Say Hello To Earth 2.0! Historic Kepler Discovery Suggests We Are Not Alone

An artist's impression of Kepler 452b

photo credit: This artist’s impression of Kepler 452b shows how its surface might look, complete with water and active volcanoes. SETI Institute/Danielle Futselaar.

Remember the name Kepler 452b. Because in our search to discover if we are alone in this vast and fascinating universe, a sole life-harboring world among countless dead and uninhabitable planets, we may finally have a true candidate for Earth 2.0.

For the first time, scientists have found what appears to be a rocky world orbiting a Sun-like star at almost exactly the same distance that Earth orbits our own Sun. While other potentially habitable planets have been found before, this is the first that could plausibly be another Earth. This might be the real deal, people.

Kepler 452b, found by NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope, is located 1,400 light-years from us. It orbits a star that is 4% more massive and 10% brighter than our Sun. The planet itself is 1.6 times the size of Earth – making it a super-Earth – but the scientists are fairly sure that it is a rocky world, owing to its size and the type of star it orbits.

Its orbit, 384.84 Earth days and 5% more distant than our planet is from the Sun, places it right in its star’s habitable zone, where it is not too hot or cold for liquid water to form: the same region Earth is in around the Sun. This is not the first Earth-sized planet found in a habitable zone; last year, the world was abuzz with the discovery of Kepler 186f, more similar in size to Earth. But that planet orbited a red dwarf star, smaller and cooler than the Sun. Kepler 452b, excitingly, orbits almost an exact clone of the Sun.

“Sun-like stars are people’s favorites, because we know of one circumstance [Earth] where that paid off [for life],” Seth Shostak, the Director of SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence), which was involved in the planet discovery, told IFLScience.

Shostak revealed to IFLScience that, such was the potential habitability of this world, SETI was already studying it to find out if there were any signs of life coming from it, albeit so far to no avail. “We have actually started looking at this with the Allen Telescope Array to check it for obvious signals of artificial origin,” he said. “We haven’t looked over all the frequencies yet, but if there are any aliens on Kepler 452b they are being very coy.”

 

Shown is an artist’s impression of Earth compared to Kepler 452b. NASA/JPL-Caltech/T. Pyle.

Although the mass of the planet can’t be directly determined yet, the scientists think it may be about five times that of Earth based on models. A rocky planet of this size and mass would likely still have active volcanism on the surface.

However, it should be noted that the star it orbits is 1.5 billion years older than our Sun. On the one hand, this increased energy from its star means that any oceans on its surface are likely being evaporated, lowering its chance of being habitable. On the other hand, this planet offers a fascinating opportunity to see what might become of Earth in the future.

“If Kepler 452b is indeed a rocky planet, its location vis-a-vis its star could mean that it is just entering a runaway greenhouse phase of its climate history,” Doug Caldwell, a SETI Institute scientist working on the Kepler mission, said in a statement. “Kepler 452b could be experiencing now what the Earth will undergo more than a billion years from now, as the Sun ages and grows brighter.”

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This new planet joins others such as Kepler 186f, illustrated, as potentially Earth-like worlds. NASA Ames/SETI/JPL-Caltech.

Kepler 452b was found in a new catalog of 500 exoplanet candidates from four years of Kepler data. 12 of these are less than twice Earth’s diameter and orbiting in their star’s habitable zone, but Kepler 452b was the first to be confirmed as a planet. It could therefore be just one of many Earth 2.0s that are on the cusp of being announced.

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“Kepler 452b takes us one step closer to understanding how many habitable planets are out there,” said Joseph Twicken, also of the SETI Institute and the lead scientific programmer for the Kepler mission, in a statement.

While Kepler 452b ticks almost all of the boxes for being an Earth twin, there is one that it doesn’t – its size, which is 60% greater than Earth. Thus, while NASA is heralding it as the best candidate for Earth 2.0 so far, the hunt will go on for even more Earth-like planets.

NASA’s Kepler telescope, artist’s impression shown, was launched in 2009. NASA/Ames/JPL-Caltech.

Actually finding life on these planets is more difficult. Although upcoming telescopes like theJames Webb Space Telescope (JWST) will be designed to study the atmospheres of exoplanets and search for signs of habitability, the range for doing this will be just tens of light-years from Earth, said Shostak. Kepler 452b, at 1,400 light-years away, is too far to be comprehensively studied at the moment.

But one thing is for sure – the chances of us being alone in this universe are looking increasingly slim. Whether it’s Kepler 452b or Kepler 186f or some other undiscovered planet, somewhere out there, there must be a world with life waiting for us to find it.

“Kepler 452b is one small step in answering the question [of are we alone] today,” said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, in a press conference.

Does Nibiru – Planet X really exist?

There are countless articles on the internet talking about this mysterious planet, some of these refer to it as possible ‘murderer’ of Earth. All kinds of dreadful gravitational phenomena are connected with Nibiru and some even argue that Planet X or Nibiru poses a threat to Earth, and that one day it will collide against our planet. Science argues that it might exist, but they just haven seen it yet. Mythologically speaking, Nibiru is present in many ancient Sumerian writing.

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Due to the large number of natural disasters that have happened on our planet in the recent years, many people claim that it is due to the approach of Nibiru, aka The Twelfth Planet or Planet X and many researchers warn of a global catastrophe. Ufologists believe that astronomers and scientists are monitoring Nibiru although this information is kept hidden from the public as many other subjects.

