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Kepler-186f: First potentially habitable Earth-sized planet confirmed - water


The artist’s concept depicts Kepler-186f, the first validated Earth-size planet orbiting a distant star in the habitable zone, a range of distances from a star where liquid water might pool on the surface of an orbiting planet.

The discovery of Kepler-186f confirms that Earth-size planets exist in the habitable zone of other stars and signals a significant step closer to finding a world similar to Earth.

The artistic concept of Kepler-186f is the result of scientists and artists collaborating to help imagine the appearance of these distant worlds. 

Credit: Danielle Futselaar.

The first Earth-sized exoplanet orbiting within the habitable zone of another star has been confirmed by observations with both the W. M. Keck Observatory and the Gemini Observatory.

The initial discovery, made by NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope, is one of a handful of smaller planets found by Kepler and verified using large ground-based telescopes.

It also confirms that Earth-sized planets do exist in the habitable zone of other stars.

“What makes this finding particularly compelling is that this Earth-sized planet, one of five orbiting this star, which is cooler than the Sun, resides in a temperate region where water could exist in liquid form,” says Elisa Quintana of the SETI Institute and NASA Ames Research Center who led the paper published in the current issue of the journal Science.

The region in which this planet orbits its star is called the habitable zone, as it is thought that life would most likely form on planets with liquid water.

Steve Howell, Kepler’s Project Scientist and a co-author on the paper, adds that neither Kepler (nor any telescope) is currently able to directly spot an exoplanet of this size and proximity to its host star.

"However, what we can do is eliminate essentially all other possibilities so that the validity of these planets is really the only viable option."

With such a small host star, the team employed a technique that eliminated the possibility that either a background star or a stellar companion could be mimicking what Kepler detected.

To do this, the team obtained extremely high spatial resolution observations from the eight-meter Gemini North telescope on Mauna Kea in Hawai`i using a technique called speckle imaging, as well as adaptive optics (AO) observations from the ten-meter Keck II telescope, Gemini’s neighbour on Mauna Kea.

Together, these data allowed the team to rule out sources close enough to the star’s line-of-sight to confound the Kepler evidence, and conclude that Kepler’s detected signal has to be from a small planet transiting its host star.

The diagram compares the planets of the inner solar system to Kepler-186, a five-planet system about 500 light-years from Earth in the constellation Cygnus. 

The five planets of Kepler-186 orbit a star classified as a M1 dwarf, measuring half the size and mass of the sun. 

The Kepler-186 system is home to Kepler-186f, the first validated Earth-size planet orbiting a distant star in the habitable zone—a range of distances from a star where liquid water might pool on the surface of an orbiting planet. 

The discovery of Kepler-186f confirms that Earth-size planets exist in the habitable zone of other stars and signals a significant step closer to finding a world similar to Earth. 

Kepler-186f is less than ten percent larger than Earth in size, but its mass and composition are not known. 

Kepler-186f orbits its star once every 130-days and receives one-third the heat energy that Earth does from the sun, placing it near the outer edge of the habitable zone. 

The inner four companion planets all measure less than fifty percent the size of Earth. Kepler-186b, Kepler-186c, Kepler-186d, and Kepler-186e, orbit every three, seven, 13, and 22 days, respectively, making them very hot and inhospitable for life as we know it. 

The Kepler space telescope, which simultaneously and continuously measured the brightness of more than 150,000 stars, is NASA’s first mission capable of detecting Earth-size planets around stars like our sun. 

Kepler does not directly image the planets it detects. The space telescope infers their existence by the amount of starlight blocked when the orbiting planet passes in front of a distant star from the vantage point of the observer. 

The artistic concept of Kepler-186f is the result of scientists and artists collaborating to help imagine the appearance of these distant Credit: Credit: NASA Ames/SETI Institute/JPL-CalTech.

More information: “An Earth-Sized Planet in the Habitable Zone of a Cool Star,” by E.V. Quintana et al. Science, 2014.

Full article


The hipster astrophysicist (and alive) Scrödinger’s cat is absolutely right, the main sequence is not what it was, Horizontal branch is hottest!

Personal note: The designer of this blog (and drawings) has studied in the same university as me. What a small world!

This idea that we somehow have to be “fair” about everything is how we wind up having Bill Nye getting into public discussions about climate change, a spectacle my colleague Daniel D’Addario recently noted mistakenly gives the whole fiasco attention and credibility “as an entertaining, wacky debate between two personalities.” It’s how we wind up continuing on in a nation in which three out of ten people take the Bible literally, and an alarming nearly 40% believe in intelligent design. Roughly 18% of Americans believe the sun revolves around the earth Should we have a debate about it? Should we hear out the “sun revolves around the earth” faction?

