Astronomers Find SIXTY New Planets Orbiting Stars Near Our Solar System — And Believe Some May Be Like Earth, Or Support Life; Newly Unearthed Winston Churchill Essay Wonders If We’re ‘All Alone In The Universe’

Astronomers Find SIXTY New Planets Orbiting Stars Near Our Solar System — And Believe Some May Be Like Earth, Or Support Life; Newly Unearthed Winston Churchill Essay Wonders If We’re ‘All Alone In The Universe’

 
    Shivali Best had an article by the title above in the February 13, 2017 edition of the Daily Mail Online with the title above.  She wrote that the hunt for life elsewhere than Earth has gotten a huge boost recently — as “researchers have discovered 60 new planets orbiting stars near our solar system.”  “Among the new planets,” she notes, “is a hot ‘super-Earth, called Gliese 411b, which has a rocky surface, and is located in the fourth nearest star system to the Sun.  Researchers say the planet demonstrates that ‘virtually all’ the nearest stars to the Sun have planets orbiting them; and, some of these ‘could be like Earth.”
     Ms.Best notes that “the discovery was made by an international team of researchers, led by the University of Hertfordshire.  Along with the 60 new planets, the researchers found additional evidence of a further 54 planets, bringing the total number of potential new worlds to 114.”
    “The results are based on almost 61,000 individual observations,of 1,600 stars, taken over a 20 year period by U.S. astronomers using the Keck-I telescope in Hawaii,” Ms. Best wrote.  “The observations were part of a Lick-Carnegie Exoplanet Survey, which was started in 1996 by astronomers Steve Vogt, and Geoffrey Marcy, from the University of California, and Paul Butler, from the Carnegie Institute of Science, in Washington.  Dr. Mikko Tuomi, who led the study said: “It is fascinating to think than when we look at the nearest stars, all of them appear to have stars orbiting around them.  This is something astronomers were not convinced about, even as little as five years ago.  The new planets also help us better understand the formation processes of planetary systems and provide interesting targets for future efforts to image the planets directly.”
     Dr. Butler added:  “This paper and data release is one of my crowning achievements as an astronomer.  It represents a good chunk to my life’s work.”
     Ms. Best writes that “the group’s paper has been accepted for publication in the Astrophysical Journal.  The team is hoping their decision will lead to a new flurry of science, as astronomers around the globe combine the HIRES data with their own existing observations, or mount new observing campaigns to follow up on potential signals.”  She adds “the catalog release is part of a growing trend in exoplanet science to broaden the audience and discovery space, which has emerged in part to handle the aftermath of follow-up discoveries by NASA’s Kepler and K2 missions.”
     “I think this paper sets a precedent for how the community can collaborate on exoplanet detection and follow-up.” said team member Johanna Teske of Carnegie’s Observatories and Department of Terrestrial Magnetism.  “With NASA’s TESS mission on the horizon, which is expected to detect 1,000+ planets orbiting, bright, nearby stars, exoplanet scientists will soon have a whole new pool of planets to follow-up.” 
     “The best way ti advance the field and further our understanding of what these planets are made out of, is to harness the abilities of a variety of precision radial velocity instruments, and deploy them in concert,” said team member, Jennifer Burt of MIT.  “But, that will require some big teams to break from tradition, and start reading serious cooperative efforts.”
Our Ability To See Much Farther Into Deep Space, With Greater Clarity — May Soon Provide Us An Answer To One Of The Most Profound & Great Unknowns — Are We All Alone In The Universe?
     New, and more powerful telescopes are bringing the vast expanse of space into focus; and, allowing us to ‘see, what no man has seen before.’  It is a very exciting time to be an astrophysicist, cosmologist, or a novice like myself, when it comes to answering one of the most profound questions and unknowns of the human race.  Our ability to see much father into deep space, with greater clarity, may soon provide us an answer as to whether or not we are all alone in the universe.  As the late sc-fi writer Arthur C. Clark once said, “We are either all alone in the universe, or we aren’t; and, either one of those answers is scary.”  It is a question that has been pondered since man first walked this planet.
