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Credit: NASA/Ames/JPL-Caltech

NASA’s Kepler Mission released its first official findings today at press event. These are the first fully confirmed exoplanet discoveries by the mission, and there will be many more confirmations coming down the pipe no doubt. This system isn’t quite as exciting as I’d hoped… on Tuesday I read that NASA was planning a press conference to announce Kepler’s findings so naturally I was hoping they’d found a planet similar to earth, but I seriously doubted the news would be that exciting. I’d say it’ll be at least another year before any earth twins are confirmed, because obviously an earth twin would have an orbital period close to 1 earth year, and multiple transits would be needed to confirm it as a planet.

The system discovered is the first multi-planet system confirmed using the transit method (measuring the dip in light seen from a star as a planet crosses between us and the star). It has two Saturn-sized planets and possibly one “super earth,” a planet roughly 1.5 times the size of earth. This smaller planet has not been confirmed, however, so it’s still just an “exoplanet candidate.” Furthermore, they say the smaller planet is VERY close to the star, completing an orbit in only a matter of days. This means the planet would be scorchingly hot and quite unsuitable for any kind of life. While not the “holy grail” of planet-hunting, these findings confirm that the techniques and devices being used to hunt for exoplanets are indeed working, and that we’re well on our way toward finding that illusive earth-twin. (Via NASA)

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A massive grin sprawled across my face as I read this Nashvillest post about the upcoming “Way Late Play Date” nights at the Adventure Science Center. “Best idea ever” is an understatement. It’s been at least 15 years since I’ve been to that place- then it was called Cumberland Science Museum I believe- and I’ve wanted to go back ever since moving to middle TN in 2000. I’m quite sure I’m not the only one who’s wanted to go but felt like I’d get in the way of all the kids if I went without having my own kids. Some genius in their event planning dept. must’ve realized this and come up with the idea for this event. It’s a 21+ event, which will include 2 alcoholic drinks in the $15 ticket price. Booze+science is a winning combination in my mind. I just really hope some dumbass doesn’t get wasted and then hurl while in the moonwalk simulator. Oh, and you can also get a discount by buying 2 tickets together for only $25. The dates are June 24th and July 27th. Embrace your inner nerd and get tickets here before they sell out! (Megan & I will be there June 24th.)

I’ve written many blog posts about NASA’s Kepler Mission here early last year around the time it launched, but it’s been a while since I mentioned it. The spacecraft has been silently staring into the heavens looking for minuscule dips in stars’ brightness which may indicate a transiting planet orbiting said star. Now that it’s been over a year since its first observations, NASA is obligated by law to release the data to the public for further scrutinization. Astoundingly, Kepler has produced a list of 750 candidates for exoplanets. This is a massive list, considering the current list of known exoplanets is at about 450. I say “candidates” because these are not confirmed exoplanets yet, they are data sets that could indicate exoplanets, but those stars need further review and observation by other telescopes to confirm that the dips in their brightness was definitely caused by a transiting planet. This could take years, because in some of the cases, another transit will have to be observed to confirm that it’s indeed a planet. Nevertheless, this is very exciting news, and I have absolutely no doubt that at least one of these candidates will turn out to be the holy grail of planet-hunting: an earth twin. Read more about this at Universe Today, and even more at the NY Times.

Now behold the most badass kid ever. He had his tooth pulled by a rocket. (You may think this is a bit cruel, but I’m positive that the tooth was a baby tooth that was on the verge of falling out anyway.) (Also via Universe Today)

lol birdThis past Friday I was alerted to the presence of 6 dead birds outside the Starbucks that’s located in the lobby of the building in which I work at Vanderbilt- the Student Life Center. Low and behold, there were indeed 6 dead birds of the same species lying outside the window. I’m used to finding one or two dead birds every now and then… obviously victims of a recent cleaning of the large pane windows along one of our hallways. But SIX at once? I just dismissed it as a strange coincidence and that they were just flying in a tight flock at night. But this morning I noticed a story link on Nashvillest about drunken Cedar Waxwings causing minor chaos in Memphis, and I had a slight “eureka!” moment. These Memphian birds had ingested fermented holly berries and were literally drunk from the alcohol in the pulp. The berries were fermented because of the recent roller-coaster temperatures; the warm snap caused the berries to begin to bud, then the cold snap froze the individual cells which causes them to rupture, allowing yeast to ferment the sugars in the pulp, resulting in alcoholic berries. I looked up photos of Cedar Waxwings, and sure enough the birds outside my building were all Cedar Waxwings. After a quick call to Nashville Metro Public Health, my suspicions were confirmed, and I conclude that we did indeed have a case of drunken birds in Nashville. Kind of funny in a sick, twisted way…

Copyright Steve Cross

Copyright Steve Cross

Check out the Nashville Cream/Spin review of the super-secret Features/Lambchop/Cortney Tidwell house show last friday. Sorry I couldn’t post anything about it, it was a very secret show intended mainly for the attendees of the Alliance of Independent Media Stores (which apparently has no website) conference that was being hosted by Grimey’s last week. You can see the awesomeness vicariously through me via my pics in the slideshow.

As you may remember, last week NASA’s Orbiting Carbon Observatory failed to reach orbit after a launch malfunction, dooming it to crash into the ocean somewhere near Antarctica. Well, (thankfully) NASA is being extra careful and taking another day to inspect the Delta V rocket that is scheduled to carry the Kepler Observatory into orbit this friday. Thank GOD! The LAST thing we need is for the expensive and extremely important Kepler mission to fail. As I’ve reported before, the Kepler mission is VERY VERY likely to discover an earth-twin orbiting another star, hopefully in the next 3 or so years. Its goal is to stare at a large swath of sky with its incredibly sensitive instruments and look for the miniscule dimming caused by a planet crossing in front of one of those stars it’s looking at. This mission is IMPERATIVE to the search for an earth-like exoplanet, and eventually the discovery of extraterrestrial life. Losing it would be DEVASTATING. I applaud NASA for taking extra precautions to make sure the Kepler mission does not see the same fate of the OCO. Check my friday post for an update on the status of the launch. Happy Monday!

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