Wanted: Another Earth

Alien eyes. Nathan Lau / Design Pics/Newscom. Find it at Newscom: depmicrostock017123.

Are we alone in the universe? Its the question that has sparked hundreds of science fiction films and millions of hours of research. Lately, however, many scientists have chosen to zero in on exoplanets in search of an answer. (‘Exoplanet’ is simply a term used to denote any planet outside our solar system.) The thought is that if we can find another planet similar to our own, perhaps it too evolved a form of life. Whether that be some tiny single-celled organism or an entire civilization comparable to ours is open to debate.

Detecting an exoplanet is extremely difficult as most get lost in the glare from their own stars. There are a couple of ways to get around this though. One is to measure the small wobbles the gravity of a planet induces on a star. The other is to use the Doppler effect to calculate how the star moves as it orbits a certain point in the solar system called a barycenter. However, no matter what technique is used, a lot of crazy equipment is needed.

With millions of dollars in funding pledged by two of the men behind software giant Microsoft, the search for intelligent life on other planets got a big boost August 1, 2000 as officials unveiled plans for a massive new telescope to scan the skies. The Allen Telescope Array — named for Microsoft Corp. co-founder Paul Allen, who put up $11.5 million for the project — will be “the world’s most powerful instrument designed to seek out signals from civilizations elsewhere in our galaxy,” the SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) Institute said.The seven-dish prototype is the precursor to what will eventually be an array of hundreds, perhaps thousands of small backyard-type satellite dishes linked by sophisticated electronics to create an unparalleled SETI observing instrument. HO/RTR/Newscom. Find it at Newscom: rtrlfour554129.

The Allen Array is a ground based telescope system used to detect such things as exoplanets. However, due to the Earth’s atmosphere the effectiveness of it is severely limited.

Ball Aerospace has successfully completed environmental and operational tests for NASA’s Kepler Mission scheduled to launch in March 2009. PR NEWSWIRE/Newscom. Find it at Newscom: prnphotos077498.

That is why many of the exoplanets we know about today have been discovered by this satellite called Kepler. Because it doesn’t have to try and peer through the atmosphere of our planet, it has been able to find 1,235 exoplanets to date.

Of course other countries are getting into the hunt for an extra-solar earth. This satellite has also been instrumental in discovering many exoplanets.

This artist’s concept depicts the pulsar planet system discovered by Aleksander Wolszczan in 1992. Wolszczan used the Arecibo radio telescope in Puerto Rico to find three planets – the first of any kind ever found outside our solar system – circling a pulsar named PSR B1257+12. Since this landmark discovery, more than 160 extrasolar planets have been observed around stars that are burning nuclear fuel. The planets spotted by Wolszczan are still the only ones around a dead star. NASA/JPL-Caltech/UPI/Newscom. Find it at Newscom: upiphotos697098.

The first exoplanet was discovered without the aid of fancy satellite technology. Aleksander Wolszczan used difference in the radio frequencies emitted by a pulsar to find the first three exoplanets known to humans. More were soon to follow.

Of course it is impossible to actually take a picture of an exoplanet since the only way we can even detect them has to do with how they affect their star. But it still is fun to look at the artist interpretations of what they might look like if we could, in fact, see them. Luckily we have decided to include some awesome pictures of exoplanets for your viewing pleasure. Enjoy!

This is an artist’s concept of a Jupiter-mass planet orbiting the nearby star Epsilon Eridani. Located 10.5 light-years away, it is the closest known exoplanet to our solar system. The planet is in an elliptical orbit that carries it as close to the star as Earth is from the Sun, and as far from the star as Jupiter is from the Sun. z03/ZUMA Press/Newscom. Find it at Newscom: zumalive840034.

Astronomers have discovered the most Earth-like planet outside our Solar System, pictured in an artist’s rendering, an exoplanet with a radius only 50% larger than the Earth and capable of having liquid water, announced by the Eupropean Southern Observatory on April 25, 2007. EUROPEAN SOUTHERN OBSERVATORY/UPI/Newscom. Find it at Newscom: upiphotos771484.

An artist’s impression shows a unique type of exoplanet discovered with the Hubble Space Telescope. The planet is so close it to its star that it completes an orbit in 10.5 hours. The planet is only 750,000 miles from the star, or 1/130th the distance between Earth and the Sun. NASA/RTR/Newscom. Find it at Newscom: rtrltwo038538.

An artist’s rendition of a young star with a planetary companion, which astronomers have detected one using a small instrument called ET, short for Exoplanet Tracker. The new planet is located about 100 light-years away in the constellation Virgo. HO/RTR/Newscom. Find it at Newscom: rtrlive178330.

The U.S. Space agency has discovered 1235 candidates for planets outside our solar system using the Kepler Space Observatory. The U.S. Space agency has discovered 1235 candidates for planets outside our solar system using the Kepler Space Observatory. Agencia el Universal/El Universal de Mexico/Newscom. mxeluniversalpic116239.

And who knows, maybe an awesome alien civilization is just waiting out there for us to discover them. How cool would that be?

To see more pictures related to this post, click here to go back to Newscom.

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