We're NASA scientists here to answer your other-worldly questions about what we're doing to help find habitable planets outside the solar system. Whether it's looking for distant worlds by staring at stars for changes in light every time a planet swings by, or deciphering light clues to figure out the composition and atmosphere of these planets, NASA is charging full speed ahead in the search for a world like ours. Learn more about current and upcoming missions and the technology involved in exoplanet exploration.

BLOG: NASA’s Fleet of Planet-hunters and World-explorers


Participants on finding exoplanets
Knicole Colon, K2 Support Scientist
Steve Howell, Kepler Project Scientist
Stephen Rinehart, Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) Project Scientist

Participants on determining exoplanet nature and conditions
Sean Carey, Spitzer Instrument Lead Scientist
Mark Clampin, James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) Observatory Project Scientist
Avi Mandell, Research Scientist and Hubble Space Telescope Transiting Exoplanet Observer
Pamela M. Marcum, Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) Project Scientist
Scott Wolk, Chandra Astrophysicist at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory
Hannah Wakeford, Postdoctoral fellow and exoplanet characterization scientist

Participants on future of exoplanet exploration and the search for life
Dominic Benford, HQ Program Scientist for WFIRST
Doug Hudgins, HQ Program Scientist for Exoplanet Exploration
Shawn D. Domagal Goldman, Research Space Scientist for Astrobiology

Communications Support
Lynn Chandler -- GSFC
Felicia Chou -- HQ
Whitney Clavin -- JPL
Michele Johnson -- Ames
Aries Keck -- GSFC
Stephanie L. Smith -- JPL
Megan Watzke -- Harvard-Smithsonian CfA

Comments: 2167 • Responses: 102  • Date: 

jiar3001856 karma

why cant my wifi reach my fucking room and yours can reach fucking mars?

NASABeyond3005 karma

Have you tried unplugging it then plugging it back in about 20 seconds later? -- S. Rinehart

NASABeyond577 karma

Because we have bigger antennae.. much bigger like the Deep Space Network! -- SJC

xAbaddon718 karma

What do you think the cultural ramifications would be if even microscopic life was found on another planet?

NASABeyond873 karma

This is one of the most intriguing questions out there right now, and would have a profound impact on the way we view ourselves.

Our goal is to turn this from something people speculate about into something we can analyze with data and observations. And that moment could be within our grasp over the next generation. -sddg

spicypepperoni632 karma

Do y'all have a plan if the aliens aren't chill?

NASABeyond905 karma

never split up and don't turn around. Sh

Dz3015614 karma

What's the story on this "alien structure" obstructing light from a star? I've seen a few articles lately. Thanks and "GO NASA!"

NASABeyond694 karma

SH - KIC 8462852 was recently reported in a paper submitted to the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society; NASA did not release any news on this. In that paper, the authors examined a number of possible sources for the unusual observed behavior of the star. Those authors found a plausible, naturally occurring phenomenon that could account for the observations. In the abstract, the authors state: "... considering the observational constraints on dust clumps orbiting a normal main-sequence star, we conclude that the scenario most consistent with the data in hand is the passage of a family of exocomet fragments, all of which are associated with a single previous breakup event.”

There was another star, KIC 4110611 that too had an odd light curve, but after a few years of working to find out why, it turned out to be a five star system. It was unique, but not alien structures.

We’re looking forward to more research on this enigmatic star to determine the cause of its interesting behavior.

PM_me_Venn_diagrams223 karma

Somebody said it wasnt normal for that much matter to be still orbiting around a star without collecting into a planet.

There can be only one answer. That is clearly the location of Alderaan.

Edit: Former location of Alderaan.

NASABeyond399 karma

But Alderaan is in a galaxy far, far away. Can't be that one... -- S. Rinehart

RainingHellfire566 karma

So in all seriousness, how many NASA employees play Kerbal Space Program? Are you better at it than I am? If you do play, is it like going home and still working?

NASABeyond799 karma

A lot of people here do! Most of the rest of us enjoy the comics and facebook posts from those that do.

I know at least one colleague that is leading a mission who has replicated their mission in KSP. -sddg

Smoking-Krills425 karma

What are the plans for the near future (2020's, 2030's etc.) regarding the search for exoplanets? Are there new telescopes with new detection abilities that are being planned to launch soon?

