The poet John Keats had an experience of wonder when he read a translation of Homer by George Chapman. He cried out,
“Then felt I like some watcher of the skies
When a new planet swims into his ken;”
Many new planets swim into our ken
I mention this to share two items of space exploration news. The first item is the sixth anniversary of the launch of the Kepler space telescope. Many times scientists conduct experiments expecting to find certain things. Many times they fail to find what they had hoped for. But the Kepler mission has found what was looking for in abundance.
Many new planets swim into our ken. How many? Kepler has found 1,019 exoplanets, planets outside our solar system. By “found” I mean “found possibilities of exoplanets which were later confirmed by independent observation.” The above image shows an artist conception of 5 of those exoplanets who share the same star. In addition to this, Kepler has found possibilities of an additional 3,100 “candidates” which will either be confirmed or discarded in the future. The mission scientists believe that 90% of the candidates will be confirmed as exoplanets, although I don’t know how they know this.
Many new planets swim into our ken. Where does this figure of 1,019 exoplanets fit into the larger picture of exoplanet exploration? At this point, NASA reports a total of 1,827 confirmed planets. The first exoplanet was discovered in 1992. In other words, Kepler has discovered more planets in the past six years than all the efforts from 1992 to 2009. And that’s not counting the candidates. Even though crucial components of Kepler failed in May of 2013, I consider the Kepler mission to be a smashing, groundbreaking success.
Many new planets swim into our ken. How many of them are habitable? These scientists say “62, or around 3%, so far.” On the other hand, astronomer Charlie Lineweaver posited that the average number of habitable planets per star is 2, plus or minus 1. Since there are somewhere between 100 billion and 400 billion stars in the Milky Way galaxy, that’s quite a few habitable planets.
Many new planets swim into our ken. What does it all mean? I say it means that Giordano Bruno might have been on to something in the 1500’s when he envisioned intelligent life on then-unknown exoplanets. I also say it means that the New Message from God teaching about a greater community of intelligent life to be a little more plausible than it was before these news items appeared.
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