     In a timely piece of history surrounding this issue, numerous media outlets and websites are reporting on a “lost essay,” by the late, great, Winston Churchill, pondering on the possibility of intelligent life beyond Earth.  Kimiko de Freytas-Tamura writing on the February 15, 2017 online edition of the New York Times, that “even as he was preparing for the biggest struggle of his life, leading Britain in its fight against Nazi Germany, Winston Churchill had something else on his mind:  extraterrestrials.” 
     “In a newly unearthed essay that Mr. Churchill sent to his publisher on October 16, 1939,” Mr. de Freytas-Tamura writes, and “just weeks after Britain entered WWII, and Mr. Churchill became part of the wartime cabinet — and later revised, he pondered the likelihood of life on another planet.”  “Churchill was so enthralled by the subject,” Mr. de Freytas-Tamura writes, Mr. Churchill “ordered a suspected sighting of an unidentified flying object (UFO) by the Royal Air Force (RAF) to be kept secret for 50 years to avoid “mass panic.”
     “In an 11-page essay titled, “Are We Alone In The Universe?,” the statesman showed powers of reason, “like a scientist,” said Mario Livio, an astrophysicist who read the rarely seen draft; and, wrote about it in an article published Wednesday in Nature Magazine  “The most amazing thing is that he started this essay when Europe was on the brink of war, and there he is, musing about a question about a question about a scientific topic that is really a question out of curiosity,” Mr. Livio said in an interview.
     Mr. de Freytas-Tamura said Mr. Churchill’s interest in life elsewhere in the universe, “stemmed from his early years as an army officer in British-ruled India, where he had crates of books, including — Darwin’s, “On Origin Of The Species,” shipped to him by his mother [and, no doubt at his request].  “He later became friends, at least for a time, with sci-fi writer H.G. Wells, whose novel, “War Of The Worlds,” about Martians invading Britain, had been adapted by Orson Welles for a famous CBS radio broadcast in 1938 — a year before Churchill wrote his article.”  (Churchill once said Welles’s “Time Machine,” was one of the books he’d like to take with him to purgatory.”  Just as an aside, Orson Welles was already a rising Hollywood megastar, who would rocket to fame in 1941 when he produced an released what is considered the greatest film of all time — ‘Citizen Kane,’ which also resulted in a legendary battle between Mr. Welles and William Randolph Hearst.  Hearst did everything he could to undermine Welles, and destroy Welles personally, for what Mr. Hearst considered a negative portrayal of him in the film.  Mr. Welles never said that Charles Foster Kane was in fact William Randolph Hearst; but, ‘everyone’ knew otherwise.  Welles, and Jules Verne were mega superstars of their time, and were inspiring readers across the globe, who wanted to escape their personal difficulties and think about life in a much more profound and inspiring way.  But, I digress. 
     In his essay, “Churchill argued [in his essay] that it was probable that extraterrestrial life existed somewhere [else] in the universe,” Mr. de Freytas-Tamura wrote.  “I, for one, am not so immensely impressed by the success we are making of our civilization here — that I am prepared to think we are the only spot in this immense universe which contains living, thinking creatures; or, that we are the highest type of mental and physical development which has ever appeared in the vast compass of space, and time.”  Amen!
     Of note, Churchill “was the first British Prime Minister to hire a science adviser,” Mr. de Freytas-Tamura noted.  “Frederick Lindemann, a physicist, became Churchill’s “on tap” expert; and, once described him as a “scientist who had missed his vocation,” said Andrew Nahum, who organized an exhibition on Churchill and science at the Science Museum in London.  He found a second copy of the essay in the Churchill Essay’s Center at the University of Cambridge.”  “Churchill also met regularly with scientists such as Bernard Lovell, the father of radio astronomy, and the Lovell telescope.”  And, in 1958, Mr. Churchill founded the British equivalent of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology at Cambridge — Churchill College — which has since produced 32 Nobel Prize winners,” he added.
     “Churchill had a “natural curiosity and general optimism about life,” said Fulton Riley, the Director of the National Churchill Museum in Fulton Missouri.  “He had a willingness to see technical and scientific advances improve not only his immediate world, or country, but…..the world.”
     What would Winston Churchill, The Last Lion,’ have to say now?  Let’s hope he is still seeking one of the most profound questions that has bugged mankind for centuries:  Who are we?; Why are we here?; And, Are We All Alone?   V/R, RCP

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