NASABeyond778 karma

Smoking-Krills—I expect the next 20 or so years is going to be a very busy time for NASA’s search for exoplanets.
In 2017, we will launch the TESS (http://tess.gsfc.nasa.gov/), a mission that will use the transit technique to conduct an all-sky survey for planets around the nearest and brightest stars to the Earth.
Close on its heels, in 2018, will come JWST (http://www.jwst.nasa.gov/), NASA’s next Great Observatory. JWST will be a 6.5-m infrared space telescope that will be able to follow-up on many of the planets that TESS discovers to figure out what their atmospheres are made up of and what their temperatures are.
A little further out, say in the mid-2020s, we are starting to plan a mission called WFIRST (http://wfirst.gsfc.nasa.gov/). Part of the WFIRST mission will be to use a technique called gravitational microlensing (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gravitational_microlensing) to discover planets—even free-floating planets that are not in orbit around a star! WFIRST will also have a coronagraph—an instrument that will block out the light from a star and let us see Jupiter- and Neptune- sized planets directly. Of course, the ultimate goal of NASA’s (and humanity’s) search for exoplanets is to find other worlds capable of supporting life—Earth 2.0. Beyond WFIRST, perhaps as soon as the 2030’s, we would like to fly a mission that would enable us to directly image truly Earth-sized rocky planets in the solar neighborhood (within perhaps 50-100 light years of the Earth. That mission will be able to measure the composition of those planets’ atmosphere’s, the temperature distribution on their surfaces, and search for evidence that they have life. It is exciting to think that in the next 20-30 years, we may realistically be able to answer one of the oldest questions of humankind—Are we alone? - DMH

NASABeyond135 karma

The James Webb Space Telescope will be able to directly image young gas giant planets orbiting at large distances from their parent stars. It will also be a powerful telescope for studying the atmospheres of bright transiting planets, especially those found by the TESS mission. MC

catharticwhoosh43 karma

I would like to expand on this question, if I may. The combination of TESS and JWST appears like we may be ushering in a new age of exploration. Will we, with that combination, be able to directly observe exoplanets?

NASABeyond80 karma

TESS is going to provide a great set of targets for JWST to observe, but direct imaging of those planets will be beyond the capabilities of JWST. To directly image a planet, we really need to to block out almost all of the light from the host star. The WFIRST mission will demonstrate the technology needed to do that, but to really directly observe most exoplanets, we'll have to wait for the next generation of missions. - S. Rinehart

ishgardianscrub229 karma

If intelligent life is found in the universe and they want to contact/meet us, what will NASA do?

NASABeyond441 karma

One thing to clear up - the VAST majority of the work we do on the search for life beyond Earth doesn't look for intelligent life specifically. Some of the methods we plan to use could find signs of intelligent life, but they're really designed to detect the global biospheres that (mostly) are driven by microbes.

But to not dodge your question... if we got word of that, this would answer the question that drives a lot of our work! But, as we're scientists and engineers... it would likely kick off more questions. We'd want to know what their planet is like - its climate and chemical composition, etc. (And we'd probably want to learn the things they know, too). -sddg

gunsforthehomeless185 karma

if likely (to whatever degree of certainty you're going for) habitable planets are discovered, what happens then? how would we proceed from there, how would we apply that knowledge?

NASABeyond290 karma

We've found potentially habitable planets already! Unfortunately, most of these are too far away for follow-up observations. However, their presence - and their rate of occurrence - suggests that potentially habitable planets that are closer to us also exist. And we're working on the science and technology and missions to confirm their habitability, and to find out if they have signs of life. -sddg

sgm_176 karma

Favorite space movies?

NASABeyond361 karma

Stargate, and of course Serenity - HWakeford

NASABeyond322 karma

Contact (based on the book by Carl Sagan), Serenity, Independence Day -- KC

NASABeyond300 karma

The Martian & The Empire Strikes Back - AK

NASABeyond288 karma

2001 Space Odyssey MC

NASABeyond274 karma

No favorite, but top ones include "Apollo 13," "Star Trek II: Wrath of Khan," "Wall-E," and "The Martian." -- SLS

NASABeyond213 karma

Star Wars (IV-VI only- There are no others), 2001, and the JJ Abrams Star Trek movies. - SJW

NASABeyond199 karma

Sunshine - MJ

NASABeyond156 karma

Star Wars -- S. Rinehart

NASABeyond119 karma

Well, it has to be "The day The Earth Stood Still", the original of course - not the poor remake. SH

NASABeyond115 karma

Galaxy Quest! No, jk. Lots of great choices, but I guess I have to go with the Star Wars movies. - DMH

NASABeyond109 karma

Star Trek II -- The Wrath of Khan -- SJC

NASABeyond106 karma

Star Wars. -sddg (Least favorite: Event Horizon)

NASABeyond91 karma

Star Trek: First Contact - WC

PM_me_Venn_diagrams123 karma

A recent article stated that only about 8% of habitable planets have even been formed yet. Do you guys have any opinions on this, and if it may have something to do with the Fermi paradox?

