Nature authors on exoplanets: Earth-sized, not Earth-like

Here's the abstract of a just-published paper:

Nature 470, 438 (24 February 2011) doi:10.1038/470438b NASA's Kepler mission to find habitable planets orbiting Sun-like stars has turned up its first rocky planet. The project uses the Kepler space telescope to identify extrasolar planets by watching for dips in the intensity of light from up to 170,000 target stars. Natalie Batalha of San Jose State University in California and her group spotted Kepler 10b, which is about 4.56 times the mass of Earth. Although similar in size to Earth, its orbit lasts just 0.84 days, making it likely that the planet is a scorched, waterless world with a sea of lava on its starlit side.

Despite the pop science media's tendency to reach for gee whiz adjectives, many are laudably resisting a temptation to which Carl Sagan certainly succumbed at times, to write as though desired finds were just around the corner because … well, because otherwise we would seem too important. See, for example, "Hostility to life is norm for exoplanet, senior astronomer says" and "Immanuel Kant, meet Carl Sagan and Frank Drake.

Or do they fear that funding would be cut? That seems unlikely because the public worldwide likes the show anyway. With apologies to Phantom of the Opera,

The whole cast disappears

But the crowd still cheers.

Which is as it should be. The trouble begins if some insist that the phantom is really an alien being.

(Note: : The Nature paper costs US$32.)

Denyse O'Leary is co-author of The Spiritual Brain.

5 thoughts on “Nature authors on exoplanets: Earth-sized, not Earth-like

  1. Kepler is a remarkable program – new exoplanets are being discovered at an astonishing rate. It wasn’t that long agone when it was even doubted whether planets could be detected at all. So to now have discovered over 1400 and even to be able to characterize them, is incredible. Profound? Maybe not, but probably to the people who work in this field, I’m sure they consider it quite extraordinary.
    I think though it’s a shame Ms O’Leary has to be so cynical about these discoveries and is always constantly pouring on cold water about these things. Sure, it’s healthy to be somewhat skeptical at times, but the constant cyncism is wearing (and honestly doesn’t really provide any useful insight).

  2. Emma, this is perhaps three times you have written in to complain about this. Why are you still reading the blog?
    I don’t care if you continually post complaints,but it certainly makes me wonder why you don’t have better things to do.

  3. Denyse – you’re right. I guess I’m one of those persons just drawn to train wrecks. Fortunately though there is some good science writing out there to go discover! Have fun in your little pond!

  4. It does seem though that Ms O’Leary has kind of monopolized both this blog and UnommonDescent. It would be nice to hear other voices. And I think, yes, perhaps it would be good to have somewhat more positive writing too.

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