From “Astronomers Find 18 New Planets: Discovery Is the Largest Collection of Confirmed Planets Around Stars More Massive Than the Sun” (ScienceDaily, Dec. 2, 2011) , we learn:
Discoveries of new planets just keep coming and coming. Take, for instance, the 18 recently found by a team of astronomers led by scientists at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech).
“It’s the largest single announcement of planets in orbit around stars more massive than the sun, aside from the discoveries made by the Kepler mission,” says John Johnson, assistant professor of astronomy at Caltech and the first author on the team’s paper, which was published in the December issue of The Astrophysical Journal Supplement Series. The Kepler mission is a space telescope that has so far identified more than 1,200 possible planets, though the majority of those have not yet been confirmed.
So many of them might not exist?
By searching the wobbly stars’ spectra for Doppler shifts — the lengthening and contracting of wavelengths due to motion away from and toward the observer — the team found 18 planets with masses similar to Jupiter’s.
Question: These planets are unlikely to support life, and no one has suggested they do. But what if we find 18,000 planets that don’t support life and none that do? Would it be time for a revisit of the basic “They’re Out There” hypothesis?
“They” may very well be out there. Or not. But at what point would we be justified in using cold analysis – as opposed to brave, faint hopes – to make a decision?
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