In 2013, the Kepler telescope had to stop planet hunting due to the failure of two reaction wheels. But that doesn’t mean the telescope is completely out of commission. In fact, using a new technique that takes advantage of the solar wind, the Kepler telescope just discovered its first planet, a planet that could be similar to Earth but over twice the size.
The Gaia Satellite was launched on December 19 of last year. It’s mission: to chart a 3D map of the Milky Way Galaxy by surveying more than 1 billion stars. Even though that’s just 1 percent of the stars in the galaxy, its goal is to make the largest, most precise map of where Earth dwells by observing the position of these stars 70 times over five years. Among other things, this could result in the discovery of up to 70,000 additional alien planets.
Recently, at a press conference at a meeting of the American Astronomical Society, Gongjie Li of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics predicted the death of two exoplanets. “As far as we know, this is the first time two known exoplanets in a single system have a predicted ‘time of death,'” she said. The two planets she’s talking about, Kepler-56b and Kepler-56c, are predicted to be swallowed by their star in 130 million and 155 million years, respectively.
Astronomers announced Monday that they had discovered what may be one of the greatest triumphs in modern day observational astronomy – ripples in the fabric of space-time that are echoes of the massive expansion of the universe that took place just after the Big Bang some 14 billion years ago. Predicted by Albert Einstein nearly a century ago, the discovery of ripples, called gravitational waves, would provide evidence how the universe began and evolved into the countless galaxies and stars, dust, and vast stretches of empty space that make up the known universe.
Monday’s announcement was also to confirm the more recent theory of cosmic inflation – that when the universe was roughly a trillionth of a trillionth of a trillionth of a second old, the infant cosmos expanded exponentially, inflating in size by 100 trillion times. This made the cosmos remarkably uniform across vast expanses of space and also energized tiny fluctuations in gravity, producing gravitational waves, undiscovered until now. The discovery was made by telescopes at the South Pole under the direction of John M. Kovac and a team of astronomers of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.
Confirming inflation would mean that the universe we see, extending 14 billion light-years in space with its hundreds of billions of galaxies, is only an infinitesimal patch in a larger cosmos whose extent, architecture and fate are unknowable. Moreover, beyond our own universe there might be an endless number of other universes bubbling into frothy eternity, like a pot of pasta water boiling over.