In our zeal for balance, we have allowed ignorance to be perpetuated. We send our kids to schools where the “Christian Perspective” is given weight as historical fact. We talk about the “debate” over climate change as if it’s a “debate” and not a scientifically supported serious warning. We let other people’s ignorant arrogance run roughshod over our own misguided attempts at open-mindedness.

“Cosmos” isn’t trying to pick a fight. It’s a love letter to the triumph of investigation over superstition. It’s not perpetuating an agenda, other than maybe Neil deGrasse Tyson’s perfectly sane advice that you “don’t try to use the Bible as a textbook.” Or as Carl Sagan once said, “It is far better to grasp the universe as it really is than to persist in delusion, however satisfying and reassuring.”

- Stop giving equal time to pseudo-science! - (via dendroica)


Diagrams of the planet Saturn, 1759, by astronomer Sir William Herschel, from a journal he kept documenting his research on telescopes. (Herschel has been prominently featured in the new version of Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey.) (Linda Hall Library)


This is an incredible shot of a thunderstorm lighting up the skies over Bolivia as seen from the ISS. At the moment the astronaut snapped the photo, a lightning bolt tore through the cloud, illuminating it from within. It definitely has an eerie apocalyptic feel to it.

(Image credit: NASA; Description credit: Phil Plait, Slate)


A solar eclipse from the Moon

Has a solar eclipse ever been seen from the Moon? Yes, first in 1967 — but it may happen again next week. The robotic Surveyor 3 mission took thousands of wide angle television images of the Earth in 1967, a few of which captured the Earth moving in front of the Sun. Several of these images have been retrieved from the NASA archives and compiled into the above time-lapse video. Although the images are grainy, the Earth’s atmosphere clearly refracted sunlight around it and showed a beading effect when some paths were blocked by clouds. Two years later, in 1969, the Apollo 12 crew saw firsthand a different eclipse of the Sun by the Earth on the way back from the Moon. In 2009, Japan’s robotic Kaguya spacecraft took higher resolution images of a similar eclipse while orbiting the Moon. Next week, however, China’s Chang’e 3 mission, including its Yutu rover, might witness a new total eclipse of the Sun by the Earth from surface of the Moon. Simultaneously, from lunar orbit, NASA’s LADEE mission might also capture the unusual April 15 event. Another angle of this same event will surely be visible to people on Earth — a total lunar eclipse.

Image credit: NASA, Surveyor 3; Acknowledgement: R. D. Sampson (ECSU)

To those of you in Scotland, Dame Jocelyn Bell “Should have won the Nobel Prize” Burnell, who discovered radio pulsars, will be speaking at Satellite 4’s EasterCon in Glasgow in two weeks.


50 years on

Ciaran Duffy is commemorating 50 years of female astronauts through art.

Inspired by the womeninspace Tumblr, Duffy started with a portrait of Valentina Tereshkova (the first woman in space), and followed with Eileen Collins (the first female commander of a shuttle), Sally Ride (the first American woman in space), Mae Jemison (first coloured woman in space), Svetlana Savitskaya (the first woman to do a spacewalk), Peggy Whitson (first female commander of the International Space Station) and the date April 14th 2010 (the date with the highest number of women in space simultaneously).

The paintings are almost cartoon like, but also serene and reflective. We just thought you’d like them as much as we do.


Image: three of the portraits, Credit: Ciaran Duffy (here or hellociaran link above)


In honor of last night’s Cosmos episode with William Herschel I wanted to highlight another stunning image from the Herschel Space Observatory.

This image shows Vela-C, a giant molecular cloud where stars are being born, as viewed at far-infrared wavelengths. Vela-C is the most massive component of the Vela Molecular Ridge, a vast star-forming complex in the plane of our Galaxy, the Milky Way. Located roughly 2300 light years away, Vela-C saw the onset of star formation less than a million years ago – relatively recently on astronomical timescales. Massive, as well as low- and intermediate-mass, stars are being born in this region, making it an ideal laboratory to study the birth of different populations of stars.

(Copyright: ESA/PACS/SPIRE/Tracey Hill & Frédérique Motte, Laboratoire AIM Paris-Saclay, CEA/Irfu - CNRS/INSU - Univ. Paris Diderot, France)

ScienceGrrl Fundraising

Hey guys!

I’m participating in the Kiltwalk this year to raise money for ScienceGrrl Glasgow, an association that promotes women in science and encourages young girls to get into science. Super important stuff! When I was little I didn’t even know women could be scientists until one day in middle school a friend of mine told me about Marie Curie. Had things been different, maybe I would have spent the rest of my life thinking that scientific studies weren’t for me because I was a girl, so it feels to me like the work this association does is incredibly important

Here’s the justgiving page:

If you can share this link/reblog this/donate I will love you forever. If you donate, give me your address and I’ll even send you a cool postcard!

viwan themes