NASABeyond202 karma

PM_me--this is a theoretical result that really just points out that we are still relatively early in the lifetime of our universe. In the epoch right after the Big Bang, the universe was made up almost entirely of hydrogen and helium--nothing much to build planets out of. As each generation of stars form, evolve, and and die, they produce heavy elements (carbon, oxygen, nitrogen, and beyond) and scatter those elements into space, providing the building blocks to form planets. The longer we go on, the more heavy elements are available, and the more planets (including potentially habitable planets) will form. So until the time far, far in the future when the universe runs out of fuel to form new stars, more and more planets will continue to form. The result you noted is simply an acknowledgement that the universe has only just begun to form all the planets that will eventually be produced. - DMH

kellogg76109 karma

Can we start giving these planets cooler sounding names than KOI-1573?

NASABeyond142 karma

As we've discovered from the @NASAKepler mission, exoplanets are abundant in the galaxy. To help organize and index the scientific literature by the source of discovery, the International Astronomical Union has a standard for naming exoplanets. This consists of two parts- the first part relates to the source which can be named for the host star name, or the astronomical catalog name, or the mission name. The second part of the name is a lowercase letter where b indicates the first exoplanet discovered around that particular star, c would be the second, and so on. To see the variety of sources (or host name) see the NASA Exoplanet Archive: http://exoplanetarchive.ipac.caltech.edu/cgi-bin/TblView/nph-tblView?app=ExoTbls&config=planets

Periodically the IAU will hold a naming contest for the public to vote for a "friendly name" for specific exoplanets. In fact, there's a context going now. Voting closes on Oct. 31, 2015 http://nameexoworlds.iau.org/exoworldsvote

Thanks for the q! MJ

kepzzzz104 karma

What's it like to work on NASA?

NASABeyond187 karma

NASA's the best place to work if you are driven by curiosity and challenges. Everything scientists do here is cutting edge and pushes the boundaries of our technologies, our understanding of science, and the limits of our imagination. You need to be able to lake the long view: most of our missions take many years to come to fruition, and science rarely has quick discoveries made by lone researchers. People work in large teams for many years to make these discoveries. -- DjB

NASABeyond112 karma

There is never a dull day here in the the JPL newsroom! In the span of one morning (say, this morning), I got to try and wrap my brain around the alien ocean of Enceladus, emerging robotic technology like Robosimian, and the search for planets around other stars. NASA missions rely on collaboration between different NASA centers, and partner institutions like universities and federally-funded research and development centers. I get to work with smart, creative people who aren't afraid to tackle big questions, and that's a pretty great thing to have in a job. -- SLS

NASABeyond81 karma

It's GREAT! I'm the social media team lead here at NASA Goddard and so I get to post about all the astounding science and technology our people are discovering and developing. Please follow our social media accounts: NASAGoddard: Twitter https://twitter.com/NASAGoddard, Facebook: www.facebook.com/NASA.GSFC & Instagram: https://instagram.com/nasagoddard/

Remember Sharing is Caring! - AK

NASABeyond72 karma

It is a lot of fun! My job is to run a camera on the Spitzer Space Telescope and deliver the best possible images to the astronomers around the world. Every day is different and the work keeps my brain active! We are constantly learning new things about exoplanets, the most distant galaxies and near-Earth asteroids. -- SJC

NASABeyond57 karma

Always interesting. You get to meet all kinds of people and learn all about so many different projects. Everybody loves what they do and it makes it a great environment to work. - HWakeford

Intelligoth93 karma

Currently, are there any exoplanet detection methods other than measuring the dimming light from a star as a planet crosses its face?

NASABeyond147 karma

Yes! The 'transit method' of looking for the dimming of light as a planet transits in front of a star is the method used by Kepler to discover most of the thousands of planets thus far. There is also 'radial velocity', where the tiny shift in movement of the star is tracked to find the effect of the gravitational pull on the star from the planet. This technique is employed by ground-based observatories. Another technique that is gaining a good deal of momentum is 'microlensing', wherein a brightening of the star is seen when a planet passes near to the line-of-sight between us and the star and the star's light is bent by gravity to focus toward us. There is also the 'coronagraphy' approach, which uses a sophisticated camera design that incorporates complex optics to dim the light from the star -- by factors of millions to billions -- while leaving the planet undimmed. These latter two techniques will both be used by the WFIRST mission, currently under study for launch in the next decade. -- DjB

Theirishisraeli91 karma

What is the most interesting (to you) exoplanet that has been discovered so far?

