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Kepler Mission Finds 752 Extrasolar Planet Candidates

kdawson posted more than 4 years ago | from the johannes-would-be-so-proud dept.

NASA 103

An anonymous reader lets us know about the initial release of data from the Kepler spacecraft, launched in the spring of 2009, which has been hunting extrasolar planets. The instrument has found 752 candidates to examine in its first 43 days of operation. This is exciting news, because even if only half of the possibilities pan out as exoplanets (as the Kepler team expects) the results would still almost double the count of known planets. And some of the new ones could be Earth-sized, or not too much larger. Controversy has erupted however because NASA has decided to allow the Kepler team to withhold 400 of the best candidates for its own examination, releasing about 350 others to the worldwide community. The reasons for this are complicated and the New York Times does a good job of digging into the issue of proprietary vs. public data. Nature.com first reported two months ago on the decision to hold back some of the data.

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Data Archives (5, Informative)

eldavojohn (898314) | more than 4 years ago | (#32589298)

Here is the notice they are releasing potential extrasolar planetary data [stsci.edu] and the press release saying that it's data on 156,000 stars [nasa.gov] . You can search the data [stsci.edu] or just download the tarfiles [stsci.edu] via anonymous FTP:

ftp archive.stsci.edu
cd /pub/kepler/lightcurves/tarfiles

If you do a search there appears to be anywhere from half to two thirds of the data that are marked as proprietary data which their search help gives a brief explanation of:

Clicking on entries in this column will mark the entry for retrieval. To mark all entries, click one of the buttons labelled 'Mark All','Mark public', or 'Mark Proprietary'. (Unmarking all entries can be done the same way using the appropriate button.) For missions with proprietary data, the mark button element will have a yellow background and a '@' symbol to indicate data sets not yet public.

I think the majority of those that are unreleased are simply Q2 data or later since this data is just from the first 42 days of the mission. What's available as the tar file appears to be all Q0 and Q1 data so I'm not certain if the 400 that are 'censored' are included in that or not. If they are withheld it seems odd that the announcement, release notes and README file make no mention of this. Still, we're talking 12+ GB of compressed data here.

Overall and despite the reported censoring of the best candidates, I personally applaud their transparency here that surpasses anything another government related organization (or even scientific field for that matter) exhibits. Alright, maybe CERN or the LHC will be as transparent or more transparent but this is still pretty impressive.

Earth to slashdotters (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32589314)

NASA is not a scientific organization. It is a political organization.

Re:Earth to slashdotters (1)

Fluffeh (1273756) | more than 4 years ago | (#32589358)

NASA is not a scientific organization. It is a political organization.

New boss. Same as the old boss.

Re:Earth to slashdotters (5, Interesting)

Pojut (1027544) | more than 4 years ago | (#32589414)

NASA is indeed a scientific organization. I know a decent number of people who have/currently do work for NASA, due to my step father being an electrical engineer for Orbital (formerly Fairchild) (he helped design some of the tools used in the earlier Hubble Repair Missions. He no longer works there [he is, for all intents and purposes, retired at this point], but he worked for Fairchild/Orbital for a little over 20 years.) They are a dedicated, unbelievably intelligent group of people, who are amongst the most passionate people in the whole country.

The people in charge of their funding, those are the folks that are political. The people who actually work for NASA are just trying to utilize what little freedom they have been given.

Well, in all fairness... (1)

Benfea (1365845) | more than 4 years ago | (#32590908)

...some NASA scientists commented on global warming, which many conservolibertarians believe is an international conspiracy by 90% of the planet's scientists, so from their point of view, NASA has been "political" in the past, and you're not going to be able to dissuade them from that conclusion.

Re:Earth to slashdotters (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32593092)

It is also a GOVERNMENT organization. Which implies that as "works of the United States government," the data is not covered by copyright, leaving aside the fact that mere data probably isn't copyrightable anyway.

Re:Earth to slashdotters (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32594338)

Yeah, but engineers are not scientists. Nasa is certainly a bunch of engineers.

Re:Earth to slashdotters (1)

AHuxley (892839) | more than 4 years ago | (#32589792)

NASA shielded people with political pasts of the good of US science.

Re:Data Archives (1)

John Hasler (414242) | more than 4 years ago | (#32589422)

There is no such thing as "proprietary" data ( or "propriety" data according to the article). Data is just published or unpublished. No one owns it.

Re:Data Archives (2, Interesting)

DJRumpy (1345787) | more than 4 years ago | (#32589554)

Who payed for Kepler? This isn't Schrodinger's Cat. Information can most certainly be 'owned', traded, or sold. Got Spam? Exactly...

If these guys won't release the data due to concerns that they won't spot the next 'earth-like planet' and claim the 'credit', then there are probably thousands who would eagerly take that chance. At this point, it comes down to someone simply evaluating the data. The 'discovery' has already been made in a manner of speaking, so now it's turned into some sort of ugly 'wheres Waldo'.

Re:Data Archives (1)

mcgrew (92797) | more than 4 years ago | (#32590286)

Sorry for the pedantry, but I've seen it too often lately on slashdot and there are a lot of non-English speakers here who will see it and think it's correct. It's spelled "paid", not "payed".

Re:Data Archives (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32590534)

Actually, either form applies.

PAYED
[A past tense and a past participle of pay]
To give money to in return for goods or services rendered

Re:Data Archives (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32591140)

No. 'Payed' is the past tense and past participle of pay, to slacken or to fall leeward.