There are many ufologists who suspect that agencies like NASA, are searching in the background for the ancient planet Nibiru, home to the annunaki. Media reports in Russia point toward certain people predicting that this mysterious planet is approaching Earth, and that the consequences of this encounter could be catastrophic bringing upon our planet many disasters including earthquakes, floods, tsunamis, fires and meteor showers among other things. But does this planet actually exist?

In 1976, the late Zecharia Sitchin raised a controversy with the publication of his book “The Twelfth Planet”. In this and subsequent books, Sitchin presented his translations of ancient Sumerian texts which tell an incredible story regarding the origins of mankind on Earth, stories that are completely different to those that most of us learned in school.

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According to the ancient cuneiform texts, which are believed to be some of the oldest writings known to date, go back at least 6,000 years. These writings explain the history of a race of beings called the Anunnaki. The Anunnaki came to Earth from a planet in our solar system which is called Nibiru. Sadly, many people have never heard of it, because according to mainstream science the planet called Nibiru does not exist. However, according to Sitchin, the presence of Nibiru is very important for the past and future of humanity.

The orbit of Nibiru around the sun is believed to be extremely elliptical, and according to text, it is located far beyond the orbit of Pluto. Bribe takes around 3600 years to complete one orbit around the Sun. Nibiru is believed to be the home planet of the Anunnaki. The approach of Nibiru towards the planets of our solar system might pose a huge threat given its gravitational characteristics.

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Astronomers today suggest that there is in fact a planet called Planet X, located beyond the orbit of Pluto, a planet that explains the anomalies in the orbits of Neptune and Uranus, the New York times even talked about in 1982:

Something out there beyond the farthest reaches of the known solar system seems to be tugging at Uranus and Neptune. Some gravitational force keeps perturbing the two giant planets, causing irregularities in their orbits. The force suggests a presence far away and unseen, a large object that may be the long- sought Planet X. … The last time a serious search of the skies was made it led to the discovery in 1930 of Pluto, the ninth planet.

NASA just announced it’ll be visiting this beautiful moon for the first time

The hunt for extraterrestrial life just grew a little hotter.

On Monday, during his State of NASA speech, administrator Charles Bolden announced that NASA would be selecting projects to accompany a probe to Jupiter’s moon Europa.

Floating in space about 390 million miles from earth, Europa is a remote ice ball that harbors a massive ocean underneath its surface.

So massive, in fact, that scientists suspect Europa could have as much as two to three times more liquid water than Earth does.

Judging from the abundance of life thriving in Earth’s oceans, where there’s liquid water, there’s the potential for life.

Not only that, Europa is absolutely gorgeous:

EuropaNASA/JPL-Caltech/SETI Institute

Europa is about 1,900 miles in diameter — slightly smaller than our moon. The brown veins that give the moon it’s iconic beauty are still a mystery, but the leading theory is that they show where Europa’s crust cracked open, letting warmer, dirtier water seep through and then freeze.

Jupiter’s strong gravitational tug on the tiny moon generates tidal forces that stretch the entire surface — similar to how the Moon’s gravity tugs the water in Earth’s oceans, creating tides. The stretching then cracks the crust, letting water deep beneath the surface to seep through.

But that’s not the only impact the gas giant has on its moon. As NASA astrobiologist Kevin Hand explains in a video about Europa:

Europa has liquid water because the moon is orbiting Jupiter, and the tidal tug and pull causes Europa to flex up and down — all that tidal energy turns into friction and heat that helps maintain this liquid water ocean beneath an icy shell.

europaNASA

Below is a close-up of the circular impact crater in the southern hemisphere in the image above. Called Pwyll, the impact crater is a relatively new feature on the surface of Europa, and it is also compelling evidence of the enormous ocean sloshing underneath the surface.

Scientists suspect that when the impactor hit, it splattered fresh, fine water ice particles everywhere that now show up as the bright-white arms adorning the moon’s face around the darker crater. NASA’s Galileo spacecraft — the only probe to fly by Europa more than once — took the image below in 1998 showing the darker crater, which is about 16 miles in diameter.

europaNASA/JPL/University of Arizona

The impact crater’s arms reach far across the surface. Even 620 miles north of the crater you can see evidence of the white streaks in the awesome close-up shot below.

The white and blue colors are the residual ice particles from the blast. Galileo snapped this photo of this region, which is 44 miles wide by 19 miles long, in 1996.

europaNASA/JPL/University of Arizona

Although Galileo took the most detailed images of Europa we have, astronomers still don’t know exactly how much liquid water there is or if life hides underneath the moon’s icy shell. That is why, just last year, NASA issued a Request for Information to the scientific community to offer up ideas on the best, economically viable approach to study this amazing moon.

Now, it looks as if some of those ideas might have paid off as scientists look forward to learning more about the future mission to Europa this spring.

According to NASA the mission should complete the following tasks:

  • Characterize the extent of the ocean and its relation to the deeper interior
  • Characterize the ice shell and any subsurface water, including their heterogeneity, and the nature of surface-ice-ocean exchange
  • Determine global surface, compositions and chemistry, especially as related to habitability
  • Understand the formation of surface features, including sites of recent or current activity, identify and characterize candidate sites for future detailed exploration
  • Understand Europa’s space environment and interaction with the magnetosphere.

Check out a video of the State of NASA address announced on Monday:

 

NASA Launches ‘Flying Saucer’ to Test Mars Landing Tech (Video)

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Nearby Exoplanet Is Best Candidate For Supporting Life

photo credit: Artistic representation of the potentially habitable Super-Earth Gliese 832 c against a stellar nebula background. Credit: PHL @ UPR Arecibo, NASA Hubble, Stellarium

Finding new exoplanets is always awesome, but discovering exoplanets within the star’s habitable zone are exponentially more exciting. A team led by Robert Wittenmyer of the University of New South Wales has announced the discovery of the Super-Earth Gliese 832 c, which could very well turn out to be the best candidate for extraterrestrial life discovered to date. It’s also fairly close, cosmologically speaking, which adds to the intrigue. The team’s paper has been accepted for publication in The Astrophysical Journal, but has been made available online in an open access format on arXiv.org.