NASABeyond266 karma

My personal favorite exoplanets are the circumbinary planets that Kepler has discovered (for example, Kepler-16b). These are planets that orbit around two stars, just like Tatooine in Star Wars. It is fascinating to me that these planets are in dynamically stable systems. It would be neat to see two stars in the sky! -- KC

NASABeyond2 karma

It all depends on what you find most interesting! The most exciting one for me is Kepler-452b, which is the exoplanet most similar to our own Earth in the size, distance and type of star and therefore the "most habitable" planet we've found so far. But in terms of extreme and fascinating environments, HD80606b (extremely eccentric orbit) and WASP-12b (possibly carbon-rich with a diamond core) are also really interesting. -- Avi M.

Devmic71 karma

How much free time does this job allow? And what is your favorite thing to do in said free time?

NASABeyond147 karma

Generally in science, we all work a lot of time, more than 40 hours per week. We are odd that way as we often love our jobs. In my free time, I like to cook, play blues music, and do outdoor activities such as hiking and climbing. Sh

NASABeyond80 karma

I'm kinda online all the time, and funnily enough, when I'm not tweeting for work, I tweet about other things. - AK

strawkastle64 karma

What do you think the possibility is of a water world?

(Not the box-office bust but an actual world covered completely in water)

NASABeyond112 karma

What do you think the possibility is of a water world?

We can measure the radius and mass of planets through different techniques, which when combined gives us their density. There are already a few planets that we know of that have a measured density consistent with a "water world" scenario. It would not be surprising to find even more! -- KC

NASABeyond57 karma

There are also a lot of theories that suggest they exist. Our job going forward is to test those theories with more detailed (spectral) measurements of exoplanets. -sddg

-Tim-maC-64 karma

What's the lowest qualification job you can get at NASA besides janitor and maintenance etc..?

NASABeyond127 karma

Hey Tim-maC, always aim high :-) But seriously, one surprising and amazing thing about NASA is that the success of its missions are dependent on many different skill sets, not just those of scientists, engineers and astronauts. On the NASA project for which I am the project scientist, SOFIA (http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/SOFIA/index.html), many of the staff include people who work on budgets, maintenance of the work schedules, administrative tasks, and coordinating events. Stepping out of my project for the moment and taking a broader view across my NASA center, I see people who help with computer maintenance across the campus, cooks who work in the cafeteria, staff in the visitor's center, journalists, medical personnel, etc. [PMM]

NASABeyond68 karma

Most technical jobs (science, engineering and technology) require at least a Masters in engineering or applied science, but there are various internship and co-operative positions available to college and graduate students. There are also technician jobs which may be open to someone with a B.S. or a technical certification. There are so many different types of jobs at different NASA centers, and they all have different requirements. -- Avi M.

Airyanem-Vaejah60 karma

Hey guys, shout out from Iran, much love!

Anyhow my question is, as far as I'm aware, one of the methods of detecting exoplanets is keeping a look out and detecting the moment when a star's light is blocked/distorted, and concluding that there's a planet there. But doesn't this mean we can only detect planets that are placed at a certain angle relative to the earth? If we're 'above' or below the orbit which the planet revolves around, the star's light wouldn't get blocked for us, would it?

And a second question is that, do you think the usage of (possibly nano) space probes will ever be considered as an additional method of exoplanet discovery? And if so, how do you guys plan to keep the communications/fuel steady for duration of the travel?

NASABeyond42 karma

You're absolutely correct! An exoplanet will only transit its host star if it happens to be in an orbit aligned to our line of sight, and it's only a small fraction of planets that actually are properly aligned. That's why missions like Kepler (and in a few years, TESS) look at hundreds of thousands of stars. It's certainly possible that very small missions (nanosatellites) could be used, and in fact there are several teams who have been looking at how to do that. But these nanosats would be best suited for looking for transits as well. -- S. Rinehart

jetfuelbeams57 karma

How will the upcoming Square Kilometre Array in South Africa and Australia affect your work?

Is this something you guys are anticipating to use?

NASABeyond84 karma

The Square Kilometre Array has potential to detect radio emission from Jupiter like planets around nearby stars so it will be quite exciting when it comes online -- SJC

jebbo56 karma

How common do you think extrasolar systems like ours are (rather than the many compact systems found by Kepler)?

Also, when will we have a decent sample given the bias of current detection methods towards larger planets and shorter orbits?

NASABeyond80 karma

Kepler has actually found some extrasolar planetary systems similar to ours - Kepler-452b is the most prominent example. We now think that habitable Earth-sized planets may orbit between 5% and 20% of Sun-like stars, but we'll have to wait for future surveys with Doppler measurements and/or direct imaging missions in the next 5-10 years. -Avi M.

Freedomee40 karma

This is gonna sound stark, but what is the point of detecting habitable exoplanets if we cannot go there? It's almost certain that we'll never definitively prove the existence of life on these exoplanets from our home solar system, and the natural next step is in situ observations, which are not possible for obvious reasons.