It is NOT the past tense of "to give money in return for goods or services rendered".

Re:Data Archives (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32591302)

You might want to correct Websters then...

http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/payed [reference.com]

pay1
[pey] Show IPA verb, paid or ( Obsolete except for defs. 12, 24c ) payed; paying; noun, adjective
–verb (used with object)
1.
to settle (a debt, obligation, etc.), as by transferring money or goods, or by doing something: Please pay your bill.
2.
to give over (a certain amount of money) in exchange for something: He paid twenty dollars for the shirt.

Re:Data Archives (1)

zill (1690130) | more than 4 years ago | (#32591382)

[pey] Show IPA verb, paid or ( Obsolete except for defs. 12, 24c ) payed; paying; noun, adjective –verb (used with object)

Indeed "payed" is an acceptable spelling, except it doesn't apply in this case. For your reference definition 12 and 24 are:

12. Nautical . to let (a ship) fall off to leeward.
24. requiring subscribed or monthly payment for use or service: pay television.

Re:Data Archives (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32590994)

Sorry for the pedantry, but I've seen it too often lately on slashdot and there are a lot of non-English speakers here who will see it and think it's correct. It's spelled "paid", not "payed".

I thought 'payed' was the past tense of the verb 'pay' and 'paid' was the adjective to mean that someone payed whatever it is describing. "That bill is paid" vs "We payed that bill."

Re:Data Archives (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32592004)

I have to ask. If you have to apologize before posting, knowing your post is pedantic, then why do so? Do you think that the non-English speaking people whom you're defending, who happen to be reading an English forum, will be lost by the mis-spelling?

Re:Data Archives (1)

hrimhari (1241292) | more than 4 years ago | (#32595340)

As a non-native English speaker, I appreciated the correction.

His post was not necessarily pedantic, but could be considered so. He was kind to the original poster by apologizing for that potential, and to us, non-native English speakers, by giving us a service.

Thank you mcgrew.

Re:Data Archives (1)

CraftyJack (1031736) | more than 4 years ago | (#32589596)

There is no such thing as "proprietary" data ( or "propriety" data according to the article). Data is just published or unpublished. No one owns it.

In return for providing engineers with an excuse to build a spacecraft and collect the data, you get first crack at turning it into useful information. You then "publish" your analysis in the most prestigious journal you can.

Re:Data Archives (1)

j-b0y (449975) | more than 4 years ago | (#32589834)

"proprietary" is just the standard terminology for data that has not entered into the public domain - used to distinguish from "published" in the sense that the data has been analysed and the results published (in a journal etc etc).

Information may want to be free, but there's plenty of people who want to keep it locked up

Re:Data Archives (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32595352)

Really? I was of the opinion that proprietary data refers to the mechanism by which the data is encoded and/or to the control restrictions involved in using such a data format.

IMO: proprietary data = data stored in a non-published, non-shared or non-free format.

ie: it is the data format and not the data content to which the proprietary moniker applies.

I'm not saying this is how it is being used by the author and comments... but rather just breaking down how one could say "proprietary data" and not imply that the data payload itself is proprietary in nature. Thus it is fine and correct to say "proprietary data" in my book and that's why.

well its not very sensitive data (2, Interesting)

circletimessquare (444983) | more than 4 years ago | (#32589462)

if china or al qaeda get information about where exoplanets are, its not like bin laden is going to go there to hide. there's little anyone can do about exoplanets right now except look at them, and it will be this way for generations to come

but if the scientific research were about nanotechnology or particle physics, meanwhile, i would expect everything to be censored, as it should be, even if funded with tax dollars

Re:well its not very sensitive data (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32592462)

Claiming to be the first to discover something and having it named after you tends to be pretty big in certain circles. Namely, these.

Re:well its not very sensitive data (1)

grimJester (890090) | more than 4 years ago | (#32592870)

if china or al qaeda get information about where exoplanets are, its not like bin laden is going to go there to hide. there's little anyone can do about exoplanets right now except look at them, and it will be this way for generations to come but if the scientific research were about nanotechnology or particle physics, meanwhile, i would expect everything to be censored, as it should be, even if funded with tax dollars

Particle physics? Would you expect some Al-Quaida-affiliated dudes with beards and AK-47s to be able to exploit supersymmetry or the Higgs boson to destroy America? That's even more absurd than the antimatter in Angels & Demons. Ok, give me a plausible scenario where a superintelligent being can exploit knowledge of the top quark to actually do anything with what he finds in his kitchen. Come on, you must have something in mind here.

Re:Data Archives (4, Informative)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 4 years ago | (#32590052)

If you do a search there appears to be anywhere from half to two thirds of the data that are marked as proprietary data

Overall and despite the reported censoring of the best candidates

It's long been NASA policy that the PI and his team (the guys who've spent the last ___ years or decades bringing the instrument to fruition) get first crack at the data, which usually amounts to six months exclusive access. After that, the data is publicly released.
 
So it's neither censorship nor proprietary data in the usual senses either term are used in, so please be a bit careful in choosing your verbiage and making implications.

Re:Data Archives (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32590068)

... so please be a bit careful in choosing your verbiage and making implications.

LOL those are NASA's words.

