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Kepler's Alien World Count Skyrockets

Soulskill posted about 6 months ago | from the good-thing-we-launched-it-with-a-skyrocket dept.

Space 77

astroengine writes "The number of known planets beyond the solar system took a giant leap thanks to a new technique that verifies candidate planets found by NASA's Kepler space telescope in batches rather than one-by-one. The new method adds 715 planets to Kepler's list of confirmed planets, which previously totaled 246, scientists said Wednesday. Combined with other telescopes' finds, the overall exoplanet headcount now reaches nearly 1,700. 'By moving ... to statistical studies in a "big data" fashion, Kepler has showcased the diversity and types of planets present in our galaxy,' said astronomer Sara Seager." In other exoplanet news, a recent study found that so-called 'super earths,' planets that are bigger than Earth but smaller than gas giants like Uranus and Neptune, are unlikely to be habitable to known forms of life. The higher mass traps significantly more hydrogen during the formation of the planetary system, which results in extremely high atmospheric pressure — high enough to be hostile to known life.

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hostile ot all known life? (4, Interesting)

hedgemage (934558) | about 6 months ago | (#46350123)

I'm not a xenobiologist, but wouldn't a high-pressure hydrogen-rich atmosphere conceivably be home to organisms similar to those that live around deep sea volcanic vents? Will we be going to war with/conquered by giant tubeworms?

Re:hostile ot all known life? (1)

i kan reed (749298) | about 6 months ago | (#46350441)

Ah, but those evolved from simpler cyanobacteria that could exist in homeostasis in lower pressure liquid water. Those adaptations don't have the same proposed naturalistic mechanisms of arising that self-replicating protein chains do.

Re:hostile ot all known life? (3, Insightful)

gatkinso (15975) | about 6 months ago | (#46350553)

How little you know, fetid human. pewpew!

Re:hostile ot all known life? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46350771)

The spice must flow.

How long till we find it?

Re: hostile ot all known life? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46353507)

The good memories... you are my new favorite person. :)

Re:hostile ot all known life? (1)

Black LED (1957016) | about 6 months ago | (#46353785)

Easy, we just need to take a closer look at Canopus.

Re:hostile ot all known life? (1)

dkf (304284) | about 6 months ago | (#46350791)

I'm not a xenobiologist, but wouldn't a high-pressure hydrogen-rich atmosphere conceivably be home to organisms similar to those that live around deep sea volcanic vents?

We don't know. Right now, we have only one sample of the set "worlds with life" (I say "worlds" to not unfairly discriminate against moons) and our current technological capabilities can't really figure it out for many more worlds yet. Because of this, we do not have enough data to know how prevalent life is or what it really requires. We truly don't know, but at least we know we're really ignorant.

About the only things we can be sure of are that there's a lot of planets out there, that there's a really good chance that some will have conditions at least somewhat similar to earth, and that many of the ingredients for life as we know it are manufactured by cosmological processes involving dust and ice. Oh, and that the universe has a neverending capacity to surprise us.

Will we be going to war with/conquered by giant tubeworms?

Unless someone (either ourselves or the tubeworms) invents a way to travel significantly faster than light with practical levels of energy consumption, no. Even Alpha Centauri, our nearest neighbour, is one hell of a long way away.

Re:hostile ot all known life? (2)

Valdrax (32670) | about 6 months ago | (#46350899)

I'm not a xenobiologist, but wouldn't a high-pressure hydrogen-rich atmosphere conceivably be home to organisms similar to those that live around deep sea volcanic vents?

A hydrogen-rich atmosphere can better be phrased as "carbon/nitrogen/oxygen-poor." For example Neptune's upper atmosphere is 80% hydrogen and 19% helium. That leaves any life-supporting materials scattered and diffused too thing for life to be likely to exist in any shape resembling Earth biochemistry.

Pressure isn't as big of a problem since you can find a nice pressure at the right distance from the center, but pressures and temperatures near the center are high enough that liquid diamond may be found. We're talking 1000x Earth's. That would also preclude any biochemistry we currently can predict & understand.

Re:hostile ot all known life? (1)

marcosdumay (620877) | about 6 months ago | (#46351237)

We live in a very hydrogen poor atmosphere, but we manage to use lots and lots of it without a problem.

Re:hostile ot all known life? (1)

osu-neko (2604) | about 6 months ago | (#46353923)

It should be noted that life almost certainly started in Earth's oceans (where the vast majority of it remains to this day -- life outside the oceans is practically a footnote). I do believe are hydrosphere is approximately two-thirds hydrogen, one-third oxygen (by atom count -- by mass, of course, the one oxygen atom outweighs the two hydrogen atoms).

