Other Planets Like Earth

January 5, 2012 by staff 

Other Planets Like EarthOther Planets Like Earth, As discoveries of Earthlike planets captivate the world of astronomy, scientists seem closer than ever to finding out the answer to a question Aristotle asked more than 2,000 years ago: Are there other planets like ours?

“In the next four to five years, we’re going to know how abundant Earths are,” said Laurance Doyle, an astrophysicist at the SETI Institute in Mountain View.

Doyle, a Menlo Park resident, is a key player in NASA’s Kepler mission to find Earth-size orbs in the “habitable zone” around stars — planets with the right conditions for liquid water and life to exist.

Last week, NASA heralded the discovery of the first two Earth-sized planets orbiting a star similar to the sun. That followed NASA’s tantalizing announcement only two weeks before that scientists had discovered a planet roughly twice the size of Earth orbiting at a habitable distance around a sun-like star.

While none of these planets meet all the conditions for habitability, it may not be long until Kepler scientists discover one that does.

Launched in 2009, the Kepler spacecraft chases the Earth around our sun, its onboard telescope gazing an unblinking mirror at a patch of our galaxy in the constellations Cygnus and Lyra. Kepler watches for planets crossing in front of, or “transiting,” the stars they orbit, blotting out a smidgen of starlight — “like a fly landing on a light bulb and making it a little dimmer,” said Geoff Marcy, a Kepler scientist

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