Re:Data Archives (4, Informative)

toby34a (944439) | more than 4 years ago | (#32590296)

Mod this guy up. NASA will release the data in its entire form eventually, and in perpetuity once they get the first paper out of it. This is the same whenever NASA puts up a new satellite - they get the data, analyze it, publish the initial results, and release the entire record, for free, for anyone in the world to download. So there's an embargo period- it's not long, and it's not that significant. They are better at putting out free data (as is NOAA/NWS) then anyone else in the world- the Europeans and Chinese are exceptionally hard at getting data out of without paying for it or knowing someone behind the scenes. Anyone can download a GOES image or MODIS image from NOAA or NASA in the span of minutes to hours. It takes days (or months) to get SEVIRI or MERRA imagery from EUMETSAT.

Riiight (1)

ThatsNotPudding (1045640) | more than 4 years ago | (#32592388)

NASA will release the data in its entire form eventually, and in perpetuity once they get the first paper out of it.

Just after they finish up the Capricorn One project data.

Re:Riiight (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32604482)

NASA will release the data in its entire form eventually, and in perpetuity once they get the first paper out of it.

Just after they finish up the Capricorn One project data.

Your inane joke aside, according to this NASA statement [nasa.gov] (end of the third paragraph) the data on the currently withheld candidates will released in February 2011. By the way it is standard NASA policy is to require public release of science data within a year of collection, so the Kepler team doesn't even have to give up this much yet if they didn't want to!

Re:Data Archives (3, Insightful)

Bacon Bits (926911) | more than 4 years ago | (#32592254)

Exactly. It's only fair that the people who worked on the project get the chance to be credited with at least a few of the important discoveries.

Want first crack at the data? Launch your own satellite. Otherwise get in line.

Re:Data Archives (2, Informative)

BitZtream (692029) | more than 4 years ago | (#32594078)

Lets get one thing straight.

IT IS MY SATELLITE.

My tax money (and yours) paid for it and the salaries of everyone who worked on it.

On that note however, I still think its just fine and dandy that they get the first shot at looking at the data they busted their asses to get, especially since the reality of it is, they probably know at least 100 times more about what they are looking at than anyone on /.

I'm fine standing at the back of the line since I only paid a few cents to the project (like everyone else) and I'm highly unlikely to discover anything anyway. Let them get the credit they deserve, but make no mistake, I already paid dues for accessing the data. Without me (my tax money), it wouldn't exist.

Re:Data Archives (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32598986)

so, the people who worked on it must not pay taxes, or am i missing something here....

Drake equation? (3, Interesting)

dkleinsc (563838) | more than 4 years ago | (#32589338)

I'm wondering if all this effort in discovering exoplanets is getting us any closer to a better estimate of the fp (fraction of stars that have planets) factor of the Drake Equation. Obviously, a complete survey of the sky isn't practical, and we know that some exoplanets are going to be undetectable, and it might also be skewed by the scientifically minded looking closer at stars likely to have planets rather than stars unlikely to have planets, but at the same time we have a lot more to go on than we once did.

Re:Drake equation? (2, Interesting)

Kjella (173770) | more than 4 years ago | (#32589390)

Well, from what I've understood it'll always be easier to see planets that are huge and either a short distance from star or in a very elliptical orbit, so they'll be overrepresented. Also those in plane with the star, but that goes for small and big planets alike. But when we get a little more data, we can probably get good estimates by taking say the closest 1000 ly of stars (the most distant detected is already at 21500 ly) where we can see both small and large planets, longer orbital times etc. to get a representative sample than trying to extrapolate from all the planets found.

Re:Drake equation? (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32589448)

Kepler is designed in such a way to have a similar likelihood to see a large planet and a small planet. It is based on transit based system . ESA has a good article describing it http://www.esa.int/esaSC/SEMYZF9YFDD_index_0.html

but the chance of a large and a small planet passing in front of a sun is approximately the same and when that condition happen kepler has the sensitivity to pick up the difference for many of the close planets. So it should be able to determine fp with more accuracy

Re:Drake equation? (2, Interesting)

sznupi (719324) | more than 4 years ago | (#32589674)

It's approximately the same (in the given time of observations) only assuming comparable orbital periods, isn't it?

In our system that would overrepresent terrestrial planets. Who knows what is the norm... (most extrasolar planets being gas giants orbiting close to their star might be itself a selection bias)

Re:Drake equation? (2, Interesting)

farble1670 (803356) | more than 4 years ago | (#32590970)

yes but that's the thing about kepler,

it's aim is to discover h-congruous planets. kepler doesn't detect the planet, it detects the planet's transit across it's sun. it can find earth-sized planets in this way. they can estimate the size based on change in apparent magnitude.

also, based on the frequency of transit (kepler makes long-term observations of candidate planets) it can estimate the distance from the star, and based on the type / size of the star, it can figure out if the planet is in the "habitable zone" for C-based life, as we understand it anyway.

h-congruous? (1)

Sperbels (1008585) | more than 4 years ago | (#32591212)

Is "h-congruous" a scientifically accepted term? I've only ever seen it when reading Peter F Hamilton's books.

Re:h-congruous? (1)

farble1670 (803356) | more than 4 years ago | (#32591458)

probably not, sorry. i happen to be reading "pandora's star" now and it was stuck in my head obviously.

