Professional stargazers and their toys have discovered a planet in a Goldilocks Zone with many similarities to Earth and possibly containing life. The planet, Kepler-22b, is 600 light years away and would take a space shuttle 22 million years to travel to the planet.
To study the potentially water- and life-bearing planet, some researchers and scientists are not expected to travel quite that far, but perhaps as far as Big Pine.
The California Institute of Technology Radio Observatory outside Big Pine and the Combined Array for Research in Millimeter-wave Astronomy, or CARMA, near Westgard Pass are open to proposals from astronomers and others who want to study the planet with the facilities’ technology.
Nicholas Volgenau, assistant director of operations at CARMA, said the announcement of the discovery was made earlier this month and the facility has not yet received any proposals.
Volgenau explained that the type of science that is performed and studied at the facilities is called millimeter interferometry. This means the facilities provide the resources to study radiation, sensitive to a single millimeter across, from distant objects. The two facilities each have multiple dish telescopes and can combine the signals of multiple telescopes into a single result, known as interferometry.
Studying these types of radio waves, Volgenau explained, can help determine what the distant object is made of. Some objects or celestial clouds emit molecules and different types of molecules emit detectably different waves. Radiation in the millimeter range includes molecules such as formaldehyde and ethyl alcohol. Once it is determined what molecules are being emitted, astronomers can have another view and another clue as to what the distant object is like.
The discovery of Kepler-22b has created quite a wave in the scientific community and in the media with hundreds of articles appearing on the subject in the last two weeks.
Kepler 22-b was discovered by the Kepler telescope, launched by NASA in 2009 on a planet finding mission. Volgenau said the telescope has discovered hundreds of planets since its launch. But the 22-b planet is the first one to be found in orbit around a star similar to the sun. And, the planet is within the Goldilocks Zone, or the perfect distance for a planet to be away from a sun to be able to bear life. If the planet is too close to the star it is too hot, and conversely, if it’s too far away, it is too cold to bear life.
Volgenau said this is the first planet discovered by Kepler that may contain water, and possibly life. He added that he predicted this would be the first of many planets to be discovered that may contain water and life. He explained that discoveries advance with technology. For example, he said there are modern telescopes with the ability to obscure the light from a star as to better study its orbiting objects.