Video has recently emerged of a speech by Professor Dimitar Sasselov, Harvard astronomer and co-investigator of NASA's Kepler Space Telescope, where he declared that the "Galaxy is rich in small, Earth-like planets." His speech was given at a Technology Entertainment and Design conference at Oxford University in mid-July where speakers are limited to 18 minutes on the latest scientific trends. The Kepler telescope uncovered evidence of up to 140 different planets similar in size to the Earth. Sasselov believes that the discovery amounts to a Copernican revolution where a clear affirmative answer is given to the question: “Are there other Earth like planets out there that can harbor life?” Significantly, Sasselov asserts that the evidence points to more earth-like planets in the galaxy than gas giants as previously thought. Estimates of earth-like planets in the galaxy could be quickly revised up to 100 million or more. Most importantly, he says that the data allows scientists to scan exoplanets for tell tale signs of life. Sasselov’s findings is good news for researchers in the fields of astrobiology and exopolitics since it encourages more scientific inquiry into the implications of intelligent extraterrestrial life.
Sasselov’s speech was quickly featured in the international media with bold headlines such as Britain’s Daily Mail that “More than 100 'Earth-like' planets discovered in past few weeks." Not so fast according to Space.com.
What Dimitar presented was 'candidates,'" said David Koch, the mission's deputy principal investigator at NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif. "These have the apparent signature we are looking for, but then we must perform extensive follow-up observations to eliminate false positives, such as background eclipsing binaries. This requires substantial amounts of ground-based observing which is done primarily in the summer observing season."
Indeed, Sasselov confirmed that more work was to be done over the summer to confirm what the Kepler data was suggesting, and that more news was “to come later in the year!"
That did not however stop Sasselov commenting on the significance of what has been discovered so far. He said that smaller rocky Earth like planets were statistically more common than gas giants: "Even before we have confirmed the planets among these hundreds of candidates, we can see statistically that the smaller-sized planets will be more common than the large-sized (Jupiter- and Saturn-like ones) in the sample,"
Sasselov explained that the results so far of the Kepler mission heralded a Corpernican revolution. Just as Corpernicus revolutionized astronomy by publishing data that the solar system rotated around the sun, rather than the earth, so too the data from the Kepler mission would lead to another scientific revolution. Rather than planets like earth being unique or an uncommon occurrence in the galaxy, they in fact are plentiful. Sasselov declared in his speech that the “Galaxy is rich in small, Earth-like planets”
While more scientific investigation will occur in the months ahead to confirm the results of the Kepler mission so far, its implications are enormous. Astrobiologists will be able to conclude with great confidence that extraterrestrial life is certain to exist elsewhere in the galaxy. Importantly, for the field of exopolitics, intelligent extraterrestrial life will also be deemed certain to exist, and this has profound social and political implications for humanity. In April 2010, Prof Stephen Hawking claimed it was “perfectly rational” to discuss the motivations of advanced extraterrestrial life. The findings of the Kepler mission make inquiry into the possible motivations of intelligent extraterrestrial life not only “perfectly rational" but now a logical necessity. The Kepler space telescope results will not only bring about an astronomical revolution, but a revolution in social and political thought about technologically advanced intelligent life in the galaxy and its impact on humanity.