Re:Drake equation? (2, Interesting)

Zocalo (252965) | more than 4 years ago | (#32589452)

Possibly, but I don't think it's going to help much, at least not just yet. The problem is twofold; firstly the exoplanets found so far are generally inhospitable to all but the most exotic imaginings of what might constitute extra-terrestrial life. Secondly, the articles I have seen tend to imply that planets are much more plentiful than has been thought, and this is a big problem, because even the post pessimistic attempts at the Drake equation have the galaxy teaming with life. If planets are even more plentiful than previously assumed, then that should equate to even more life, so where is everybody? The answer seems to be that either one or more of the assumptions we are making about values in the Drake equation is wildly out of touch with reality or there is another factor to the equation that we are overlooking.

Re:Drake equation? (1)

sznupi (719324) | more than 4 years ago | (#32589728)

On our planet we have a technological civilisation sort of capable of making contact basically for less than a century. That's practically a rounding error in "life on our planet never advanced above the stage when the only way it makes its presence knows is due to wild transformation of planetary atmosphere"; and we couldn't really detect that yet. Kepler might be a proper start...

Re:Drake equation? (2, Insightful)

Kjella (173770) | more than 4 years ago | (#32589866)

At least some of the estimates I've seen seem to have a very high degree of "if we could, we would". But look at us, we haven't been to the Moon in decades, we probably could go to Mars at some huge expense, but we don't. Now scale this up to interstellar distances and you're looking at an absurdly expensive project that quite probably never will pay off, and at least with current technology take many thousands of years to do. Of course that time is a blink of an eye on the universal timescale, but as a barrier to actually doing it that's huge. And even a self-sustained colony wouldn't be scaled to launch crafts of its own, perhaps if you had terraforming technology so that in time that colony could become another "earth" they could but that's also stuff of serious science fiction. Otherwise it'll never evolve past the home star and a small circle of colonies.

Re:Drake equation? (1)

Lord Ender (156273) | more than 4 years ago | (#32593018)

Having children does not "pay off" but we do it anyway. Why should spreading to the starts be any different?

Re:Drake equation? (4, Insightful)

Chris Burke (6130) | more than 4 years ago | (#32591112)

Secondly, the articles I have seen tend to imply that planets are much more plentiful than has been thought, and this is a big problem, because even the post pessimistic attempts at the Drake equation have the galaxy teaming with life. If planets are even more plentiful than previously assumed, then that should equate to even more life, so where is everybody?

The galaxy could be teeming with life, it could even be teeming with intelligent life, and yet we could be completely oblivious to the fact.

This is only a shocking and serious problem if you had assumed that intelligent life would inevitably discover a way around the speed of light.

Think about it -- we're are only just able to identify the existence of planets around other stars, not even ones like ours that are at a comfortable distance from their stars, and still only in a tiny area of the sky. And we can do little more than identify their period and their mass. Actual spectroscopy of exoplanets is at an even more infant stage than simply finding them. The rocky planets we already know of could be teeming with life, and we just have no way of knowing yet!

So the only way we'd know about some advanced civilization is if they were spamming the galaxy with transmissions and probes, and the wave front/probe passed us during the narrow window during which we've been looking. And look at us -- the amount of radiation we as a civilization are blasting out into space has vastly reduced as we've figured out how to be more efficient, or replaced broadcast transmission with fiber-optic cables and so on. So the brief period of time in which we've been looking would have to coincide (accounting for distance) with the brief period in which they were broadcasting enough for us to see. And they have to have been close enough for us to be able to see. And we have to have noticed.

Hell, how do we know that an alien probe, launched thousands of years ago, didn't pass through our solar system just last year?

I'm not about to get all despondent about the Drake Equation based on the logic of "Well why haven't we seen alien life already?" Let's wait until we can do enough research on our own to get even the sketchiest idea of how common life itself is before we start getting worried about why aliens haven't said hello, okay?

Re:Drake equation? (1)

Sperbels (1008585) | more than 4 years ago | (#32591470)

Not to mention that this other intelligent life may not even find us particularly interesting even if they know about us. We have a tendency to think that any other intelligent life out there will be sort of like us, but with better technology. The probability is that any life out there that is advanced enough to be aware of us, is millions or billions of years past the state we're at. After all, we've only been indistinguishable from lower mammals for several thousand years, and that's only if you look really closely. We've only showed any sort of mastery of the physical world for around a century or two (depending on your point of view). An alien intelligence may not even see us as anything more than an primitive animal not much more advanced that bacteria...especially if intelligence is as common as the Drake equation suggests.

Re:Drake equation? (1)

Chris Burke (6130) | more than 4 years ago | (#32591816)

Yeah, there's all kinds of reasons why an alien wouldn't have announced their presence to us in a completely unmissable and unmistakable way. For instance they simply don't care to. Maybe they already know that life in the galaxy is common, and find our particular instance of it a curiosity but noting more, and like you said they see us as basically clever chimps. Maybe they have some kind of Prime Directive and actually try not to make themselves known. Maybe they've studied us to see if we're worth talking to, and decided we're assholes. :P

On another note, one way in which I've heard people argue for the "we'd have already seen them if they were there!" point of view in spite of the difficulties of a universe with a speed limit is by bringing up Von Neuman probes (basically self-replicating probes). Which leads me to suggest that we need another term in the Drake Equation to account for this case: the probability that an advanced civilization not only invents Von Neuman probes, but actually decides to unleash a self-replicating machine to spread across the galaxy for longer than their civilization and likely species will even exist.

It reminds me of Star Control II, where one of the species does exactly that. If you don't deal with the problem, pretty soon you're up to your neck in probes. But hey, that would be the rest of the galaxy's problem! :P

Re:Drake equation? (1)

DarthVain (724186) | more than 4 years ago | (#32593076)

On top of all that think about perspective time.

