NASA (The National Aeronautics and Space Administration) last week announced the discovery of 715 new planets, by far the biggest batch of planets ever disclosed. In comparison, a total of about 1,000 planets had been identified in our galaxy prior to this discovery.
Launched in March 2009 by NASA at a cost of $600 million, the Kepler Space Observatory’s mission was to find planets similar to Earth that are in or near the “Habitable Zones”, defined as planets that are the right distance from a star for a moderate temperature that might sustain liquid water and eventually life.
The vast majority, 95%, are smaller than our Neptune, which is four times the radius of the Earth. One of them is about twice the size of Earth and orbits a star half the size of Earth’s sun in a 30-day cycle. Four of the new planets are less than 2.5 times the radius of Earth, and they orbit their host suns in the Habitable Zones.
These new planets were verified using data from the first two years of Kepler’s voyage. The new technique is called “Verification by Multiplicity,” relying in part on the logic of probability.
Hopefully, these discoveries will lead us to find an Earth like star one day!
The photo above shows inside the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory’s $5 billion National Ignition Facility (NIF), where scientists are getting closer to their goal of creating a controlled fusion reaction by mimicking the interior of the sun inside the hardware of a laboratory.
In the latest incremental advance, reported recently online in the journal Nature, scientists in California used 192 lasers to compress a pellet of fuel and generate a reaction in which more energy came out of the fuel core than went into it.
There’s still a long way to go before anyone has a functioning fusion reactor, something physicists have dreamed of since Albert Einstein was alive. A fusion reactor would run on a common form of hydrogen found in seawater, would emit minimal nuclear waste and couldn’t have the kind of meltdown that can occur in a traditional nuclear-fission reactor.
NIF is funded by the National Nuclear Security Administration and does fusion research only part of the time. Usually it is engaged in tests that help scientists understand the processes involved in nuclear weapons explosions.
From article by Joel Achenbach, Washington Post, February 12, 2014
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