Gliese 832 is a red dwarf star that is located 16.1 light-years away in the constellation Grus. Astronomers discovered a Jupiter analog orbiting the star back in 2009, but its orbit takes nine years to complete; far beyond the star’s habitable zone. Gliese 832 c looks much more promising. Though only two planets in the system are known, it appears to be organized quite similarly to our own solar system.

The planet is about 5.4 times more massive than Earth and has an Earth Similarity Index (ESI) of 0.81, which compares an exoplanet’s radius, escape velocity, surface temperature, and density to Earth. Other exoplanets with similar ESI values include Gliese 667 Cc (ESI 0.84, 22 light-years away) and Kepler-62e (ESI 0.83, 1,200 light-years away). ESI does not account for the planet’s potential habitability, which makes Gliese 832 c a little more of a priority for further analysis.

Gliese 832 c has an orbital period of only 36 days. While this does seem fairly short by our standards, the host star is much smaller and cooler than our Sun. This results in Gliese 832 c getting the same amount of solar energy as Earth. One aspect of Gliese 832 c that could make or break its likelihood of supporting life is its atmosphere. Researchers aren’t certain about the atmosphere’s composition or density. A dense atmosphere would make the planet much too hot for life, and Gliese 832 c would be more like a Super-Venus than Super-Earth. If the atmosphere is not quite as dense, it could have weather patterns somewhat similar to Earth, albeit with greater seasonal variations.

NASA wants to send a quadcopter drone to Titan

NASA wants to send a quadcopter drone to Titan

NASA wants to search Saturn’s moon Titan for life but they’re having trouble coming up with a good way to cover a large territory and obtain samples. Now they think they may have a good solution: A 22-pound quadcopter that will work from a mothership. After reading about it, it’s a really cool idea.

Larry Matthies—a Senior Research Scientist and the supervisor of the Computer Vision Group, in the Mobility and Robotic Systems Section of the JPL in Pasadena, California—thinks that this may be the only solution that can achieve mission objectives—the search for life or prebiotic chemistry in one of the places in the solar system more likely to have it—safely and at low cost and low risk.

A lander will not cut it because it can’t move. They need to explore this world. A balloon or an airplane can easily move, but they can’t be the solution because they can’t access the surface. And a large, long-range helicopter can work, but it is way too expensive and risky. So he combined all of these ideas and came up with something relatively low cost, low risk, and absolutely logical:

We propose a mission study of a small (< 10 kg) rotorcraft that can deploy from a balloon or lander to acquire close-up, high resolution imagery and mapping data of the surface, land at multiple locations to acquire microscopic imagery and samples of solid and liquid material, return the samples to the mothership for analysis, and recharge from an RTG on the mothership to enable multiple sorties.

Boom. He argues that this is only possible now because of the recent development in robotics and drones here on Earth:

Prior studies have shown the feasibility of aerial mobility on Titan for larger aircraft, from 10 to 400 kg, but none of these studies were in the size range we address and none addressed the daughtercraft, sampling, and recharging scenarios we address.

This concept is enabled now by recent advances in autonomous navigationand miniaturization of sensors, processors, and sampling devices. It revolutionizes previous mission concepts in several ways.

For a lander mission, it enables detailed studies of a large area around the lander, providing context for the micro-images and samples; with precision landing near a lake, it potentially enables sampling solid and liquid material from one lander.

For a balloon mission, it enables surface investigation and sampling with global reach without requiring a separate lander or that the balloon be brought to the surface, which has potential for major cost savings and risk reduction.

And the cool thing is that these drones will be able to fly back to base, return the samples or data, recharge their battery thanks to the nuclear power generator in the mothership, and take off for another flight.

The idea is pretty revolutionary in practice, but not something that we haven’t seen in science fiction movies: Little drones quickly exploring large areas and returning with information to the mothership or base spaceship.

Matthies says that these low cost drones can change not only the exploration of Titan, but any other world. Imagine that Curiosity had a couple of these low cost drones on its back right now. Scientists could quickly fly them to recognize terrain ahead and even retrieve samples to bring back to Curiosity. Then researchers would be able to set new mission objectives according to this information.

And that, my friends, sounds like the future of autonomous planetary exploration to me.

New “Godzilla Planet” Is 17 Times Heavier Than Earth

photo credit: The newly discovered ‘mega-Earth’ Kepler-10c dominates the foreground in this artist’s conception. Its sibling, the lava world Kepler-10b, is in the background. Both orbit a sunlike star / David A. Aguilar (CfA)

 

Among the haul of hundreds of new planets discovered by the Kepler Space Telescope, many have qualified as super-Earths — worlds that are several times larger than Earth, are rocky like our own, and reside in the habitable zones of their stars. But never before had scientists detected a world like Kepler-10c, a “mega-Earth” that looks a lot like home but is 17 times heavier than our planet.

When Kepler first spied this new planet, astronomers measured its diameter to be 29,000 kilometers, or about 2.3 times larger than Earth’s. That would have been remarkable, but not recording-setting. However, when scientists from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA) looked at Kepler-10c using the Telescopio Nazionale Galileo in the Canary Islands, they measured the planet’s mass and found it to be so heavy that it must be made of rocks and other dense materials.