Assuming no one creates a magic wand that enables FTL travel, you start running into time troubles.

So considering how vast the universe is, and the time required to send anything (not to mention the resources required to), our entire civilization has been around for what, say 10,000 years for arguments sake. Now consider how long we have had any sort of activity that would be remotely visible from space, pollution, radiation, radio, etc... what *maybe* 100 years, hell call it 200 just for fun.

Whats 200 years in geologic terms? a micro second? In terms of the age of the vast universe and travel? I would say a very very very small number. A number so small I wouldn't know what to call it, likely only expressible in mathematical terms. Then have coincidentally have a probe or what have you arrive just at that slice of time.

Even given faster than light travel and massive scanning ranges, stuff is just so big out there, and we are so fleeting that the two might coincide is remote to say the least. In the absence of faster than light anything, I would say it is impossible for all intents and purposes.

I don't think we are alone in the dark, only that we will never bump into anyone, the dark room we are in is just too damn big. A good analogy (not sure of how accurate the scale, but likely it isn't even enough) might be two blind mice placed on opposite sides of the earth, even if they are actively looking for each other the likelihood that they will find each other is remote in the extreme.

Re:Drake equation? (2, Insightful)

BitZtream (692029) | more than 4 years ago | (#32594016)

The reality is ... our radiation is useless for others to detect us.

By the time any signal from our planet that we generate gets to any other known planet, its completely undetectable in the background noise, even if you KNOW the signal is there and exactly what you're looking for, you still couldn't find it.

Re:Drake equation? (1)

Xyrus (755017) | more than 4 years ago | (#32597178)

And then, of course, there is a possibility that they are aware of us and:

1) Don't care
2) Are morally repulsed at how easily we seem to engage in mass atrocities against our own species
3) Want to keep it a surprise when they show up to wipe us out to plunder our natural resources
4) etc.

We have a tendency to assume that if there is other intelligent life out there that it would WANT to make itself known to us. That's very egotistical. Given our colorful history, I'm not sure I would want to meet us either.

Re:Drake equation? (1)

Chris Burke (6130) | more than 4 years ago | (#32597766)

Seriously. I should have said "this is only a problem if you have assumed that intelligent life would inevitably get around the speed of light, and want to announce themselves to us".

Which are a couple of pretty big assumptions.

Re:Drake equation? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32600322)

From the Wikipedia:

N = R f_p n_e f_L f_i f_c L

        R = the average rate of star formation per year in our galaxy
        f_p = the fraction of those stars that have planets
        n_e = the average number of planets that can potentially support life per star that has planets
        f_L = the fraction of the above that actually go on to develop life at some point
        f_i = the fraction of the above that actually go on to develop intelligent life
        f_c = the fraction of civilizations that develop a technology that releases detectable signs of their existence into space
        L = the length of time such civilizations release detectable signals into space

Drake's values were

N = 10 × 0.5 × 2 × 1 × 0.01 × 0.01 × 10,000 = 10

I'm feel like 0.1 is way to high for f_L and f_i. I see no reason why f_i might not be like 10^-20 or less.

Re:Drake equation? (2, Interesting)

Plekto (1018050) | more than 4 years ago | (#32591666)

The answer seems to be that either one or more of the assumptions we are making about values in the Drake equation is wildly out of touch with reality or there is another factor to the equation that we are overlooking.
*****
Several of the typical assumptions in the Drake equation *are* off by a couple of orders of magnitude. My astronomy class back in the early 90s decided to figure out a more reasonable number and only concentrate on planets that could support any form of life (only variable we were really looking for was liquid water) The estimate came out to something like 1/50 stars. I felt it was closer to 1/20 myself if you added moons and so on.

But that's a big difference compared to "Hi, how are you?" Almost all of it would be microbes and simple plants and so on.

We plugged that back into the equation and added in the fact that we would be looking for a slice of 200 years, tops, for radio waves(the assumption was that they would figure out FTL/point-to-point communication * by then), and then a 25% chance that they didn't blow themselves up/have a disaster/etc before they got there, we came up with 4 or 5 in our galaxy. Anything more advanced would not be using means to communicate that we can detect or will avoid us if they are ever aware of us, that is. Given the raw materials in the outer solar system (Ort cloud, Kupier Belt, etc) it's likely that most civilizations also wouldn't leave their solar system for many thousands of years except to maybe send a probe to check something out. And only if it's close by. (if you scaled the galaxy to the size of your living room wall, you'd hardly see 50-100LY as a movement at all, which is as far as most conventional/slower than light exploration is likely to happen)

*Note - this was more than a decade before theories about quantum entanglement and micro-wormholes became well-known, but we felt it was reasonable that any advanced civilization would have a super-sized version of the internet even if they couldn't ever physically travel faster than light.

Re:Drake equation? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32589828)

What's great about this data release is already we've got a better estimate of planet distributions. There are several great graphs comparing the known distribution of planet counts by size to what's been observed. Most of what we'd observed had been the hot jovian type, but Kepler is seeing lots of smaller than Neptune stuff. It's pretty weak at this point, but the data available for the 33.5 day and lower periods has a 1/R2 relationship to observation counts.