Re:hostile ot all known life? (1)

osu-neko (2604) | about 6 months ago | (#46353935)

s/are/our/

Re:hostile ot all known life? (1)

marcosdumay (620877) | about 5 months ago | (#46358311)

The atmosphere is still hydrogen poor.

How do you know that there aren't huge concentrations of carbon, oxygen and nitrogen on those words just under the atmosphere? By the GGP reasoning, life is impossible on Earth.

Re:hostile ot all known life? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46359923)

Hydrogen is on average the fourth most common element in Earth's atmosphere, and at times can be the third most common.

Re:hostile enough to ... produce interesting life? (1)

fygment (444210) | about 5 months ago | (#46356489)

Dear Biologists and Similar Ilk,

Time and again, life is found in places where no biologist (or equivalent ilk) expected it. This has happened so frequently that you would think that you would stop using phrases similar to, " high enough to be hostile to known life". What you know about life has clearly been shown to be lacking. Given that, how about a phrase that acknowledges your knowledge gap in a positive and proactive way. A preferred phrase, in this case, should be, " high enough to produce interesting life forms." It shows you aren't complacent in your ignorance and are open to new experience.

Regards,
fygment

Drake (5, Interesting)

NMBob (772954) | about 6 months ago | (#46350143)

So which way is this shifting the Drake equation result? Up or down compared to what we thought the popularity of exoplanets were?

Re:Drake (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46350213)

The way we search for planets, we only discover planets of certain mass (the larger, the easier), AND/OR at certain location from the star (the closer, the easier), AND/OR at particular ecliptic's angle compared to ours...

We are unable to use this data directly in a straighforward fashion to significantly push Drake's equation one way or another.

Re:Drake (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46350517)

Surely this is pushing up the lower bounds of some variables?

Re:Drake (1)

davewoods (2450314) | about 6 months ago | (#46350551)

Surely this is pushing up the lower bounds of some variables?

Doubtful. This is just making it faster to confirm exoplanets, it is not changing what types of exoplanets we can detect.

As AC said above:

The way we search for planets, we only discover planets of certain mass (the larger, the easier), AND/OR at certain location from the star (the closer, the easier), AND/OR at particular ecliptic's angle compared to ours...

Re:Drake (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46352375)

Some of those parameters, especially the limit on the orbital plane angles, are easy enough to make estimates about what we are missing. Some of the other parameters depend on solar system formation models to extrapolate far from what we've seen, but you could get estimates far more accurate than other components of the Drake equation.

Re:Drake (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46350861)

We are unable to use this data directly in a straighforward fashion to significantly push Drake's equation one way or another.

Sounds correct. The estimate of the number of planets per solar system really hasn't changed, and the average distribution of planets hasn't changed either. That part of the Drake Equation has remained at about 1 possibly life-bearing rocky body per solar system.

Re:Drake (4, Insightful)

gstoddart (321705) | about 6 months ago | (#46350519)

Up, hugely up.

The estimates for how many stars have planets is now up considerably from when he initially postulated it, because back then it was thought only a small portion would have planets.

Now they seem to be quite plentiful.

Not 25 years ago, the notion of finding an exoplanet was still pretty cutting edge, and hadn't yet happened. Now we're adding them at an amazing rate.

Me, given the size of the universe and even what we've learned in the last 25 years ... the likelihood that there exists somewhere life on another planet seems almost certain, even if we'll never know about it.

Re:Drake (1)

NMBob (772954) | about 6 months ago | (#46350581)

Cool...or maybe not so cool if you believe Hawking and think we'll be used as food if we happen to bump into anyone else, or someone decides to build a highway. :)

Re:Drake (2)

marsu_k (701360) | about 6 months ago | (#46350671)

“Two possibilities exist: either we are alone in the Universe or we are not. Both are equally terrifying.”

From Clarke, but that was quoted at the beginning of some really brain-cancer-inducing movie somewhat recently. Perhaps this is why I cannot recall which movie.

Re:Drake (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46351085)

Bwahahaha you got smoked and ran http://tech.slashdot.org/comments.pl?sid=4829029&cid=46338665

Re:Drake (1)

Piata (927858) | about 6 months ago | (#46351095)

It was at the start of XCOM: Enemy Unknown and that game was amazing!

Re:Drake (1)

marsu_k (701360) | about 6 months ago | (#46351195)

Oh you're right :) I was thinking it was something along the lines of "Battleship". For some reason I never got around to playing the reboot to the end, started it a few times already. Perhaps it's time I take it all the way.