Kepler-10c orbits a star similar to the Sun, located about 560 light years from here. It completes an orbit once every 45 days. And this new finding annouced today about its mass could have profound impacts on the search for life out there among the stars.

Scientists would have thought that any planet as heavy as Kepler-10c would be a gaseous world such as Jupiter and Saturn. Indeed, many of the first exoplanets to be discovered were “hot Jupiters” — gas giants located close to their stars. But life as we know it needs to live on a hard, rocky planet or moon. The discovery of such a gigantic rocky world opens up the possibility of many more potentially habitable planets throughout the galaxy.

Furthermore, new research proposes a link between how long it takes for a planet to orbit its star and how large a rocky planet can grow. That would suggest rocky planets can be bigger the farther you get from the star. If this correlation is true, it would mean that astronomers will find even more mega-Earths as they search for exoplanets with longer orbital periods. (Many of the worlds newly discovered by Kepler are relatively close to their stars.)

This new mega-Earth also means that astronomers could look to very old stars for potentially habitable planets. Kepler-10c orbits a star that formed just 3 billion years after the Big Bang, and scientists had thought it make taken the first few billion years of the universe’s existence just for exploding stars to form enough heavy elements for rocky planets to form.

“Finding Kepler-10c tells us that rocky planets could form much earlier than we thought. And if you can make rocks, you can make life,” lead researcher Dimitar Sasselov says in a press release.

The work was presented today at the meeting of the American Astronomical Society (AAS) in Boston.

[Via Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics]

Image: David A. Aguilar (CfA)

Read more at http://www.iflscience.com/space/new-godzilla-planet-17-times-heavier-earth#JAhO7XWSpkrz7Eg8.99

Found! First Earth-Size Planet That Could Support Life

For the first time, scientists have discovered an Earth-size alien planet in the habitable zone of its host star, an “Earth cousin” that just might have liquid water and the right conditions for life.

 

This artist illustration shows what it might be like to stand on the surface of the planet Kepler-186f, the first-ever Earth-size planet to be found in the habitable zone of its star.

This artist illustration shows what it might be like to stand on the surface of the planet Kepler-186f, the first-ever Earth-size planet to be found in the habitable zone of its star. Credit: Danielle Futselaar 

The newfound planet, called Kepler-186f, was first spotted by NASA’s Kepler space telescope and circles a dim red dwarf star about 490 light-years from Earth. While the host star is dimmer than Earth’s sun and the planet is slightly bigger than Earth, the positioning of the alien world coupled with its size suggests that Kepler-186f could have water on its surface, scientists say. You can learn more about the amazing alien planet find in a videoproduced by Space.com. “One of the things we’ve been looking for is maybe an Earth twin, which is an Earth-size planet in the habitable zone of a sunlike star,” Tom Barclay, Kepler scientist and co-author of the new exoplanet research, told Space.com. “This [Kepler-186f] is an Earth-size planet in the habitable zone of a cooler star. So, while it’s not an Earth twin, it is perhaps an Earth cousin. It has similar characteristics, but a different parent.”

This artist illustration shows the planet Kepler-186f, the first Earth-size alien planet discovered in the habitable zone of its star.

This artist illustration shows the planet Kepler-186f, the first Earth-size alien planet discovered in the habitable zone of its star. Credit: NASA Ames/SETI Institute/JPL-CalTech


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The rocky alien planet Kepler 186f is an Earth-size world that could have liquid water on its surface, and possibly even life. It orbits a star 490 light-years away.See the full details of alien planet Kepler-186f in this Space.com infographic. Credit: By Karl Tate, Infographics Artist

Potentially habitable planet

Scientists think that Kepler-186f — the outermost of five planets found to be orbiting the star Kepler-186 — orbits at a distance of 32.5 million miles (52.4 million kilometers), theoretically within the habitable zone for a red dwarf. Earth orbits the sun from an average distance of about 93 million miles (150 million km), but the sun is larger and brighter than the Kepler-186 star, meaning that the sun’s habitable zone begins farther out from the star by comparison to Kepler-186. “This is the first definitive Earth-sized planet found in the habitable zone around another star,” Elisa Quintana, of the SETI Institute and NASA’s Ames Research Center and the lead author of a new study detailing the findings, said in a statement. Other planets of various sizes have been found in the habitable zones of their stars. However, Kepler-186f is the first alien planet this close to Earth in size found orbiting in that potentially life-supporting area of an extrasolar system, according to exoplanet scientists. ‘An historic discovery’ “This is an historic discovery of the first truly Earth-size planet found in the habitable zone around its star,” Geoff Marcy, an astronomer at the University of California, Berkeley, who is unaffiliated with the research, told Space.com via email. “This is the best case for a habitable planet yet found. The results are absolutely rock-solid. The planet itself may not be, but I’d bet my house on it. In any case, it’s a gem.” The newly discovered planet measures about 1.1 Earth radii, making it slightly larger than Earth, but researchers still think the alien world may be rocky like Earth. Researchers still aren’t sure what Kepler-186f’s atmosphere is made of, a key element that could help scientists understand if the planet is hospitable to life.  [Kepler-186f: Earth-Size World Could Support Oceans, Maybe Life (Infographic)] “What we’ve learned, just over the past few years, is that there is a definite transition which occurs around about 1.5 Earth radii,” Quintana said in a statement. “What happens there is that for radii between 1.5 and 2 Earth radii, the planet becomes massive enough that it starts to accumulate a very thick hydrogen and helium atmosphere, so it starts to resemble the gas giants of our solar system rather than anything else that we see as terrestrial.”