Re:Drake equation? (1)

ImABanker (1439821) | more than 4 years ago | (#32589838)

I'm curious about whether the number of planets of the type that are detectable with current technology can provide us with estimates of total earth-like planets. For instance, if we know that we can only currently detect large mass planet orbiting quickly, and have found that X% of stars seem to have them, what does that imply for small rocky planets that are not close to their stars? As our technology improves and we expand the set of types of planets that we are able to observe, it seems like we should be able to refine our estimate of the fraction of stars that have earth-like planets.

Re:Drake equation? (1)

Comboman (895500) | more than 4 years ago | (#32589986)

Even if we did know fp, we would still only be taking the Drake equation from 1 known and 6 unknown terms to 2 known and 5 unknown terms. The answer goes from "haven't got a clue" to "pretty much haven't got a clue".

Obligatory XKCD (2, Funny)

Hurricane78 (562437) | more than 4 years ago | (#32590770)

Obligatory XKCD: http://xkcd.com/384/ [xkcd.com]

NASA is just acting on orders: (5, Funny)

tverbeek (457094) | more than 4 years ago | (#32589388)

"All these worlds are yours, except for this list of 400. Attempt no landings there."

Re:NASA is just acting on orders: (0, Flamebait)

daveime (1253762) | more than 4 years ago | (#32589420)

Because they have oil on them, and are therefore the automatic property of the USA.

2003 Called (1)

alfs boner (963844) | more than 4 years ago | (#32594182)

It wants its joke back.

I worked with a woman who left astrophysics... (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32589480)

research because of data access problems (well, and the pay). Senior researchers get
first crack at the data, then the next level gets access, finally grad students get
the detritus to pick over. The argument is that that was the reward for all the work
the senior researchers had to do to get the project funded and underway. Could
be true I guess.

Candidates? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32589498)

Do we get to vote on which ones are awarded planetary status? Or is that just the IAU.

I am still annoyed about Pluto getting voted off the list of planets...

Re:Candidates? (2, Interesting)

sznupi (719324) | more than 4 years ago | (#32589612)

The IAU definition of a planet that you speak of is about Solar System only. Why would you be annoyed about status of some rock anyway? (except for trying to maintain consistency of course, which the IAU tries to do)

Besides, there will be quite a mess with extrasolar systems too; what is a giant planet and what is a sub-brown dwarf? Or what about moons of gas giants that will turn out to be larger than Earth?

Re:Candidates? (2, Interesting)

MozeeToby (1163751) | more than 4 years ago | (#32589994)

Besides, there will be quite a mess with extrasolar systems too; what is a giant planet and what is a sub-brown dwarf? Or what about moons of gas giants that will turn out to be larger than Earth?

A sub-brown giant is a body with less than 13 Jupiter masses that doesn't orbit a start or stellar remnant. If it goes around the star and is below that size limit it is a planet. A moon the size of the earth is still a moon by definition, size alone doesn't determine what is or isn't a planet; if it orbits a planet it is a moon. An as yet unanswered question would be "What about two planet sized bodies that orbit around a common center of gravity?"

Re:Candidates? (1)

sznupi (719324) | more than 4 years ago | (#32590108)

Sure, my point wasn't that we don't work on quite...workable definitions; just that there is still some ambiguity to work around, and will be more the more we discover. What about sub-brown dwarfs that coalesced from molecular cloud like any ordinary star and then were captured? What about very giant planets (also in origin, from protoplanetary disc) that were ejected? (nvm the difficulty of distinguishing the two). Yeah, a moon is totally dominated by influence of its planet - doesn't stop some people (Pluto is quite a bit dominated by Neptune after all)

Hell, what about Jupiter? The center of mass of Jupiter - Sun system lies slightly outside the Sun.

Re:Candidates? (4, Funny)

Narishma (822073) | more than 4 years ago | (#32591160)

if it orbits a planet it is a moon

Not necessarily. It could be a giant space station.

Re:Candidates? (1)

mcgrew (92797) | more than 4 years ago | (#32592432)

The moon is moving slowly away from the earth, so in time that would apply to the earth/moon.

Approximately 50% of your base... (3, Funny)

moondawg14 (1058442) | more than 4 years ago | (#32589622)

... are belong to us.

Wow! (1)

captainpanic (1173915) | more than 4 years ago | (#32589626)

752 possible planets! W00t! That's very cool. And the planets with an orbit of well over 1 year are probably not even found, so the number will shoot up even more. Awesome.

I don't care whether NASA keeps some data for themselves. They don't plan to occupy/invade/colonize anyway (too far away). So, they must simply want to publish the data themselves after looking at it a bit more. Let them. I'm not gonna do it myself anyway.

Re:Wow! (1)

AHuxley (892839) | more than 4 years ago | (#32589756)

A skilled perl writer with a fast adsl link could link us the 752 entry database.
Whats the poppler like treats to lights and probings ratio?

Planet Pantent Trolls (2, Funny)

Goffee71 (628501) | more than 4 years ago | (#32589700)

Pretty sure you can't patent a celestial body. Also pretty sure that some idiot will try.

Re:Planet Pantent Trolls (1)

Hurricane78 (562437) | more than 4 years ago | (#32590892)

Though shit. I already patented patenting a celestial body. Cry me a river!

Re:Planet Pantent Trolls (1)

not-my-real-name (193518) | more than 4 years ago | (#32593002)

The good news is that the patents will have expired long before we get there.

Re:Planet Pantent Trolls (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32593260)

Given the current state of our technology, any patent would expire (20 years) long before any serious plans were made to go there.

