Analytics, Astronomy

Kepler-22b

With the new Kepler telescope findings having hit the news-feeds this month, I thought I would post an update to my original data. The tally of Kepler planetary candidates now stands at 2,326, with one particularly noteworthy find: Kepler-22b. Also known as Kepler Object of Interest (KOI) 87.01, or Kepler Input Catalog ID 10593626, this planet deserves special attention, as it is one of the first confirmed planets that resides within the habitable zone of its star. At only 2.4 times Earth’s diameter, and with an orbital period of around 290 days, it seems to be a pretty close match to the Earth. The Kepler web-site has a nice article describing the planet, with the image below showing how it stacks up against the inner planets in our own solar system. NASA Mission Page – Kepler (image credit: NASA/Ames/JPL-Caltech) After reading about the new planet, and trying to find the raw…

Astronomy

Earth as an Asteroid Target

Good news regarding the likelihood of getting hit by an asteroid: the estimated count of those bodies that cross Earth’s orbit has gone down. Although the probability that any one rock might hit us has always been very low, the calculation shrunk even further after data from the WISE spacecraft (Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer) was analyzed. The number shrunk by almost half (35,000 to 19,500). Finding small objects (less than about a mile across) is challenging because they’re not very bright to begin with, and past surveys have relied on visible light to see them. WISE uses heat (infrared radiation) emitted from the object, which doesn’t depend on how reflective the surface is. Since asteroid surface brightness varies across a wide range, it was difficult to determine how big each of them was (observations could be bright because the asteroid was large, or because it had a very high surface…

Astronomy

SOFIA and Pluto occultation

NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) just completed a very cool assignment: watch how the light from a distant star is blocked by Pluto. As you might imagine, getting directly into Pluto’s star-shadow here on Earth is a pretty tricky task, especially since the Earth is moving pretty rapidly with respect to Pluto, and spinning on its axis to boot. But SOFIA is mounted in a 747, and can move to whatever location is necessary to do the job. SOFIA in flight. The opening in the back of the 747 is where the telescope is located. Because SOFIA can measure light very accurately, seeing how the star dims and brightens as it disappears and reappears behind Pluto tells scientists about its atmosphere. These results will provide data that supplements our scant knowledge of Pluto, the only solar system planet not yet visited by any of our robots (well, I…