This diagram shows the position of Kepler-186f in relation to Earth.

This diagram shows the position of Kepler-186f in relation to Earth. Credit: NASA Ames/SETI Institute/JPL-CalTech

The edge of habitability

Kepler-186f actually lies at the edge of the Kepler-186 star’s habitable zone, meaning that liquid water on the planet’s surface could freeze, according to study co-author Stephen Kane of San Francisco State University. Because of its position in the outer part of the habitable zone, the planet’s larger size could actually help keep its water liquid, Kane said in a statement. Since it is slightly bigger than Earth, Kepler-186f could have a thicker atmosphere, which would insulate the planet and potentially keep its water in liquid form, Kane added. “It [Kepler-186f] goes around its star over 130 days, but because its star is a lower mass than our sun, the planet orbits slightly inner of where Mercury orbits in our own solar system,” Barclay said. “It’s on the cooler edge of the habitable zone. It’s still well within it, but it receives less energy than Earth receives. So, if you’re on this planet [Kepler-186f], the star would appear dimmer.” Exoplanet hunting in the future Kepler-186f could be too dim for follow-up studies that would probe the planet’s atmosphere. NASA’sJames Webb Space Telescope — Hubble’s successor, expected to launch to space in 2018 — is designed to image planets around relatively nearby stars; however, the Kepler-186 system might be too far off for the powerful telescope to investigate, Barclay said. Scientists using the Kepler telescope discovered Kepler-186f using the transit method: When the planet moved across the face of its star from the telescope’s perspective, Kepler recorded a slight dip in the star’s brightness, allowing researchers to learn more about the planet itself. Kepler suffered a major malfunction last year and is no longer working in the same fashion, but scientists are still going through the spacecraft’s trove of data searching for new alien worlds. “I find it simply awesome that we live in a time when finding potentially habitable planets is common, and the method to find them is standardized,” MIT exoplanet hunter and astrophysicist Sara Seager, who is unaffiliated with the research, told Space.com via email. The new research was published online today (April 17) in the journal Science.

Hundreds of New Exoplanets Validated by Kepler Telescope Team

A trove of 715 planets—all members of multiworld systems—joins the list of Kepler’s finds

 
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The newly validated Kepler planets are all part of multiworld systems with numerous planets orbiting a single star.
NASA

A huge new haul of planets has joined the tally of alien worlds discovered by NASA’sKepler space telescope, scientists announced today. All of the new planets are members of multiplanet systems—stars with more than one orbiting satellite. Researchers used a new method for weeding out false signals from among the candidate planets found by Kepler, allowing them to add hundreds of “validated” planets to the count of Kepler’s finds. “We studied just over 1,200 systems, and from there we were able to validate 719 planets,” says Jason Rowe of NASA Ames Research Center at Moffett Field, Calif., who led the research.* “This is the biggest haul ever.”Kepler launched in 2009 and stopped taking data last year after two of its stabilizingreaction wheels failed. Its relatively short lifetime, however, has already offered up a wealth of discovery, including more than 3,500 planetary candidates as well as 246 worlds confirmed by follow-up observations. The new harvest brings its tally of true planets to over 1,000.

Kepler searches for planets by measuring stellar brightness dips caused when a planet passes in front of a star, briefly dimming the star’s light. This technique, called the transiting method, is more than 90 percent accurate, but sometimes a nonplanet can fool the telescope. One of the most common reasons for a “false positive” is an eclipsing binary—a pair of orbiting stars that sometimes cross in front of one another from our perspective—lying along the same line of sight as the foreground star Kepler is studying. Eclipsing binaries dim when one star passes in front of the other, mimicking the dimming effect a planet would have.

Stars with a single planet can be hard to distinguish from eclipsing binaries. But multiplanet systems are far less likely to be frauds. “It happens, but it’s unlikely that you have two eclipsing binaries in the background of the same star,” says Francois Fressin of the Harvard–Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA) in Cambridge, Mass., who was not involved in the study. “That simple fact tremendously increases the odds that they are bona fide planets.” It is also possible to have an eclipsing binary and a star with a planet lying right on top of one another, albeit extremely unlikely. “Based on that argument we started to get into the statistics to see if we can quantify that and see how many we can pull out and say with very good confidence they are validated planets,” Rowe says.

About 20 percent of the candidate planets Kepler finds inhabit systems with multiple worlds. Among this group, Rowe and his colleagues tried to weed out the small number that were likely to be false signals by examining the light signature of the candidate planets. The light from a single planetary system would be centered on one point, the parent star. An eclipsing binary in the background, however, would probably not lie exactly behind the main star, but would be offset by a small distance. When this binary blinks out as one star crosses the other, the center of the light in the field of view should shift over to the side, creating a signature called a moving centroid. “The moving centroids are the ones where we’re fairly sure they are false positives, and then we have a subset, the majority of them, that we are very confident are planetary systems and show no sign of blends,” Rowe says.

The idea that multiplanet systems are easier to validate is not new, and researchers have previously studied how to winnow out the small number of false positives. “I made this argument [in 2011] but now it has been worked out in careful detail,” says David Latham of the CfA. “Jason has done a really nice job.”

The new cache of planets is extremely unlikely to harbor imposters, but they are not “confirmed planets,” in the traditional sense. That requires measuring the parent star’s motion to determine how much the planets’ gravitational tugging causes it to wobble, revealing the planets’ mass. “Even though we can be very confident that these objects are real planets, the only information we have right now on their physical properties is their size (radius) and expected equilibrium temperature (which depends on the distance to their parent star, which is known),” says Guillermo Torres of the CfA.