I am really interested in your response for a class I have today, called "Detecting Habitable Exoplanets."

PS: Thank you so much for doing this AMA! Exoplanets are what got me interested in space, and now I'm a senior in Astrobiology at ASU, so I love the work you guys are doing! Keep up the awesome work!!

NASABeyond44 karma

Your concerns about the certainty of our claims for life on exoplanets are good ones, and it's one of the biggest challenges we have in the field. How can we increase the certainty with which we assess signs of life on these worlds?

That said, I don't think we need absolute certainty to fly the mission. If we find some signs of life, there will be follow-up observations. I'm sure SETI teams would start listening and looking at that planet/star, and we might be able to eventually fly missions to get things like maps of those worlds (but those would be VERY far off).

In other words, even if there's not a certain claim of life, I'd want to find the next set of measurements that would increase our certainty. That's what this is all about - going from not knowing about what planets are out there to knowing some might be habitable to confirming that habitability to finding signs of life to (hopefully) confirming it. -sddg

Tripper129 karma

Favorite Space Games?

NASABeyond97 karma

Starcraft -- S. Rinehart

NASABeyond80 karma

StarCraft -- KC

NASABeyond70 karma


Beyond Earth by Sid Meier's Civilization - AK

NASABeyond57 karma

Space Invaders.....

NASABeyond52 karma

X-Wing miniatures, table top games are so cool -- SJC

NASABeyond44 karma

I'm old school: Asteroids. -- SLS

NASABeyond35 karma

Tempest (pratice for firing from an X-Wing fighter) - MJ

Albator_H27 karma

Do we know for a fact that there is no "Goldilocks" planets in our immediate neighborhood? (you know, lets say less than 15 light years away?) If not wouldn't it be easier to see on star system closer to home than extremely far away?

NASABeyond54 karma

We definitely don't know that for a fact! There are about 150 star-like objects within 20 light years of earth -- most of them are small, cool stars (M dwarfs), but there are 7 sun-like stars in this neighborhood as well. We know some statistics from Kepler -- about one fifth of stars have planets in their habitable zones. So, the odds are pretty good that there's a habitable zone planet within the nearest 20 ly. And yes, it will be easier to look at than planets around more distant stars, but it's still challenging because of the huge difference in the brightness of the star and the brightness in the planet. -- S. Rinehart

jebbo24 karma

On KIC 8462852, a 22% transit depth seems rather large to be explained by comets, particularly around an F star. What other astrophysical explanations are there?

E.g. complex multiple where we've only seen singleton transits (perhaps by object with companions)?

NASABeyond36 karma

If the star is actually younger than we think, the dips in the light curve could be due to a circumstellar disk of material orbiting around the star that is not uniform and was recently disrupted (so for instance, some material could transit the star at uneven intervals). This is just one more possible hypothesis about this object. -- KC

imthatguy2523 karma

what do you think was your greatest accomplishment so far?

NASABeyond99 karma

Winning the JPL Talent Show with my roller skating act, The Space Rollerettes. And a big individual NASA service award for my work as a science writer and media specialist! -WC

ts13923 karma

What's the biggest obstacle that you face as you look for habitable planets?

NASABeyond49 karma

That's actually a really hard question to answer, because there are a number of problems! Probably the biggest problem, though, is the fact that the (faint) planet is right next to a (bright) star. For an earth-like planet around a sun-like star, the star is 10,000,000,000 brighter than the planet! That forces us to find new ways to very, very effectively block out the light from the star so that we can see the planet. -- S. Rinehart

NillieK19 karma

Any good "What? That's weird..." moments lately? What sort of weird things have you seen in the data, and what are the tentative explanations for them?

NASABeyond31 karma

I <3 these moments. Seriously, as a scientist it's a lot of fun when our expectations are upended. That's is where there's a lot of room to think creatively about new theories to explain those surprises.

I think the whole history of exoplanet discoveries - from the first ones we found - have exhibited many surprises. From "hot Jupiters" to "super-Earths" to "circumbinary planets" there's been many, many surprises. And I look forward to the surprises we get when we start looking for signs of habitability and life on these worlds. -sddg

pbrunts18 karma

Have any of you read The Martian? What do you think about the science and calculations used by Watney to stay alive on Mars, is it at all feasible?

I ask book more so than movie because of the extra depth and explanation given in the book.

NASABeyond35 karma

I read it and loved it! And I loved that the spirit of the science and technology remained in the movie. Here's an article about real NASA technologies touched on in the movie. -WC http://www.nasa.gov/feature/nine-real-nasa-technologies-in-the-martian

kofetar15 karma

How much "material" is in Kuiper belt approximately? Is it like 1 earth mass, 1000 earth masses, 1.000.000, more?

