August 21st, 2011
12:57 PM ET

A good planet is hard to find

Editor's note: Lucianne Walkowicz is a Kepler postdoctoral fellow at the University of California at Berkeley's astronomy department. She spoke last month at the TED global conference in Edinburgh, UK. TED is a nonprofit dedicated to "Ideas worth spreading," which it makes available through its website.

(CNN) - It was much too late on a Tuesday when a fellow astronomer friend and I found ourselves catching a cab back to Berkeley, having missed the last train home. My friend promptly dozed off in the taxi, leaving me to chat with our driver - who wondered how we could be out so late with jobs to go to in the morning.

I explained that we were astronomers, and naturally tended to be night owls (although I added that my now-snoring friend was a theorist and therefore accustomed to a more regular schedule). "Astronomers!" Our driver immediately began to pepper me with questions about the universe, and so I launched into telling him about my work. Think of it as "Astronomy 101: Wee Hours of the Morning Edition."

One of the wonderful things about astronomy is that it's a very accessible science - in principle the sky is available to everyone. Although one's access to the sky may vary due to light pollution or outdoor space, most people have wondered what lies in that great beyond - and nowhere is that more true than in the search for planets outside our own solar system. Hard to believe, but it's only been a little over 20 years since the first planets were found orbiting other stars, and though astronomers have found several hundred planets during that time, it's been painstaking, hard-scrabble work.

soundoff (21 Responses)
  1. Fritz

    All I really want to know about planets is whether life is a common occurrance in the cosmos or does it rise to the level of 'improbable fluke'". I'm hoping it's the former.

    August 26, 2011 at 12:54 pm |
    • fimeilleur

      It's all a numbers game. Probability dictates we'll find other planets that fall in the Goldilocks zone, but to find life on it... let alone intelligent life, will be difficult to prove. A) we travel to the planet and find out (not likely with today's technology) B) they travel to us and we find out that way. But let's keep looking.

      August 27, 2011 at 8:51 pm |
  2. fimeilleur

    Troll alert

    August 26, 2011 at 4:13 am |
  3. Reefguy

    Abid, your wise words raise a pretty complex question I feel the need to ask you; Is the angle of the dangle directly proportional to the heat of the meat?

    August 25, 2011 at 12:47 pm |
    • Fritz

      Eh Reef, i'm thinkin' the dangle angle is probably vertical and points strait down. The meat temp is most likely a limp 3 degrees above absolute zero.

      August 26, 2011 at 12:47 pm |
  4. Brenda

    Your point? And more important, stop it!

    August 25, 2011 at 11:13 am |
  5. fimeilleur

    Oh, for fux sake... just copy and paste the entire Koran and be done with it... no body cares.

    August 24, 2011 at 10:28 pm |
  6. Raymond Marcano

    Ok the bunch of retards complaining about the advancement of knowledge and science take your moron brains straight to hell

    August 24, 2011 at 10:32 am |
    • Raymond

      By the way it is so cool to see a hot looking female scientist. No wonder she looks at stars she is as hot as the hottest stars.

      August 24, 2011 at 11:47 am |
  7. fimeilleur

    Blah, blah, blah... A few questions for you Abid: Did Allah create me? Did Allah know I would not believe in him when he created me? Will Allah punish me in death for not believing in him? If yes, seems to me that Allah is pretty cruel to punish a creation that has no control over his own destiny. You see, I would have to MAKE myself BELIEVE in Allah for it to happen... notice the two words in CAPS... MAKE + BELIEVE or make believe... pretend... I would have to pretend to believe in Allah... surely, he'd see through that... and punish me anyway. If not, belief in Allah is uneccessary.

    Stop quoting from the Koran and try to have an intelligent conversation.

    August 24, 2011 at 1:57 am |
  8. JBman87

    This woman has my mind in a cluster. I want her.

    August 23, 2011 at 11:58 pm |

    The nice thing about science is that it requires no validity from religious people. Science is pure and purposeful. I wish people would grow to appreciate the beauty in science. No magic frog ever clicked it's heels and created medicine, techonology and travel happen. It was science and curiosity, people not affraid to say "The earth is not the center of the universe" type who move mountains, not fairy tales. GO SCIENCE!

    August 23, 2011 at 1:02 pm |
    • Charles

      Science only explains how things happen, not why. Theres more to "purpose" than knowing how things happen.

      August 23, 2011 at 7:15 pm |
  10. Abid

    It will take 17,000 years

    August 22, 2011 at 6:36 pm |
  11. Abid

    The most distant space probe voyager 1 was about 16 light-hours away from the Earth as of 2011 it will take about 38,000 mph relative to the sun.

    August 22, 2011 at 6:27 pm |
  12. Chad Buie

    Very good presentation. Great flow and as always great information. This is why Astrology is important. Ignorance is a very dangerous force, idea, or way of life. I like to see continued education and observation of our Universe, there is just so much to learn.

    August 22, 2011 at 5:44 pm |
    • K

      You mean Astronomy not Astrology. Astrology is the study of the movements and relative positions of celestial bodies interpreted as having an influence on human affairs. Astronomy is the branch of science that deals with celestial objects, space, and the physical universe as a whole.

      You said "Ignorance is a very dangerous force, idea, or way of life." and you proved that by not knowing the difference between the two.

      August 23, 2011 at 12:05 pm |
  13. Abid

    Well if your going to look for another planet u need to get your numbers right first! Like the speed of light? 1.25 seconds? Is there something faster then light? My eye sight thats how i cought their problem.

    August 22, 2011 at 3:40 pm |
  14. ajd041

    This article does not pertain to the title whatsoever

    August 21, 2011 at 10:32 pm |
    • jason

      yes it dose because they are trying to find a habitable planet. duhhhhhh

      August 22, 2011 at 2:51 pm |
  15. helenecha

    No matter how hard we experience. Let's find THEM out. THEY can help us find out Earth-like planets.

    August 21, 2011 at 8:56 pm |


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