October 23, 2017

24.05.11: Throwing Exo-Planets into “The Blender.”

Artists’ conception of the Kepler-10 system. (Credit: NASA/Ames/JPL/CALTech).

On Monday, scientists unveiled a powerful new technique to quickly validate transiting exoplanets. The method, known as the “Blender,” combines data gathered for both the Kepler and Spitzer Space Telescopes in an effort to identify tiny transiting exo-worlds that would otherwise go unnoticed by ground-based instruments. This method will allow scientists to confirm the flood of discoveries already streaming from the Kepler project. As a demonstration of this, astronomers revealed the latest discovery using this technique; Kepler-10c, a rocky world 2.2 Earth diameters in size in a 45 day orbit. A second world in the system, Kepler-10b, is only 1.4 Earth diameters in size and whips around its host star in about 19 hours! Needless to say, both worlds are scorchers…  The discovery was announced at the recent American Astronomical Society meeting ongoing in Boston. The Blender Method also allows astronomers to tease out those other leading contenders that can masquerade as transiting exoworlds; star spots and/or eclipsing binary stars. The Kepler-10 system sits about 560 light years distant along the Lyra-Cygnus border.

And speaking of exoplanet discoveries, much press has been given to Gliese 581g as a potential “twin of Earth.” Let’s just say this is oversimplified at best. Keep in mind, at a distance, Venus might appear to be “Earth-like;” it has a similar diameter, a dense atmosphere, and orbits at the inner edge of the goldilocks zone… but I wouldn’t pack my bags to head to a distant solar system on that sort of hunch!

 

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