When I began my studies at the University of Arizona, I was under the impression that astronomy was the study of everything that the night sky had to offer. Though that is mostly true, it did not take me long to discover that planetary science was its own discipline and quickly became my favorite area of study. So, needless to say, all things exoplanets are especially interesting to me.
Today NASA announced the discovery of over 1,200 new potential exoplanet candidates. (Note: These are candidates and have yet to be confirmed.) This discovery is so incredible because of the number of potential exoplanets discovered by one telescope in such a short period of time in such a small field of view. The approximately 500 exoplanets discovered prior to Kepler took a span of nearly 20 years to find. Kepler found its astounding number of exoplanet candidates in less than two years.
Kepler was launched in March 2009 and is the 10th mission of NASA’s Discovery Missions. Kepler saw “first light” a month later when its dust cover was blown off with its optics pointed towards the constellations of Cygnus and Lyra. Its three-and-a-half-year mission objective is “to explore the structure and diversity of planetary systems.” I certainly hope this is one mission that will be extended.
An especially exciting element of the Kepler mission is that the data, released ahead of schedule, is available to citizen astronomers at PlanetHunters.org where anyone with a little time and patience can assist Kepler astronomers in confirming the potential candidates as true exoplanets. (You do not need to be an astronomer, or own a telescope, to participate.) Imagine how exhilarating it will feel when your “favorite” exoplanet is officially added to the Planetary Society’s Catalogue of Exoplanets.
In addition to watching the NASA news conference today, I read a number of articles in the media from links on Twitter (thank you to all my astro-tweeps), along with a little extra research of my own. Below you’ll find a list of those for your exoplanet pleasure.
NASA Kepler Mission Page from NASA.gov
Kepler Home Page from Ames Research Center
Kepler’s “First Light” Images from UniverseToday.com
Astronomy: Exoplanets on the cheap from Nature.com
NASA Finds Earth-size Planet Candidates in Habitable Zone, Six Planet System the official NASA press release with PowerPoint slides
Motherlode of potential planets found: more than 1200 alien worlds! from Discover.com/Bad Astronomy
Extrasolar planet from Wikipedia.com, a lot of what you need to know about exoplanets
Wide Angle: The Age of the Exoplanet from Discovery.com
Kepler announcement today: More than a thousand exoplanets including one 6-planet system from the Planetary Society Blog
NASA spots scores of potentially livable worlds from MSNBC.com
Kepler-11 NEW EXOPLANETARY SYSTEM DISCOVERED from YouTube.com, an artist’s video rendition for the new system
Interview with Dr. Debra Fischer, Planet-Hunter from WomanAstronomer.com, my interview with favorite planet hunter of them all
Clear skies & happy exoplanet hunting!
Debra L. Davis