Exoplanet news roundup

Sunday, June 27, 2010

There has been quite a bit of exoplanet news over the past few days so here are a few stories in a single post. Given how many candidates have been put forth by Kepler (700 or so) as well as the other 400 or so that the Kepler team itself is now investigating, perhaps in a short time every story on exoplanets will have to contain news on much more than one in a manner similar to asteroid discoveries of today. WISE alone discovers a few dozen every single day.

First of all we have the discovery of a fourth planet around Gliese 876 with a mass similar to that of Ouranos (Uranus). Now the Gliese 876 system we know about looks like this:

Much more interesting than this though is this new technique developed that will enable Earth-like planets to be discovered much more easily. It's a technique called a nulling inferemoter that uses observations from four telescopes to completely cancel out the light from the star, making planets orbiting it that much easier to see.

This article on exoplanets has a line I consider to be quoteworthy:

After all, anthropocentric belief is not that appalling, if we regard ourselves as part of the nature along with whatever we find. As the astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson noted, "We are in the universe and the universe is in us."

This is a question that comes up every once in a while - "doesn't thinking about the vastness of space make a person feel small and insignificant?" The full quote from Neil deGrasse Tyson is:
"The knowledge that the atoms that comprise life on earth - the atoms that make up the human body, are traceable to the crucibles that cooked light elements into heavy elements in their core under extreme temperatures and pressures. These stars- the high mass ones among them- went unstable in their later years- they collapsed and then exploded- scattering their enriched guts across the galaxy- guts made of carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, and all the fundamental ingredients of life itself. These ingredients become part of gas clouds that condense, collapse, form the next generation of solar systems- stars with orbiting planets. And those planets now have the ingredients for life itself. So that when I look up at the night sky, and I know that yes we are part of this universe, we are in this universe, but perhaps more important than both of those facts is that the universe is in us. When I reflect on that fact, I look up- many people feel small, cause their small and the universe is big. But I feel big because my atoms came from those stars. "
Finally, an article here on brown dwarf stars and habitability. This is a crucial subject since it's very likely that we'll find one or more of them in our neighborhood, closer even than Alpha Centauri.

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