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Systemic - Characterizing Extrasolar Planetary Systems

Mearth!

17 Dec 2009, 02:32 UTC
Mearth!
(200 words excerpt, click title or image to see full post)

Of course, there are still 7 hours and 13 days left until the close of 2009, but I’ve got every confidence that the discovery of the decade has landed on the ground. The Mearth project has found a transiting 6.55 Earth-mass planet in orbit around the nearby red dwarf star GJ 1214. The parent star is bright enough, and the planet-star area ratio is large enough so that direct atmospheric characterization will be possible not just with JWST, but with HST. Incredible. I’m inspired, invigorated, envious. This discovery is a game changer.
The GJ1214 discovery is all over the news today. The coverage is deservedly laudatory, but interestingly, the most dramatic aspect of the detection received rather short schrift. This is easily the most valuable planet yet found by any technique, and the discovery, start to finish, required an investment of ~500K (along with the equivalent of 1-2 nights of HARPS time to do the follow-up confirmation and to measure the planet’s mass). Well over a billion dollars has been spent on the search for planets.
I’m milking that contrast for drama, of course. It’s true that GJ1214b is low-hanging fruit. The team with the foresight to arrive on the ...

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