Among the new trove of planets: a small, potentially rocky world; an odd binary star system where each star has planets of its own; and cramped systems where the multiple planets are each gravitationally tugging one another around. “Of course we have every type of planetary system in our validated set that people can think of, except the perfect Earth analogue,” Rowe says. For now, that remains Kepler’s holy grail.

*Editor’s Note (2/26/14): The tally of 719 exoplanet validations announced in the quote was restated as 715 by the Kepler team shortly after this story was posted.

300+ Mind Expanding Documentaries

mind expanding docs

I watch a lot of documentaries. I think they are incredible tools for learning and increasing our awareness of important issues. The power of an interesting documentary is that it can open our minds to new possibilities and deepen our understanding of the world. On this list of mind expanding documentaries you will find different viewpoints, controversial opinions and even contradictory ideas. Critical thinking is recommended. I’m not a big fan of conspiracy documentaries but I do like films that challenge consensus reality and provoke us to question the everyday ideas, opinions and practices we usually take for granted.

Watching documentaries is one of my favorite methods of self-education. If I find a documentary inspiring, I usually spend more time researching the different ideas and interesting people interviewed in the film.

I hope you find these documentaries as enlightening as I did!

If you notice that a link is broken, please let me know in the comments and I’ll update it.

Thanks to Kyle Pearce & DIY Genius for this awesome list!

[1] Life In The Biosphere

Explore the wonder and interconnectedness of the biosphere through the magic of technology.

1. Home
2. How Many People Can Live on Planet Earth
3. The Magical Forest
4. Ants: Nature’s Secret Power
5. Mt. Everest: How It Was Made
6. Mariana’s Trench: The Deepest Spot On Earth
7. Natural World: The Andes
8. Shining Mountains: The Rockies
9. Grand Canyon: How It Was Made
10. The Intelligence of Plants

[2] Creativity and Design:

Learn about all the amazing things that people create with their imaginations.

1. Everything Is A Remix
2. The Creative Brain: How Insight Works
3. Blow Your Mind
4. Design: The New Business
5. PressPausePlay: Art and Creativity in the Digital Age
6. Infamy: A Graffiti Documentary
7. Influencers: How Trends and Creativity Become Contagious
8. RIP: A Remix Manifesto
9. Design: e² – Sustainable Architecture
10. The Genius Of Design

[3] The Education Industrial Complex:

The modern school where young minds are moulded into standardized citizens by the state.

1. The College Conspiracy
2. Declining by Degrees: Higher Education at Risk
3. The Forbidden Education
4. Default: The Student Loan Documentary
5. College Inc.
6. Education For A Sustainable Future
7. Networked Society: The Future of Learning
8. The Ultimate History Lesson With John Taylor Gatto
9. The Education System in Communist China
10. The War On Kids

[4] The Digital Revolution:

The Internet is now the driving force behind change and innovation in the world.

1. Download: The True Story of the Internet
2. The Age of Big Data
3. Resonance: Beings of Frequency
5. Life In A Day
6. Networked Society: On The Brink
7. Us Now: Social Media and Mass Collaboration
8. WikiRebels: The WikiLeaks Story
9. The Virtual Revolution: The Cost of Free
10. How Hackers Changed the World

[5] A New Civilization:

We are at the dawn of a new golden age of human inventiveness.

1. THRIVE: What On Earth Will It Take?
2. Zeitgeist III: Moving Forward
3. Paradise or Oblivion
4. 2012: Time For Change
5. The Crisis of Civilization
6. The Collective Evolution II
7. The Quickening: Awakening As One
8. 2012 Crossing Over: A New Beginning
9. Collapse
10. The Awakening

[6] Politics:

Explore the politics of power and control and how it affects your life.

1. Owned and Operated
2. UnGrip
3. The Power Principle
4. The True Story of Che Guevara
5. Earth Days
6. Capitalism Is The Crisis
7. WikiLeaks: The Secret Life of a Superpower
8. The Putin System
9. The War On Democracy
10. Rise Like Lions: Occupy Wall Street and the Seeds of Revolution

[7] Biographies of Genius:

The biographies of modern geniuses who pushed humanity forward.

1. Isaac Newton: The Last Magician
2. Nikola Tesla: The Greatest Mind of All Time
3. The Unlimited Energy of Nicola Tesla
4. The Missing Secrets Of Nikola Tesla
5. Richard Feynman: No Ordinary Genius
6. How Albert Einstein’s Brain Worked
7. The Extraordinary Genius of Albert Einstein
8. The Biography of Albert Einstein
9. Da Vinci: Unlocking The Genius
10. Leonardo Da Vinci: The Man Who Wanted to Know Everything

[8] War:

War is history’s oldest racket for stealing from the powerless and redistributing resources to the powerful.

1. Psywar: The Real Battlefield Is Your Mind
2. The History of World War II
3. The Secret History of 9/11
4. Robot Armies in the Future
5. The Never Ending War in Afghanistan
6. Shadow Company: Mercenaries In The Modern World
7. World War II From Space
8. Why We Fight
9. The Fog Of War
10. The Oil Factor: Behind The War On Terror

[9] Economics:

Learn about the financial system works and how people and societies are enslaved through debt.

1. The Corporation: The Pathological Pursuit of Profit and Power
2. Overdose: The Next Financial Crisis
3. The Ascent of Money: A Financial History of The World
4. The One Percent
5. Quants: The Alchemists of Wall Street
6. The Last Days Of Lehman Brothers
7. The Four Horsemen
8. Inside Job: The Biggest Robbery In Human History
9. Capitalism A Love Story
10. Money and Life

[10] Digital Entrepreneurship:

Profiles of the entrepreneurs who used technology to change the world.