Re:Drake (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46353077)

Bwahahaha you got totally smoked and ran http://tech.slashdot.org/comments.pl?sid=4829029&cid=46338665

Re:Drake (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46366991)

Bwahahaha you got totally smoked n ran http://tech.slashdot.org/comments.pl?sid=4829029&cid=46338665

Re:Drake (1)

TechyImmigrant (175943) | about 6 months ago | (#46351353)

I have that game. I started it. Took out some aliens in a car park then nothing. It would not advance to the next level. If I hadn't given up, I'd still be milling about in the car park.

A complete waste of money.

Re:Drake (1)

rhook (943951) | about 6 months ago | (#46351713)

When that happens you just have to restart the mission.

Re:Drake (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46367005)

Hahaha You got smoked n ran http://tech.slashdot.org/comments.pl?sid=4829029&cid=46338665

Re:Drake (1)

rhook (943951) | about 6 months ago | (#46351697)

I doubt a species that has developed FTL travel would need to use us as a source of food. They'd likely have replicator technology.

Re:Drake (1)

captainpanic (1173915) | about 6 months ago | (#46355585)

Why are people afraid of alien life forms? Would it not be just as likely that earth life is the more dangerous one?

Earth life is so contageous that it conquered even the most inhospitable corners of this planet. For every niche, we have some microorganism that can thrive there.

And the final punch line is that earth has plants. They can create a very toxic and reactive gas called oxygen! We can essentially poison entire planets using self-replicating weapons called plants.

Re:Drake (1)

neoritter (3021561) | about 6 months ago | (#46350883)

I don't see it pushing up Drake's equation though. We're also eliminating those same planets as being possible for life. All those super earths we found that had potential for life were knocked out of the second variable in the equation.

Re:Drake (2)

symbolset (646467) | about 6 months ago | (#46351895)

Up. Super Earths likely have moons. This is good because the habitable zone for many of the stars they orbit is close enough to tidally lock the planet, but not the moon.

Re:Drake (1)

neoritter (3021561) | about 5 months ago | (#46357185)

Unless the moon’s mass exceeds 23 percent of Earth’s mass, plate tectonics and a strong magnetic field are impossible (both considered necessities for stable life). For such necessities to last for a few billion years requires a mass and a density virtually equivalent to Earth’s. The largest moons around our Gas giants do not exceed past 3%.

Re:Drake (1)

neoritter (3021561) | about 5 months ago | (#46357257)

Also to add, if the moon is too far from the planet, seasonal temperatures might swing too much. And if it's too close, it would be tidally locked to the planet. Add to that if the planet possess a strong magnetic sphere it'd wreak havoc on the moon's. By and large, it'd be unlikely to find a Pandora around any of these planets.

Re:Drake (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46357505)

I was not aware of the connection between a large moon and plate tectonics / planetary geomagnetism. I would not be too surprised, but I don't think that this has been proven yet or even theorized. Sources please...

Re:Drake (1)

WrongMonkey (1027334) | about 6 months ago | (#46350939)

I disagree. One of the implicit assumptions of the Drake equation is that systems that did have planets would have a high probability of configurations similar to ours. What has actually been found is that number of different planetary configurations is much greater than we ever imagined. The number of microstates in the partition function has gone up so the probability of finding any particular state has gone down.

Re:Drake (1)

TechyImmigrant (175943) | about 6 months ago | (#46351321)

It love your extreme specificity. "Up", "plentiful", "an amazing rate", "almost certain".

My trip home from work will take "a few" minutes.
 

Re:Drake (2)

Baloroth (2370816) | about 6 months ago | (#46351699)

It love your extreme specificity. "Up", "plentiful", "an amazing rate", "almost certain".

My trip home from work will take "a few" minutes.

His precision is orders of magnitude greater than that of the Drake equation itself, so by comparison he was incredibly specific.

Not that that actually helps at all: the Drake "equation" is only useful as a thought exercise and is completely and utterly useless for any* kind of quantitative usage whatsoever (since several terms in it are completely and wholly unknown).

*Well, you can use it to find weak upper-bounds, but that's about it, and not much help, and you don't need the full equation for that.

Re:Drake (1)

gstoddart (321705) | about 5 months ago | (#46360331)

It love your extreme specificity. "Up", "plentiful", "an amazing rate", "almost certain".

Drake himself never said the equation was intended to be used with any extreme specificity.

It's a thought experiment about the parameters, factors, and gross probabilities. Nobody was ever going to punch numbers into Drake's equation and come up with a probability of 87.625% and have that mean anything. The entire equation is intended to be a big huge thumb-and-squint for generating estimates and talking about it.

So, given its purpose and inherent vagueness, it's not intended to be a rigorously scientific calculation, but a back of the napkin calculation for talking about really broad probabilities.

