Lots of Earth-like Planets

Wow. We all knew the launch of the Kepler Telescope would likely reveal a few interesting  Earth-like planets that might be capable of harboring life. I don’t think anyone expect hundreds of Earth-like planet candidates to be discovered within a year of its operation. But no one, not even NASA, expected Kepler astronomer Dimitar Sasselov to spill the beans about it, without any authorization whatsoever, at the TEDGlobal conference at Oxford! Oops. Here’s the offending slide.

Much to the dismay of NASA and other Kepler astronomers, Dr. Sasselov announced in several slides during his presentation, preliminary data that indicates Kepler has already discovered nearly 150 Earth-like (meaning less than 2x Earth’s radius) planets. These are, of course, unconfirmed findings, and Kepler will continue to observe these candidate planets over the next few years. Sasselov then went on to speculate that, based on statistical projections, there may be as many as 100 million Earth like planets in our little galaxy.

Hooray! You might exclaim, except that Sasselov did this without permission. The Kepler data has been kept under tight guard, which has mystified some, but apparently it was for good reason. Yes, they may well have found nearly 150 Earth-like candidate planets, and as exciting as that is, scientific professionalism requires rigorous testing and confirmation that they really are Earth-like planets before such astronomically earth-shaking, far-reaching, and likely sensational results are released to the public. What’s more, Dr. Sasselov made absolutely no mention of these findings in his article in the newly published August 2010 edition of Scientific American. It’s almost like he promised an “exclusive scoop” to TED.  Hmmm…

You can see the complete TED talk below. If you start to doze off, just skip to 8 minutes into the video for the tasty bits.

Anyway, you can read more about this exciting-yet-troubling-from-a-professional-point-of-view scientific faux pas on this article at Discovery News, Kepler Scientist: ‘Galaxy is Rich in Earth-Like Planets’.

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