So you’ve probably heard the news, but just in case I thought I’d mention it here. The Kepler observatory, up there in orbit keeping an eye on things for us, has found a bumper crop of planets orbiting a sun-like star a mere 2000 or so light years away. It is amazing what you can see if you look closely. Every now and again the star’s brightness dips ever so slightly, and that tells you something has passed in front of it – another planet. Or in this case, once you’ve analyzed the pattern of dips, as the team of astronomers did, six planets!
These are not earths, although the headlines all over the news sure try to grab you in with the idea that they are, but they show such a range of properties – in just this little cluster, and so relatively early in Kepler’s lifetime – that it gives a lot of hope that we’ll soon be able to reliably detect planets with similar properties to the one we know does support life (er… ours) and in the Goldilocks zone too (not too hot… not too cold).
Here’s the NASA-Kepler press release, the Nature paper, and Phil has done an excellent post with more details. There’s also a related story about the 54 candidate Goldilocks planets, and you can find it here and here.