But when your estimate on # of stars with planets goes from "a few" to "many" (or "most"), the whole equation correspondingly goes up.

Even with very small values for all of the terms ... across the sheer number of stars in the galaxy, and the sheer number of galaxies in the universe ... it becomes almost a statistical certainty that some form of life probably exists (or existed) on other than the rock we call home.

Just 25 years ago, there was a belief only a tiny fraction of stars would have planets. Now, we know that a much much higher fraction does ... and if the current estimate [telegraph.co.uk] is that there are 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 stars, a small increase in the percentage with planets skews the number of planets which could have life by rather quite a lot.

Perhaps you simply don't understand what Drake's equation actually is?

Re:Drake (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46356993)

There is a big jump between life and animal life and a big jump from there to intelligent life. See the book "Rare Earth"; the authors postulate that life is common, but animal life is rare.

Re:Drake (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46351217)

So which way is this shifting the Drake equation result? Up or down compared to what we thought the popularity of exoplanets were?

Depends on who is "we". A few of the terms there are actual, meaningful estimates for. The rest are just crap. It is closer to a horoscope than Newton's laws, even if it's in the form of an "equation".

Re:Drake (3, Funny)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | about 6 months ago | (#46351919)

Drake forgot to divide his result by the number of Berzerker probes travelling the universe and annihilating potentially spacefaring civilizations.

Common mistake. Happens to the best of us.

Re:Drake (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46355353)

That's a subset of L, the length of time for which civilizations release detectable signals into space.

Re:Drake (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46352973)

So which way is this shifting the Drake equation result? Up or down compared to what we thought the popularity of exoplanets were?

Does it matter? The Drake equation doesn't have scale or values and it is most likely extremely incomplete and the terms it contains are probably wrong.

Re:Drake (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46355379)

Well, that's stupid. It's an equation, you put values into it. That's its purpose.

Somebody sneezed on the scope (2, Funny)

decipher_saint (72686) | about 6 months ago | (#46350151)

Whoops

Leonard McCoy (1)

ArcadeMan (2766669) | about 6 months ago | (#46350283)

The higher mass traps significantly more hydrogen during the formation of the planetary system, which results in extremely high atmospheric pressure — high enough to be hostile to known life.

It's life, Jim, but not as we know it.

Re:Leonard McCoy (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46350437)

I love Kirk/Spock/McCoy fanfiction! Adding Scotty to that sweaty pile is just a bonus!

Re:Leonard McCoy (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46355603)

Isn't this an Eek! the Cat related joke??

New MATH??? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46350335)

246 currently known. Add in 715 and the new total is 1,700????

Obama, we love you. Obama our savior.
Obama our God.

Oops, wrong cool aid.

Re:New MATH??? (1)

i kan reed (749298) | about 6 months ago | (#46350447)

Not all 1700 are from Kepler. Problem solved.

Re:New MATH??? (1)

gatkinso (15975) | about 6 months ago | (#46350571)

>> Combined with other telescopes' finds...

Oh.

Re:New MATH??? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46350657)

246 currently known. Add in 715 and the new total is 1,700????

TFS clearly says "combined with other telescopes' finds...", so the problem isn't math, it's a problem with you reading for comprehension. Given the reminder of your post, you apparently have other issues as well.

alien worlds (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46350573)

Well, at least the alien worlds don't have BETA yet! FFF##@KING BETA!
So I have to ask - was this new method tested on data for the known 246 planets?
Or is this another method that cannot reproduce known results? ( Like F***ING BETA!!!)

Nerd show-off feat: recite names of the planets. (1)

dpbsmith (263124) | about 6 months ago | (#46350789)

Great! Now there's new way for nerds to show off: by reciting the names of the planets. Easy when there were only nine, easier then there were eight, now it's a real challenge. Way more interesting than the digits of pi. Although that's setting the bar pretty low.

Re:Nerd show-off feat: recite names of the planets (1)

TrollstonButterbeans (2914995) | about 6 months ago | (#46353369)

There are more digits of pi than there are atoms in all the stars in the observed universe.

Thought it was a game (1)

Gothmolly (148874) | about 6 months ago | (#46350817)

From the headline I figured that Kepler was a new space MMORPG, like Eve.

world count skyrockets (1)

kruach aum (1934852) | about 6 months ago | (#46350897)

Probably because they added a bunch of quotles.

Kerbal (1)

WrongMonkey (1027334) | about 6 months ago | (#46350999)

I misread the headline as Kerbal instead of Kepler. I've been waiting for more planets to crash into.