NASABeyond18 karma

The Kuiper belt is still relatively understudied, and so there's a big margin of uncertainty on this estimate. Consult Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kuiper_belt) for more details on this. The total mass is probably less than a tenth of the mass of the Earth. -- DjB

InsanityB33Z13 karma

Do you think that there is an alien civilization asking themselves the same question as we do, "is there life in the universe?" Do you think that civilization is doing the same thing, searching for life outside their home world?

NASABeyond54 karma

I have to imagine that any civilization that gets to the technological level comparable to our own would start to ask that question. After all, even 400 years ago, G. Bruno supposed that there were planets around all the stars, and that those planets could have people on them. (He also supposed that those people could have souls, and that got him burnt at the stake - so I'll leave souls out of it). -- S. Rinehart

genuinewood12 karma

How will the James Webb Space Telescope enhance NASA's exoplanet-finding capabilities?

NASABeyond14 karma

The James Webb Space Telescope will focus on studying exoplanets that are already known, in particular transiting exoplanet systems where it will be able to spectroscopically characterize molecular features in exoplanet atmospheres from 0.7-29 microns. It will search for young, gas giant planets using its high contrast imaging capabilities. MC

Godzilla08159 karma

Is there a way to analyse the composition of exoplanets and not just speculate because of the size of the object and maybe detect ozone? I´ve read somewhere that ozone would be a good indicator of life

NASABeyond18 karma

The composition of an exoplanet atmosphere can, in theory, be measured! One could measure the composition by analyzing the light of the host star as it shines through the exoplanet atmosphere, as the planet transits across the disk of the star. Some limited observations these lines have already been made to get measurements of abundant life-essential chemistries such as water in large exoplanets, using observatories such as Spitzer and SOFIA. These kinds of measurements, which are performed by taking a "spectrum" (spreading out the light by color ... think "rainbow" for an example of a spectrum), require very sensitive instruments and big telescopes because the signal is so small. The JWST telescope will be used to make these kinds of measurements. [PMM]

NASABeyond11 karma

We are currently using the Hubble Space Telescope to look in the optical and near-infrared (just beyond the red part of what our eyes can see) to look for this starlight which has passed through the planets atmosphere before reaching us. From this we have detected Sodium, potassium and even water vapor in the atmospheres of hot Jupiters (giant jupiter like planets orbiting very close to their stars).

The JWST will allow us to extend this to even longer (redder) wavelengths and detect many different molecules such as CO, CO2, methane, etc.

flibbell8 karma

What did some of you guys major in when you were in college?

NASABeyond17 karma

Physics undergrad, Geology for my Masters', and Astrobiology and Geosciences for my PhD. -sddg

NASABeyond13 karma

History -- SLS

NASABeyond10 karma

physics in college, astronomy in grad school -- KC

NASABeyond10 karma

Physics -- undergrad and grad..... --S. Rinehart

NASABeyond10 karma

Journalism/Science Writing - AK

NASABeyond6 karma

Physics.. when I wasn't playing rugby -- SJC

NASABeyond6 karma

Physics & Applied Math in college, then Physics and Astrophysics in graduate school. -- DjB

NASABeyond2 karma

physics- SJW

Greeegs8 karma

What is hot jupiter pile-up?

NASABeyond14 karma

This is a term used for what we call parking-orbits. As Jupiter's spiral in a solar system and head toward becoming a Hot Jupiter, they reach an orbital period near 4 days but to not spiral any further. The reason they stop is that mutual today forces between the star and planet keep the Hot Jupiter from coming any closer. Sh

jebbo5 karma

Compact systems: in-situ formation or inward migration?

NASABeyond6 karma

The current idea is that in system where inward migration happens, the migrating massive planet would destroy any inner planets on it passage toward the host star. if you believe this, then the in-situ formation idea is likely for inner compact systems and even for our solar system. However, the recent discovery by K2 of the inner planets in WASP-47 bring all these theories into question.

IchargeByTheLB4 karma

Jupiter seems like a decent place. Given it much thought?

NASABeyond16 karma

We'll definitely be thinking a lot about Jupiter in the coming months. The Juno spacecraft, which launched in 2011, goes into orbit around the planet on July 4, 2016. It will investigate, among other things, just what's below those clouds. You can follow the mission at http://www.missionjuno.swri.edu/, on Twitter @NASAJuno or on Facebook.com/NASAJuno. -- SLS

sunfishtommy4 karma

It has been speculated over on /r/spacex that the Dragon V2 + Falcon 9 could be used to boost and service the Hubble Space telescope.

Is it realistically possible?

In your opinion would it be worth it?

Is NASA considering?

We all love Hubble and would love to see it keep doing science instead of being reentered into the Pacific.

