Astronomers gear up for a new year of planet discovery

With summer now over and autumn coming, astronomy season has changed in the Washington area. Don’t worry, astronomers have still got plenty to do, including finding planets around other stars and better understanding dark…

Astronomers gear up for a new year of planet discovery

With summer now over and autumn coming, astronomy season has changed in the Washington area. Don’t worry, astronomers have still got plenty to do, including finding planets around other stars and better understanding dark energy. After all, it’s pretty remarkable that we think we have found something like 14 Earth-size planets orbiting four stars in the habitable zone. Astronomers think a billion planets are out there, if only they knew exactly where to look.

The solar system is not the only bright spot for the solar system. NASA just announced that the recently created Kepler mission has found an additional 10 new planets orbiting stars that are very dim and cool. A few of them are exactly the kind astronomers want to find planets orbiting, and that’s just the beginning.

“A vast majority of the universe may have planets, and perhaps with that knowledge we will know where life came from,” said NASA Deputy Administrator Dava Newman in a release.

Another science category that keeps astronomers actively searching for life is for the very origins of Earth’s atmosphere. This was a hot topic last month after writing professor of atmospheric science at Wofford College Richard Wolski published a paper detailing his theory. According to Wolski, scientists are at a critical junction. We have the technology and technological know-how, but we’re missing the ability to recreate the atmosphere within our planet.

Wolski’s work got the attention of a couple dozen astronomers, a group that includes Leon Dubost, assistant professor of astronomy at George Mason University. Dubost was one of eight experts around the world, including Wolski, who reviewed the paper for publication in the journal Science in early September. “I think that in order to really understand our place in the solar system and in the entire solar system, you need to know how our atmosphere is being created,” Dubost said.

Dubost, along with NASA’s principal investigator for the James Webb Space Telescope, launched a crowdfunding campaign to help Wolski fund the rest of his project. Dubost raised over $9,500 of the goal of $140,000 on Kickstarter last week.

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