An artist's illustration of an Earth-like planet. The search for planets that are similar to Earth is one of NASA's main goals. Many planets have already been discovered orbiting other stars, but so far only larger planets (the size of Jupiter or larger) have been found. New missions are being planned by NASA which will be able to detect smaller Earth-sized planets. Some of these missions will also try to detect signs of life on these planets by studying emissions in their atmospheres.


Kepler Mission Discovers Its First Rocky Planet

SOURCE: Spacedaily
Jan 11, 2011

NASA's Kepler mission confirmed the discovery of its first rocky planet, named Kepler-10b. Measuring 1.4 times the size of Earth, it is the smallest planet ever discovered outside our solar system.

The discovery of this so-called exoplanet is based on more than eight months of data collected by the spacecraft from May 2009 to early January 2010.

"All of Kepler's best capabilities have converged to yield the first solid evidence of a rocky planet orbiting a star other than our sun," said Natalie Batalha, Kepler's deputy science team lead at NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif., and primary author of a paper on the discovery accepted by the Astrophysical Journal.

"The Kepler team made a commitment in 2010 about finding the telltale signatures of small planets in the data, and it's beginning to pay off."

Kepler's ultra-precise photometer measures the tiny decrease in a star's brightness that occurs when a planet crosses in front of it. The size of the planet can be derived from these periodic dips in brightness. The distance between the planet and the star is calculated by measuring the time between successive dips as the planet orbits the star.

View: Full article

For more information: Videos!
Kepler Discovers Its Smallest and First Rocky Planet
NASA'S Kepler Mission Discovers Its First Rocky Planet
NASA spots smallest planet yet found outside our solar system 


Can we find trees on other planets ?

SOURCE: Discovery News
Jan 2, 2011

Two scientists have come up with a method to detect forests on extrasolar worlds.

Christopher Dougherty and Adam Wolf are working on the idea that a planet covered in trees might be detectable from the Earth because the shadowing on the surface would give it a different look. Referred to as the search for "Extra-Arboreal" life the method would require a much larger telescope than is currently available but could one day be used to locate abundant life on a distant world not much unlike our own.

If a tree casts a shadow in the woods, can anyone see it from light-years away? Considering that the best extrasolar planet pictures to date are dots in deep-space exposures, this question may sound ludicrous. But a pair of scientists thinks that detecting alien forests might be doable, at least in theory. Call it the search for Extra-Arboreal life.

View: Full article.

Could we detect trees on other planets?