1. The Life Of A Young Entrepreneur
2. Profile: Google’s Larry Page and Sergey Brin
3. Profile: Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg
4. Starting-Up in America
5. The Biography of Bill Gates
6. Inside Google: The Billion Dollar Machine
7. Steve Jobs: One Last Thing
8 . Steve Jobs: The Billion Dollar Hippy
9. Elon Musk: Risk Takers
10. The Story of Twitter

[11] Sports:

Watch the inspiring stories of amazing athletes.

1. Fearless: The Jeb Corliss Story
2. Carts of Darkness
3. The Two Escobars
4. Usain Bolt: The World’s Fastest Man
5. Wayne Gretzky: The Life and Times
6. When We Were Kings
7. Mike Tyson: Beyond the Glory
8. Birdmen
9. The Legacy Of Michael Jordan
10. We Ride: The Story of Snowboarding

[12] Technology:

Find out more about the impact of exponential growth and the approaching Singularity.

1. Ray Kurzweil: The Transcendent Man
2. How Robots Will Change the World
3. Human 2.0
4. Tomorrow’s World: Life In The Future
5. Trance-Formation: The Future of Humanity
6. The Venus Project: Future By Design
7. Bionics, Transhumanism And The End Of Evolution
8. The Singularity Is Near
9. Car Technology Of The Future
10. Powering The Future: The Energy Revolution

[13] Origins of Religion:

Explore the original religious experience of mankind at the dawn of civilization.

1. Entheogen: Awakening the Divine Within
2. Manifesting the Mind: Footprints of the Shaman
3. Ancient Egypt and The Alternative Story of Mankind’s Origins
4. The Hidden Knowledge of the Supernatural
5. Re-Awaken: Open Your Heart, Expand Your Mind
6. Shamans of the Amazon
7. The Root of All Evil: The God Delusion
8. Ancient Knowledge
9. The Naked Truth
10. Before Babel: In Search of the First Language

[14] Western Religion:

The fascinating history of the three Abrahamic religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

1. Secret Quest: The Path of the Christian Gnostics
2. The Secret Gate of Eden
3. Forbidden Knowledge: Lost Secrets of the Bible
4. Banned From The Bible: Secrets Of The Apostles
5.  The Life of Prophet Muhammad
6. The Road To Armageddon
7. The Most Hated Family In America
8. Muhammad: The Legacy of a Prophet
9. A Complete History of God
10. Gnosis: The Untold History of the Bible

[15] Eastern Religion:

Expand your mind by also studying the entirely different religious worldviews of the East.

1. Inner Worlds, Outer Worlds
2. The Life Of The Buddha
3. The Seven Wonders of the Buddhist World
4. Mysteries of the Cosmic OM: Ancient Vedic Science
5. Where Science and Buddhism Meet
6. The Yogis of Tibet
7. Taj Mahal: Secrets To Blow Your Mind
8. Light at the Edge of the World: Tibetan Science of the Mind
9. Myths of Mankind: The Mahabharata
10. Ayurveda: The Art of Being

[16] Consciousness:

Learn about the basic unity of existence and the miracle of consciousness.

1. Athene’s Theory of Everything
2. Theory of Everything: GOD, Devils, Dimensions, Dragons & The Illusion of Reality
3. The God Within: Physics, Cosmology and Consciousness
4. 5 Gateways: The Five Key Expansions of Consciousness
5. Return to the Source: Philosophy and The Matrix
6. The Holographic Universe
7. DMT: The Spirit Molecule
8. What Is Consciousness?
9. Kymatica
10. Neuroplasticity: The Brain That Changes Itself

[17] Mysteries:

Indiana Jones-style explorations into the unsolved mysteries of the past.

1. Alchemy: Sacred Secrets Revealed
2. The Day Before Disclosure
3. The Pyramid Code
4. The Secret Design of the Egyptian Pyramids
5. Decoding the Past: Secrets of the Dollar Bill
6. The Lost Gods of Easter Island
7. Origins of the Da Vinci Code
8. Forbidden Knowledge: Ancient Medical Secrets
9. Secret Mysteries of America’s Beginnings: The New Atlantis
10. Secrets in Plain Sight

[18] Mass Culture:

Learn about how our thoughts and opinions are influenced by mass culture.

1. The Century of the Self
2. All Watched Over By Machines Of Loving Grace
3. The Power Of Nightmares
4. The Trap: What Happened To Our Dreams of Freedom
5. Starsuckers: A Culture Obsessed By Celebrity
6. Human Resources: Social Engineering in the 20th Century
7. Obey: The Death of the Liberal Class
8. Motivational Guru: The Story of Tony Robbins
9. Bob Marley: Freedom Road
10. Radiant City

[19] Corporate Media:

Discover how the mass media and advertisers channel our irrational impulses.

1. Weapons of Mass Deceptions
2. Secrets of the Superbrands
3. Orwell Rolls in his Grave
4. The Esoteric Agenda
5. Propaganda
6. The Myth of the Liberal Media: The Propaganda Model of News
7. Manufacturing Consent: Noam Chomsky and the Media
8. Symbolism in Logos: Subliminal Messages or Ancient Archetypes
9. Edward Snowden: A Truth Unveiled
10. Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch’s War on Journalism

[20] Art and Literature:

Explore the lives of famous artists and how art opens people’s minds.

