Tuesday, February 8, 2011

How Many Planets Do You Know Of?

Quick, how many planets do you know of? Eight? Are you way behind the astro-times and are counting Pluto, the disgraced loser on the edge of our solar system, as the ninth? Well, you’d still be off by about 1,242 if you were. As far back as 1995, (ancient days when you’re a spritely twenty-two like the Bohunk) astronomers began detecting some anomalous wobbles in the orbits of distant stars. The cause, they supposed, and quite intelligently, too, was gigantic, Jupiter sized “exo-planets”  too far for us to see. The Kepler satellite, or space based super telescope, was launched in March of 2009 and is now being used to discover these invisible behemoths deep in space. The device has found roughly 1,235 potential planets in a particular segment of the Milky Way. The satellite is only focused on an area that makes up only about one-four hundredth of the sky. Scientists believe that, should the satellite have the capacity to adjust its focus, it could discover other planets, even some we don’t expect to find based on gravitational anomalies. That could be up to 400,000 planets, according to researches involved with the project. Of even the supposed planets, 54 would be in an inhabitable zone, like earth- just far enough away from the star to not be scorched, but close enough to ensure water would remain in liquid form on the planet’s surface.

A not-very-clear drawing of the wobble effect of exoplanets.

However, even if we could answer these questions, and even if we could somehow find out if life was developing on that planet (and we can’t, not even close; we can’t even see these planets yet) it would still take over 300,000 years of space travel to get there. To note, differing species of man, including both homo sapiens and homo erectus only have fossil records dating back roughly the same amount of time, 300,000 years. Could there be life on these far off rocks? We don’t know everything, we know almost nothing'. The universe, my friends, is the greatest mystery.     

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