NASABeyond5 karma

After the last servicing mission in 2009, Hubble is better than ever. Hubble is expected to continue to provide valuable data until 2020 or beyond, securing its place in history as a general purpose observatory in areas ranging from the nearby solar system to the distant universe. Currently, there is no servicing mission planned. In 2018, the James Webb Space Telescope (Webb) will be launched as the premier observatory of the next decade, serving astronomers worldwide to help unlock some of the biggest mysteries of the universe. -- DjB & FC

drspankinya4 karma

if there were a telescope say on the moon or or even further out, could you image a planet out of our solar system?

NASABeyond7 karma

What is required to image planets out of our solar system are telescopes with mirrors large enough to separate the planets from their parent stars, combined with instruments that can suppress the glare from the parent stars. The planets will be 1-10 billion times fainter than the parent stars. The observatory does not have to be on the moon, a second Lagrange point orbit would be sufficient. MC

Path2Exile4 karma

if we found intelligent life would they be watching re-runs of television shows and what would they be watching? also i'm excited to see what the James Webb Telescope can do

NASABeyond10 karma

There's a common fallacy that our broadcasts are spreading out into the universe where they'll be picked up by alien civilizations. It is true that the radio energy from our transmissions are flowing out, but it is unlikely for them to be detectable. They become very faint by the time they reach nearby stars, and quickly become fainter than the natural backgrounds of radio emission in the universe. However, if they built truly enormous antennas, perhaps they could pick the strength of the signals up, but the information content would be blended by the fact that we send out a large number of transmissions on a relatively small number of frequency bands, and these would confuse each other. -- DjB

Hikarikano4 karma

What's the end goal in the search for Exoplanets? Have you ever found a planet like P.E.R.N, that's so close yet so far from what we need?

Thanks for doing this! I'm not a scientist in any way but everything your people are doing at the moment is just too important to miss.

NASABeyond12 karma

So far, no Dragons. But, we are getting close to finding stars which COULD BE habitable. There are a lot of parameters a planet would need to meet to host life. Right now, we key on the Temperature (Habitable Zone) and Mass (which leads to hints about the atmospheres). But before we know if Dragons can live there we would have a next goal of trying to get a spectrum of its atmosphere for biomarkers...in this case clearly signs of fire (oxygen and carbon dioxide). -SJW

sunfishtommy3 karma

How will the new 20+ meeter telescopes being constructed affect your work? What can we expect from these extremely large telescopes?

NASABeyond3 karma

The ELTs (extremely large telescopes) being planned for the next decade will be fantastic -- they'll revolutionize the study of almost every field in astronomy. But telescopes in space excel in the study of exoplanets because these observations require extremely stable observing platforms and are best done above our own atmosphere (due to confusion in the signal). -- Avi M.

My_Favorite_Martian2 karma

Just how jealous of Neil deGrasse Tyson are you?

NASABeyond3 karma

I'm just jealous of his appearance in an Epic Rap Battle of History. -- DjB

Spacecommanderdorman2 karma

How much does NASA know about Kepler 186f, and how soon will we be able to explore that far into space?

NASABeyond3 karma

What we know is that a planet this small in size, about the same size as the Earth, is a rocky planet. This one is in the habitable zone of its host star, a star that is smaller and cooler than the sun. So far, that is all we know. As to traveling there... well likely a bit into the future. SH

Tripper12 karma

What is your opinion on Elon Musk's theory of using thermonuclear warheads to "heat up" mars in order to give it an Atmosphere?

What are some other ways that have been considered an option for atmospheric generation and could this method be applied to planetary bodies in the "sweet spot" of other solar systems that lack atmosphere?

NASABeyond3 karma

We're on a journey to Mars with our partners, and we’re keenly interested in continuing to make important scientific discoveries about Mars and test new systems and capabilities needed to get humans there. We are also committed to promoting exploration of the solar system in a way that protects explored environments as they exist in their natural state. Check out this feature on planting a controlled ecosystem on Mars: http://www.nasa.gov/feature/planting-an-ecosystem-on-mars/ - F.Chou

Donald_Keyman1 karma

What are the primary factors you look for when determining whether another planet is habitable?

NASABeyond4 karma

The first thing we look for is a planet that's the right size and mass -- something "rocky" like the Earth. Then, we look to see if it's in the "habitable zone" of the host star -- that is, that it's not too close to the host star (which would boil off all the water) or too far (where all the water would freeze out). Once we've found a planet in the habitable zone, then we'd like to get the spectrum of the atmosphere, with the hope of finding signs of water. - S. Rinehart

sullivansmith1 karma

First I want to say that I get so excited every time I read about the updates to the work you guys are doing. It's astounding how we've gone from knowing about maybe ONE exoplanet back in the 1990s to knowing about THOUSANDS. It's an exciting time to be alive for astronomy and cosmology nuts.