OTOH, that raises an interesting question. For statute of limitations and other time periods of legal interest, whose frame of reference do you use? If 20 years has passed on earth, and only 5 years shiptime on a near light speed ship, is a patent still enforceable on the ship? Assume the ship is an official US embassy (therefore US soil) and a judge capable of exercising jurisdiction is on the ship.

Re:Planet Pantent Trolls (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32593846)

Pretty sure you can't patent a celestial body. Also pretty sure that some idiot will try.

Pretty sure that another idiot will grant the patent.

Re:Planet Pantent Trolls (1)

Matrix14 (135171) | more than 4 years ago | (#32600278)

Yes, but you can name them.

Just Tell Me... (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32589780)

...which of the 752 I, as a tax paying American, didn't pay for, and I'll tell you which ones you can keep.

Government research (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32589794)

I work in government research (not NASA, but a different department) and withholding data for a time period (usually 6 months or so) is the norm -- the people who do the research want to receive credit for that research, rather than publishing the data, someone else writing on it and publishing and receiving credit without doing the research.

Re:Government research (1)

AHuxley (892839) | more than 4 years ago | (#32589960)

Someone else writing on it and getting peer reviewed publishing is kind of like research.
US tax payers still fund this for all their scientists to drool over.
Dont worry, soon it will all be secret weaponology work and public Mount Ararat data.

Woooow! oh my.... (-1, Flamebait)

MacGyver2210 (1053110) | more than 4 years ago | (#32589940)

Yes! Now that we know extra-solar planets are more likely than we thought to be habitable, let's go and.....

...cancel our space program.

Way to go NASA.

Re:Woooow! oh my.... (3, Informative)

Convector (897502) | more than 4 years ago | (#32590154)

If by "cancel", you mean "increase the budget of [nasa.gov] ", then yes. It's only Constellation that's getting canceled. Science is getting a boost.

Re:Woooow! oh my.... (1)

bware (148533) | more than 4 years ago | (#32596194)

Some science is getting a boost. Mostly earth observing sciences. Astrophysics is taking a cut.

Re:Woooow! oh my.... (1)

goodmanj (234846) | more than 4 years ago | (#32590352)

Canceling the manned spaceflight program isn't the same as canceling the space program.

(shrug) (1)

argStyopa (232550) | more than 4 years ago | (#32590322)

We're in the nascent stages of considering what's the next thing to investigate. Granted, we're a HUGE step away from being able to do anything with the data we find (like send a probe, etc.).

Nevertheless, if you think this ISN'T going to play out *precisely* the same way that the discovery/exploration/exploitation of the New World did (ie entirely based on greed + geopolitics), then I'd love to hear your assumptions about essential changes in human nature since the 16th century.

Re:(shrug) (1)

geekoid (135745) | more than 4 years ago | (#32591528)

for starters, going in and killing natives is not frowned upon; which is a long way from the 16th centuries view of 'kill them heathens'

Have you noticed anything odd about wars? Fewer and fewer people are killed. whole sale carpet bombing is frowned upon. War is hell, but it is hell for fewer people and less often then much of human history.

Are there groups still clinger to what they think are the old ways? sure. But overall it's a lot better.

I think there would be a huge outcry if we sent ships for the purpose of killing and taking over.

Re:(shrug) (1)

largesnike (762544) | more than 4 years ago | (#32598428)

...provided that anyone significant heard about it.

I remember Shell cooperating with the Nigerian Government to eradicate any significant Ogoni opposition to oil exploitation in their tribal lands. This involved killing, kidnapping, rape, torture etc. in the 1990s.

Standard procedure (5, Insightful)

goodmanj (234846) | more than 4 years ago | (#32590338)

This is standard operating procedure for major spacecraft missions. Cassini and Galileo missions to Saturn and Jupiter did the same thing. Kepler's choice of the word "proprietary" is unfortunate: Cassini and Galileo used "embargoed", which is less of a Slashdot buzzword.

To understand why it works this way, you need to realize that your average spacecraft scientist will spend their *entire career* designing and implementing one mission. Two if they're lucky.

So suppose you've been working on making the Kepler mission a reality since 1990. Every day for 20 years you've spent designing instruments, writing proposals, doing proof-of-concept studies, to make it happen. Then one day, the mission launches, and you release data to the public in realtime. The next day, some random dude like myself hits your website, happens on just the right file, writes a quick note to Nature, and gets the credit for discovering the first Earthlike extrasolar planet. You get a brief mention in the acknowledgements.

Folks on Slashdot are used to thinking of the value of data as measured in pennies or dollars. This data's value is measured in lifetimes. Without this sort of "embargo" system, no scientist could afford to pursue a multidecadal project, and cool things like Kepler wouldn't happen.

Re:Standard procedure (1)

zeropointburn (975618) | more than 4 years ago | (#32593858)

Ironically, this is the root argument for patents. It is also one of the few examples where the intended result actually occurs. Six months is a blink of the eye to analyze this kind of data, but it does give a valuable head start. Now if only we could get copyright trimmed down to a reasonable duration (like 20 years).
On-topic, I agree that the embargo is essential to the overall process and does not harm scientific progress. After the customary 6-month wait, the data had better be released for free.

Closed-source planet data? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32590552)

Nothing GNU here, please move along.

To be fair, they ARE going to double-check the data to make sure they don't have false-positives.
I guess it is somewhat important to validate scientific observations.