How Many? (2)

TechyImmigrant (175943) | about 6 months ago | (#46351287)

How many skyrockets did the world count?

Re:How Many? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46351399)

It said "count", not "counts".

Re:How Many? (1)

TechyImmigrant (175943) | about 6 months ago | (#46351569)

That's ok. I can read through them sneakily leaving the s off to confuse us.

Did everybody take their stupid pills this morning (1)

mmell (832646) | about 6 months ago | (#46351323)

Okay, so on the exoplanets we know about so far life that looks like us appears to be pretty unlikely.

Y'know what? If the planet can support liquid H2O, my money is on life appearing there all by itself. There, I said it - I'm a believer in the theory of Spontaneous Generation.

As for Drake - even he knew he was whistling in the dark. He just grabbed numbers out of the sky ("if one in ten thousand stars has planets . . . if one in one thousand of these planets is a suitably sized rocky planet . . . if . . . ). I suspect he was more interested in elucidating the list of things to consider and showing how finite those considerations were against a Universe the size of our Universe. He was not trying to realistically predict the odds, he was more interested in making people understand the question.

If I'm wrong, Drake was definitely whistling in the dark. He simply didn't have the tools to make a better prediction. Incidentally, neither do we (yet).

Re:Did everybody take their stupid pills this morn (1)

Lord Apathy (584315) | about 6 months ago | (#46351583)

As for Drake - even he knew he was whistling in the dark

The Drake equation is crap. There are any number of variables in that can never be known.

L the length of time civilizations release detectable radio signals. Well that can be anything, we will never know the exact answer to that one. For us it could be 100 years. For some other civilization it could be a 1,000. We will never know that.

fi is the fraction of planets that go on to develop life. That will also be another for ever unknown. We only guess at how many plants that will develop intelligent life.

I could go on and on but basically the Drake equation depends completely on numbers that anyone could pull out of their ass. So as a scientific formula its useless.

Ok you don't know (1)

TrollstonButterbeans (2914995) | about 6 months ago | (#46353499)

You: There are any number of variables in that can never be known.

Drake didn't know either. The formula is sound, each of those variables have answers based on averages.

Drake didn't know the answers but knew the variables. You are saying you don't know the values of variables, just like Drake didn't know.

This doesn't mean that the variables don't have values. They do.

We don't know the value of the variables today. 100,000 years from now or 1,000,000 years from now, we very well might.

Re:Did everybody take their stupid pills this morn (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46355451)

I could go on and on

We've noticed.

Re:Did everybody take their stupid pills this morn (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46357083)

Never is a strong word.

L (the length of time civilizations release detectable radio signals) will get a value if a signal is ever detected. Right now it is at zero (thus making the Dake equation result zero.

fi (the fraction of planets that go on to develop life) is another term where "never" should not be used. If MSL detects an organic mix typical of primitive life in the Gale crater clays, then we can start to estimate this term. Even better would be detection on Europa (because Mars live might have the same genesis as Earth's).

Re:Did everybody take their stupid pills this morn (1)

Lord Apathy (584315) | about 5 months ago | (#46357273)

I suppose the Drake Equation isn't complete crap. I still believe as a scientific formula it's pretty useless. But if you poke in numbers to what we know, it can give us some ideal what we can expect. An as someone pointed out as the years go by we might be able to fill in the more answers. But one thing is certain no matter what number we can find the answer to the Drake Equation might always be 1.

Re:Did everybody take their stupid pills this morn (1)

symbolset (646467) | about 6 months ago | (#46352051)

You only need one planet with life 3 billion years ago for it to have polluted the entire galaxy by now. Er... Wait a minute...

Re:Did everybody take their stupid pills this morn (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46356125)

He just grabbed numbers out of the sky

That's generally how astronomy works.

known forms of life (1)

Livius (318358) | about 6 months ago | (#46354131)

Aren't the "known forms of life" the, um, forms of life we already, you know, know about, i.e. not the same ones we're going to find on alien worlds?

Re:known forms of life (1)

Alioth (221270) | about 5 months ago | (#46355765)

No. That's not the point. If there were an alien world with the same conditions as earth (gravity, available substances, available energy) it is likely that while the actual species on this planet would be entirely different, they would be "life as we know it", in other words, similar biochemical processes.

Life but not as we know it means life based on fundamentally different biochemical processes, for example, silicon based instead of carbon based.

Re:known forms of life (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46357289)

Silicon cannot form nearly the variety of molecules that carbon can. Not even close.

Fly to the newest Exoplanets: (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46354883)

NASA's Exoplanet visualization tool [nasa.gov] lets you see where those planets are relative to earth and see the solar systems around far away stars.

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