Not everyone is all that excited, of course - especially people who can't see the value of scientific discovery like this if it doesn't have dollar signs attached. What other scientific advancements and benefits can come from the search of exoplanets (financial or otherwise) aside from "contacting E.T." and "finding a new Earth"?

NASABeyond2 karma

Hey, thanks for the excitement! We love it too... and we love sharing that excitement with others. :)

One of the HUGE lessons from exoplanet science thus far has come from unexpected discoveries. These have had a profound impact on how we think about the planets in our home Solar System.

When we look for life on exoplanets, we're going to be doing that be looking at the climates and atmospheric compositions of other planets. I'm really looking forward to the surprises we find on planetary climate, and if we find life... the surprises we find on the interactions between life and its host planet. When we get those surprises, it could have a huge impact on how we view the climate of our home world. -sddg

scriptle1 karma

  1. What are some of the interesting and memorable exoplanets in your opinion? - In the sense like something you've never imagined before analysing the reports. Or does every exoplanet found exhibit unique nature and conditions in a way?

  2. Have there been cases where the result of deciphering the clues was "Found a planet where life exists" and later turned out to be False? If so, can you elaborate on one or two cases?

NASABeyond3 karma

On 2, there hasn't been a search for life on exoplanets yet (other than past and ongoing SETI efforts).

However, there are a number of instances where we think we've found evidence of life elsewhere, only to trigger a HUGE debate in the scientific literature. That includes some of the earliest evidence of life on Earth, past Viking lander measurements on Mars, and evidence in the Martian meteorite ALH 814001.

For exoplanets, we're doing our best to take lessons from this past work and these past debates. The top-level thing here is that context is critical to interpreting biosignatures. -sddg

NASABeyond3 karma

For question #1: I like the gas-giant planet HD 80606b with its wild orbit and temperature swings. Its orbit takes it as far out as Earth is from our sun, and closer in than Mercury! And its temperature changes by hundreds of degrees in just hours! -WC


NASABeyond2 karma

On 1, one of my favorite exoplanets is in the system OGLE-2014-BLG-0124L, it has half the mass of Jupiter is about as far away from its star as our main asteroid belt but the neatest thing is this system is the star is 13000 light years away from us, one of the most distant known exoplanets. -- SJC

majormajor421 karma

Based on the Kepler sample size and results to date, how close to earth can we expect TESS to find a new Earth-analog planet?

NASABeyond2 karma

SH - Kepler has shown us that planets similar in size to Earth are common and such planets residing in the habitable zone of a host star might occur in 1 of every 10 stars. The K2 mission currently operating and TESS to operate in a few years will be making observations of stars very close to Earth (compared to Kepler stars) so the chances are good that a possibly Earth-size planet will be detected within a few hundred light years. If that planet has an atmosphere or life will take additional time to determine.

sunfishtommy1 karma

How much longer can we expect the Kepler space telescope to last?

What can it do after another reaction wheel fails?

What is the replacement when it inevitably looses another reaction wheel and can no longer function?

NASABeyond3 karma

The Kepler space telescope is still working well. The original Kepler mission lasted four years until a reaction failed. Since that time, the same telescope and space craft has been repurposed into the K2 mission (named after the mountain). K2 is continuing the great work of Kepler, including the discovery of near-by exoplanets and great astrophysics. K2 is likely to last for another 3 years. It is likely the end will be due to running out of fuel, bit additional parts failures, but we never know for sure. The TESS mission will be a follow-on exoplanet mission to be launched in 2017. SH

_tx1 karma

Do you think there is a real possibility of life in or near the Mars water slurry?

NASABeyond2 karma

Here's a link to the NASA press conference about the confirmation that liquid water flows on Mars in which that was discussed: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bDv4FRHI3J8

Here's the release too: http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/news/news.php?feature=4722

And one of our scientists will chime in here too - AK

NASABeyond2 karma

Personally, I think that would be a tremendous discovery. For more thoughts on the briny flows of Mars, check out this AMA with experts from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter:

We're NASA Mars scientists. Ask us anything about today's news announcement of liquid water on Mars.

-- SLS

mbc1061 karma

Can you tell us about the cleanroom in which the JWST is housed? How do you have to get prepped to enter it, and what systems are in place to guard against contamination?

NASABeyond2 karma

The Bld 29 cleanroom at the Goddard Space Flight Center (see http://jwst.gsfc.nasa.gov) does require very careful preparation to enter and work in it. It takes about 20-30 minutes to dress in the special clothing. One of the cleanroom walls is a giant HEPA filter, and the environment is carefully monitored.