"Since the time of Nicolaus Copernicus five centuries ago, people have wondered whether there are other planets like Earth in the universe. Today scientists are closer than ever to an answer -- and it appears to be that the Milky Way galaxy is rich in Earth-sized planets, according to astronomer Dimitar Sasselov. Drawing on new findings from a NASA telescope, he told the TED Global conference in Oxford, England earlier this month that nearly 150 Earth-sized planets have been detected so far. He estimated that the overall number of planets in the galaxy with "similar conditions to the conditions that we experience here on Earth is pretty staggering. It's about 100 million such planets."
Did planet hunter leak data about other Earths?, New Scientist
"[Sasselov] says his chart uses the same data that was presented in Kepler's previous announcement, only it has been "rebinned" to include candidates with larger radii, up to 2.9 times the radius of the Earth. The chart label fell victim to TED font size requirements, and the "9" was lopped off instead of being rounded up. "The chart definitely has a mistake," Sasselov told New Scientist."
"One of the scientists who works on the Kepler planet-hunting mission, Dimitar Sasselov, inadvertently set off a bit of a controversy when he appeared to announce that its first big data release implied that our galaxy is rich in Earth-like planets, with approximately 100 million habitable ones. That might be great news, except for some awkward facts: he dropped the news during an informal TED talk, and nobody at NASA or elsewhere was prepared to back up his assertions. In fact, the Kepler team has faced a bit of a backlash for its decision to limit the release of data on Earth-like candidates. Had Sasselov spilled the beans?"
Millions of Earths? Talk causes a stir, Alan Boyle's Cosmiclog, MSNBC
"NASA Watch's Keith Cowing said he was confused by Sasselov's seemingly significant non-news: "The Kepler folks seem to want to have things both ways," he wrote. "On one hand they want to tantalize us (and select audiences) with what they have found but yet at the same time they do not want to put their reputations on the line when people start taking their comments as fact. This project clearly needs to put some PR strategy in place." My efforts to get comments from Sasselov or other members of the Kepler team today were unsuccessful, but NASA spokesman Michael Mewhinney did tell me that the scientists are preparing a fresh response and would provide further clarification on Tuesday. So check back here for updates as they become available."
Keith's 2:28 pm EDT note: My reaction to this news is not unlike my reaction to the opening scene of the early Star Trek Enterprise episode "Strange New World" - and the crew's reaction to seeing an M-Class planet unexpectedly fill the view out a window. As Crewman Novakovich comments to Crewman Cutler, "You'd think that the Captain would make an announcement or something". The discussion between Captain Archer and T'Pol about Archer's impatience to see and explore the new world is equally appropriate to the current Kepler story.
ARC PAO's Michael Mewhinney and his cohorts have had several days to come up with a response. While the world is buzzing about this astonishing news we've heard nothing from the Kepler team. Someone needs to light a fire under Mewhinney et al The fact that NASA can't get its act together to address this news is baffling. Trully baffling. I can understand dragging their feet when there is bad news, but when paradigm-shifting, awe-inspiring news like this starts to circulate around our planet, the agency's inability to address it makes me wonder if the agency trully understands what it is doing - and the impact it can have on they way we view the universe.
Keith's 4:52 pm EDT update: Finally - a response from the Kepler folks - via Twitter here: "@KeithCowing We're working on it! New Kepler blog contribution from Dimitar is on its way. Will tweet the moment it's ready." and here: "@NASAWatch Kepler blog contribution from Dimitar Sasselov is expected to be out today."
- Kepler Team Needs To Take PR 101, earlier post
- Kepler Co-Investigator Spills The Beans: Lots of Earth-like Planets, earlier post