scan the heavens for Earth-like exoplanets. The $US591 million Kepler boasts the largest camera ever sent into space, incorporating a 0.95-meter diameter Schmidt telescope with an array of 42 CCDs, each with 2200x1024 pixels. NASA has recently released 43 days-worth of data covering more than 156,000 stars in the Cygnus-Lyra region of our galaxy, but more analysis is needed before any conclusive findings can be made.  Read More

Artist's impression of Kepler Spacecraft

On March 5, NASA will launch the largest camera ever sent into space in an attempt to find the holy grail of astronomy: an Earth-like planet. The $591 million Kepler craft will orbit the sun for at least 3.5 years, using an unprecedented 0.95-meter diameter Schmidt telescope packing an array of 42 CCDs, each with 2200x1024 pixels, to scan over 100,000 stars in the Cygnus-Lyra region of the galaxy. The craft is seeking planets in the “goldilocks” zone – not too close to the sun, and not too far – but the scope of the project means that no matter what scientists find, our understanding of the universe will be greatly enhanced.  Read More

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