Habitable Zone

Never mind that you would have to travel at the speed of light for 500 years to reach it – an earth like planet has been discovered in the “habitable zone” of a distant star. NASA’s Kepler telescope has identified “Kepler-186f” as the first concrete proof “habitable” earth size planets orbit other stars.

The habitable zone describes a cosmic sweet spot – not too hot, not too cold, but just right – a planet orbiting at the proper distance from its star to support liquid surface water. Kepler 186f, slightly larger than Earth, orbits its star once every 130 days. In the “zone”,  but with a more distant orbit than one our planet enjoys, 186f is handicapped by a sun’s brightness at noon shining as ours would an hour before sunset.

As for probability it supports life, at least as we know it? Science reserves opinion until we’re able to determine mass and atmosphere. My guess is that within the next few decades, proof positive of extraterrestrial life will become a reality.



Do You Ever Ponder the Moon?

Do you ever ponder the moon? Do you understand how important it is to life on earth, or do you view it as something that always has, and always will be a permanent fixture in the sky? Is the moon simply a familiar occurrence  with nary a thought to the role it plays in our lives? Would it surprise you to learn that without the moon, life on earth would be radically different.

Compared to other moons in the universe, ours is massive. At about a third of the size of earth, it is by far the largest of all the known moons. The gravitational pull of the moon is the force that creates ocean tides, it also keeps our planet tilted on its axis; resulting in our four predictable seasons. From plankton to sea turtles, moonlight is the maestro that that dictates behaviour.

Without the strong gravitational pull of the moon, we would be at the mercy of the sun’s gravity. It would tilt our axis back and forth. The poles could become lush jungles as the countries around the equator languished under miles of ice. The jet stream, ocean currents, and our concept of seasons would be replaced by unpredictable swings – likely too much for most life on earth.

I don’t expect that the moon will be going anywhere soon. The point of this ponder is to think about how incredibly lucky we are to even be here. We squabble about the existence of God, commit atrocious acts in his name,  debate global warming, squander resources, yet forget to consider the delicate balance of circumstance that allows us to  thrive. Every once and a while we need to stop and look at the moon.  Perhaps by gazing at it we will be reminded of our good fortune,  finally understanding that it doesn’t matter how or why we’re here.

Everything we know; all that we take for granted, works as part of a vast system called the universe. Take a moment to ponder the moon, and let it be a reminder of how lucky we are. Maybe then it will start to sink in that we’re behaving very badly, and wasting precious time.

Sky Basics

I talk constantly about the night sky. It occurred to me that people may be so out of touch with the universe, even the simplest reference might elude them. The other day I was asked what the bright light in the sky was; my answer Venus surprised my friend who had no idea the planets were visible.

So here it is; courtesy earthsky.org. This link explains the visible planets.


In a day or two I’ll move on to the stars. In no time at all pointing out constellations will become second nature.

Moon, Jupiter, and Venus – thanks, sciencebuzz.org


55 Cancrie e, Is a Planet Made of Diamonds

As wonderful as it may be that scientists have confirmed a “habitable” planet 600 light years from Earth , (Kepler 22 b for those not paying attention )  the knowledge  a planet made of diamonds  lurks a mere 40 light years away, puts the smile on my face.

55 Cancrie e is in the constellation of Cancer. The fact that this massive planet has a surface temperature of 39oo degrees Fahrenheit  has a year equivalent to 18 hours, and couldn’t possibly support life as we know it pales in comparison to the fact that scientists believe it is made primarily of diamonds.

From the moment the universe went “bang”, a chain reaction was set in motion. The same elements we find on Earth are  in every corner of the universe, circumstance just happened to arrange them differently. Frozen moons, red dwarfs, white giants, black holes, quasars, nebulas, ice planets, gas planets, and diamond planets.

Ponder the universe and smile knowing that we were lucky enough to roll sevens.


Star map showing the planet-hosting star 55 Cancri in the constellation of Cancer. The star is visible to the naked eye, though better through binoculars. (Image by Nikku Madhusudhan; created using Sky Map Online)

Kepler 22b

Six hundred light years from Earth in the constellation Cygnus, circling a star named Kepler every 290 days, orbits the planet Kepler 22b.  Named for the NASA probe Kepler, this is the first confirmed “earth like” planet in a “habitable” zone. the habitable zone is defined as a planet just the right distance from its Sun to support liquid water.

 Kepler-22b -- Comfortably Circling within the Habitable Zone