Big takeaway here: more Earth-like planets. (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32590584)

Most of the previously-discovered exoplanets are Jupiter-sized, and many are in close and/or eccentric orbits which would seem to preclude Earth-like planets. BUT this MIGHT have been due to sampling bias from the methods we'd been using. So this mission was really important to determine if big, disruptive planets in close orbits were the rule (thus making Earth-analogs less common) or an exception that was just easy to detect.

What this mission seems to show so far is that - at least for very close orbiting planets - rocky worlds are much more common than gas giants. This is a very, very good sign, because if the 1/R^2 relation holds at orbits around 1 AU, there will be about as many systems with Earth-sized planets in the habitable zone as there are systems with larger (2+ Earth-radius) planets. Combining what we learn here from what we've learned before, it seems that *when* big planets are in closer orbits than they are in our solar system, they tend to have disruptive orbits, *but* these are not the common case.

The big question will be where the 1/R^2 relation between planetary radius and frequency shown in this study breaks down. In our solar system, there are two Earth-sized bodies, a number of bodies between 1/4 and 1/2 Earth radius (especially if you count moons), and many, many smaller bodies. But the smallest body in a planetary orbit is only about 1/3 Earth size. Again, this could be error due to very small sample size but there is probably a minimum mass/radius to achieve a stable, clear orbit; I'm still guessing it's considerably smaller than Earth, however, and so our chances of finding Earth analogues in habitable orbits is hopefully quite good.

three regular eclipses to verify (2, Interesting)

peter303 (12292) | more than 4 years ago | (#32590956)

Most of these data were just a single transit. Some could have been a non-orbital passing objct, a sunspot, etc.

It would take 2-3 years to verify an Earth-like planet, so 700 already is amazing.

keeping the best half (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32591608)

"This is exciting news, because even if only half of the possibilities pan out as exoplanets (as the Kepler team expects) the results would still almost double the count of known planets.... Controversy has erupted however because NASA has decided to allow the Kepler team to withhold 400 of the best candidates for its own examination, releasing about 350 others to the worldwide community."

So by the Kepler team's estimation, they're giving the worldwide community nothing?

These are great candidates (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32591838)

It would be a real shame if you don't hire them.

We could find alien life pretty soon (3, Interesting)

Hazelfield (1557317) | more than 4 years ago | (#32592480)

I hope more people share my opinion that finding and characterizing exoplanets is THE most exciting scientific field of our time. My elderly astronomy professor at Stockholm University said three years ago that he hoped to live to see the day when they discover alien life the first time.

His explained that all the evidence is out there - all we need is better instruments. With Kepler we can now find many more planets. If some of them turn out to be of roughly the same size as Earth and in the habitable zone, the next thing to do would be analyzing the atmospheric spectrum of the planet. Presence of free oxygen in such a spectrum would be a VERY strong indication of life. Oxygen is highly reactive and if not for the constant re-supplying of free oxygen by plants, the percentage of free oxygen in the atmosphere would be next to nothing.

Best thing of all is that the upcoming James Webb Space Telescope will be able to measure spectra from exoplanets (maybe just jovian planets though, not sure on the details so someone please enlighten me). This means that with extreme luck, the first discovery of alien life could come as soon as 2014 (not that I actually believe that, but just so you get a sense of the timescale.) Extra-terrestrial life has for a long time had a reputation of being a subject for philosophers and conspiracy theorists, but this isn't sci-fi or some far-flung ideas that will never work - this is real science and we're doing it now.

The next few decades could very well turn out to be the most exciting years ever in the history of astronomy. I just wish more people could realize how cool this really is.

lost in space (1)

CarpetShark (865376) | more than 4 years ago | (#32593702)

NASA has decided to allow the Kepler team to withhold 400 of the best candidates for its own examination

This is ridiculous. What are they going to do, if not publicise the information --- go conquer the planets for themselves?

Re:lost in space (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32604364)

NASA has decided to allow the Kepler team to withhold 400 of the best candidates for its own examination

This is ridiculous. What are they going to do, if not publicise the information --- go conquer the planets for themselves?

They are going to publish the data on these 400 candidates, just in 6 months or so instead of now! Getting the opportunity to name these objects and be the first ones to publish is a big thing in professional astronomical science, and NASA is allowing these researchers this opportunity (some of whom probably aren't even on NASA's payroll) as a reward for working on a project long before success was certain. Do you begrudge them a little credit and professional clout for the years of work they put in?

I fucking paid for it (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32594626)

And I'm still paying. I don't care what the reasons are, I'm a taxpayer and I'm paying for your fucking science project. I OWN the results motherfuckers. Get outa your babyseats and give me what I'm paying for. End.

Re:I fucking paid for it (1)

Mindcontrolled (1388007) | more than 4 years ago | (#32600158)

And I'm still paying. I don't care what the reasons are, I'm a taxpayer and I'm paying for your fucking science project. I OWN the results motherfuckers. Get outa your babyseats and give me what I'm paying for. End.

Given that you only paid for a fraction of the project with your personal taxes, you only own a fraction of the results. I estimate that at about 2 bit. Here they are: 01. Enjoy, but don't spend them all at once.

How long (1)

Hognoxious (631665) | more than 4 years ago | (#32595944)

How long before one of these candidates gets elected in South Carolina?

so much for honsety in this profession (1)

PDX (412820) | more than 4 years ago | (#32596358)

This will start another trial over hacking and the publics' access to their own data from their own govt. satellites.

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