earthlike planet

It’s a perennial question: Are there other Earth-like planets – or planets full of life – out there?

New research suggests that Earth-like planets are actually pretty common, according to an analysis of the results of Nasa’s Kepler mission. As the diameter of a planet decreases, its frequency increases. Once the diameter reaches twice the diameter of Earth, it remains about the same.

If you love astronomy like we do, then this news should be exciting. The research focused on Earth-like stars in a similar orbit as Mercury, but the article noted that “further evidence suggests that the fraction of stars having planets the size of Earth or slightly bigger orbiting within Earth-like orbits may amount to 50 percent.”

This is timely news, especially as the availability of resources on our planet becomes more worrisome. We finally have new planets for us humans to dominate and exploit of resources. We can skip any lessons in moderation — our galaxy is a treasure trove of planets waiting to be harvested!

Not to mention all of the food. Orion’s baked space-beef. Soda made from corn starch from the corn planet Gliese 876 d.

And it only gets better if there is intelligent life. Let’s get some space wars going on. Finally something to unite the human race: killing other intelligent life. Think of the economic and social benefits of a totally awesome space war.

“The Earth Empire.” We like the sound of that.

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Not really… but close enough. They may not be the diamonds you hoped for, but do these twinkling stars bring you tranquility, and do you ever wonder what makes them shine oh so bright?

Perhaps date night is approaching, and you are racking your brain trying to come up with a romantic plan for your beloved. Maybe you’re simply trying to find a way to ditch nerding out with your textbooks on a Saturday night.

No matter the reason, you are not alone. Join all the coolest partiers in town at the Lawrence Hall of Science Plaza every Saturday 8:00-10:00 p.m, until March and from 9:00-11:00 p.m. beginning April. Not only will you get free access to telescopes, you will also get to speak to astronomers and learn about our vast and vivid galaxy. Bill Nye, our favorite science guy would be so proud!

Image Source: Smithsonian under Creative Commons
Saturday Night Stargazing at the Lawrence Hall of Science Plaza:  []


As anyone who has taken Astro C10 knows, (and yeah, that’s probably most Berkeley students) the solar system is really cool. Just ask anyone: new stuff shows up on planets all the time. For example, a brown stripe that had disappeared on Jupiter is now back.

We’ll leave the technical jargon to the people who, you know, actually know stuff, but we are still able to coo in awe at this discovery. An amateur astronomer noticed the stripe’s reappearance and UC Berkeley profs read more »

outer space

At least, some people don’t think so. UC Berkeley astronomers Andrew Howard and Geoffrey Marcy believe that our fair planet is far from being one of a kind — in fact, their research claims that there are more than just a few other Earth-size planets out there in the ether.

The two are taking into account the “galactic preference for smaller planets” (think Earth and Venus versus a big ol’ thing like Jupiter) and have gone on to suggest that, “almost one quarter of the stars similar to our sun have Earth-size planets orbiting them.” Considering that heliocentrism has really only been accepted for the past few centuries, Howard and Marcy’s work just goes to show how far we’ve come from thinking that we were at the center of the universe and all that jazz.

Before you get too excited and start looking for your long-lost twin (only a few trillion light-years away!), this doesn’t necessarily mean that these planets share any of Earth’s other super cool (and as of now, unique) characteristics — an optimal distance from the sun, clouds that don’t kill you with their toxicity, intelligent life … But, hey, it sure is fun to imagine that maybe they could.

Image Source: NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center under Creative Commons
Galaxy May Have Gobs of Earth-Size Planets [The Washington Post]


Ever heard of Formalhaut B? Contrary to what you might be thinking, it’s not a Berlin-based German techno band. It is in fact an extrasolar “Jupiter-sized” planet, and its picture is worth … well, you know the cliche, so let’s just say it’s worth a lot of dough.

Berkeley astronomer and adjunct associate professor of astronomy (try saying that five times fast) Paul Kalas and his team members published the Hubble Telescope image in Science magazine in 2008. And now the image has just won “the 2009 Newcomb Cleveland Prize of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) for the most outstanding paper published in Science between June 1, 2008, and May 31, 2009.”

OK, OK, not too shabby. The picture along with the paper written about it will earn the team $25,000 to share. And just hear them talk about the visual: “the image of Fomalhaut, its visually striking belt of comet dust and its planet has become an iconic image of a planetary system,” Kalas gushed.

Oh yeah, baby. Can you feel the (extrasolar) heat?

Image source: NASA/ESA
Images of extrasolar planets win award for most oustanding papers in Science [UC Berkeley News]

Hold onto your Catbus, ‘cuz it’s about to get crazy!

Chancellor Robert Birgeneau signed proverbial nuptials with UC Berkeley’s Japanese counterpart, the University of Tokyo. Esteemed to be among the “top public universities in the world,” the two schools plan to exchange brain power primarily in the fields of physics, math, astronomy and cosmology.

UT is even going to build a satellite facility on our campus. Now that’s commitment.

Image Source: Jim Epler under Creative Commons
University of Tokyo, UC Berkeley to exchange scholars in cosmology, other areas [UC Berkeley News]

Astronomy C 10, anyone? Anyone? (Bueller?)

Whether or not you’re in Alexei Filippenko’s class, you’ve probably heard about the enthralling astronomical research at UC Berkeley. In fact, our very own Geoff Marcy was a member of one of the main teams that discovered the first of these little beauties. Extrasolar planets (or exoplanets, if you want to get cute) are planets that orbit stars outside of our solar system. And guess what? We’ve just gotten one step closer to getting a better look at them.

That’s right, folks—to infinity and beyond is read more »


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A joint project between UC Berkeley and UC Santa Cruz is spending around $10 million to build a telescope that will look for alternate Earths (not to be confused with alternate reality Earths).

We know what you’re thinking. This is exactly what we need to win a war against aliens, and it looks like others would agree.

“We told the Navy we would be helping them with read more »



Break out your telescopes, kids—it’s the International Year of Astronomy. (We’re talking about the stuff in the sky, not your love forecast. Just checking.)

A joint effort between the International Astronomical Union (IAU) and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), this year’s theme is “The Universe, Yours to Discover.” Apparently it’s a big deal as they’ve already named a small solar system body in its honor. read more »

Big news, earthlings. We’ve known for a while that our l’il ol’ solar system wasn’t the only one plugging away in the whole Great Beyond, but it wasn’t until this week that astronomers managed to get photographic proof of a planet orbiting a star that isn’t our sun.

Researchers from all over the place (but most prominently from our beloved Berkeley) worked together to snap the money shot of a big, bright, ringed exoplanet making its way across the universe– about 25 light years away. The Hubble Space Telescope was their weapon of choice, and now they’re using the Very Large Telescope to help further study this very large planet, since–compared to other images, at least–the thing’s still kind of a cosmic Loch Ness Monster. Except, um, it actually exists. read more »

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