1. Lord Of The Rings: Facts Behind The Fiction
2. Cosm: Alex Gray’s Visionary Art
3. Banksy’s Exit Through The Gift Shop
4. New Art and the Young Artists Behind It
5. Salvador Dali: A Master of the Modern Era
6. How Art Made The World: More Human Than Human
7. The Day Pictures Were Born
8. Guns, Germs and Steel
9. Off-Book: Digital Age Creativity
10. This Is Modern Art

[21] Health:

Explore issues in health, how our bodies work and the incredible power of our brains.

1. The Human Brain
2. The Truth About Vitamins
3. How To Live To 101
4. America’s Obesity Epidemic
5. The War On Health
6. The Beautiful Truth
7. Food Inc.
8. The Truth About Food
9. Addicted To Pleasure: Sugar
10. The Living Matrix

[22] Drugs:

Documentaries on the effect of drugs — legal and illegal — on the body and mind.

1. The Union: The Business Behind Getting High
2. The Drugging Of Our Children
3. How Marijuana Affects Your Health
4. Making a Killing: The Untold Story of Psychotropic Drugging
5. Clearing the Smoke: The Science of Cannabis
6. LSD: The Beyond Within
7. The War on Drugs: The Prison Industrial Complex
8. Are Illegal Drugs More Dangerous Than Legal Drugs?
9. The Prescription Drug Abuse Epidemic
10. Run From The Cure: The Rick Simpson Story

[23] Environment:

Thought-provoking documentaries on the environmental movement and the growing threats to our biosphere.

1. Earthlings
2. Blue Gold: World Water Wars
3. Tapped
4. Shift: Beyond the Numbers of the Climate Crisis
5. All Things Are Connected
6. The Fight For Amazonia
7. Flow: For Love Of Water
8. Here Comes the Sun
9. The World According To Monsanto
10. The Story of Stuff

[24] Cosmos:

Expand your mind by exploring our indescribably large and beautiful Cosmos.

1. The Search for Planets Similar to Earth
2. Inside the Milky Way Galaxy
3. Cosmic Journeys : The Largest Black Holes in the Universe
4. Beyond The Big Bang
5. The Mystery of the Milky Way
6. Fractals: The Hidden Dimension
7. Into The Universe With Stephen Hawking: The Story of Everything
8. Pioneer Science: Discovering Deep Space
9. Carl Sagan’s Cosmos
10. The Strangest Things In The Universe

[25] Science:

The history of scientific discovery and how scientific instruments expand our perception.

1. The Complete History of Science
2. The Quantum Revolution
3. Secret Universe: The Hidden Life of the Cell
4. Stephen Hawking: A Brief History of Time
5. Quantum Mechanics: Fabric of the Cosmos
6. The Light Fantastic
7. DNA: The Secret of Life
8. Parallel Universes, Alternative Timelines & Multiverse
9. What Is The Higgs Boson?
10. Infinity

[26] Evolution:

The story of our evolution and the emergence of self-aware human beings.

1. The Origin of Life
2. Homo Sapiens: The Birth of Humanity
3. Beyond Me
4. The Global Brain
5. Metanoia: A New Vision of Nature
6. Birth Of A New Humanity
7. Samsara
8. Ape Man: Adventures in Human Evolution
9. The Incredible Human Journey
10. The Human Family Tree

[27] Psychology and The Brain:

New research is shining a spotlight on how we can improve our brains.

1. How Smart Can We Get?
2. The Science of Lust
3. The Secret You
4. What Are Dreams?
5. A Virus Called Fear
6. Beyond Thought (Awareness Itself)
7. The Human Brain
8. Superconscious Mind: How To Double Your Brain’s Performance
9. How Does Your Memory Work?
10. Secrets of the Mind

[28] Modern History:

The story of the Enlightenment, the Industrial Revolution and the rise of the modern world.

1. The Entrepreneurs Who Built America
2. History of the World in Two Hours
3. The Industrial Revolution
4. The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich
5. The Adventure of the English Language
6. The French Revolution
7. Big Sugar
8. The Spanish Inquisition
9. The American Revolution
10. The Mexican American War

[29] Pre-Modern History:

The story of the Americas and European history in the pre-modern world.

1. America Before Columbus
2. The Dark Ages
3. Socrates, Aristotle and Plato
4. The Medici: The Most Influencial Family In The World
5. Rome: The Rise And Fall Of An Empire
6. History of Britain: The Myth of the Anglo-Saxon Invasion
7.  A History of Celtic Britain
8. The Crusades: Victory and Defeat
9. The Vikings: Voyage To America
10. Copernicus and the Scientific Revolution

[30] Current Events:

Become more informed about current events that are shaping the world.

1. Syria: The Reckoning
2. Empire: Putin’s Russia
3. The New Arms Race
4. The Killing of Yasser Arafat
5. Egypt In Crisis
6. Inside Obama’s Presidency
7. The Untouchables: How Obama Protected Wall Street
8. Behind The Rhetoric: The Real Iran
9. A History of the Middle East since WWII
10. Climate Wars

[31] Ancient Civilizations:

Fascination explorations into the ancient civilizations of our past.

1. When God Was a Girl: When Goddesses Ruled The Heavens and Earth
2. The Persian Empire : Most Mysterious Civilization in the Ancient World
3. What The Ancients Did For Us
4. What the Ancients Knew
5. Egypt: Beyond the Pyramids
6. Secrets of the Ancient Empires
7. Constellations & Ancient Civilizations
8. Graham Hancock’s Quest For The Lost Civilization
9. Atlantis: The Lost Continent
10. Seven Wonders of the Ancient World

I hope you enjoy watching some of these mind expanding documentaries! If you have a personal favorite, please share it with everyone in the comments.