Scientists are now four months into the Kepler spacecraft mission and already they have labeled over 1200 planets for possible alien life forms with a surprise. Due to selection effects of the transiting method which is based on is based on the observation of a star’s small drop in brightness.
Now this occurs when the orbit of one of the star’s planets passes (‘transits’) in front of the star where the amount of light lost varies between 0.01% and 1%- depending on the sizes of the star and the planet; and the duration of the transit depends on the planet’s distance from the star and the star’s mass. Since the star’s mass and size can be determined from spectroscopic observations, the planet’s size and distance can be determined.
Kepler has discovered systems with low inclinations. These have planets smaller than Neptune, because large gas giants can perturb the orbits of member planets into higher inclinations. The Kepler team was surprised to find so many multiple-planet systems in their area: over one hundred, when only two or three were predicted to be there.
How do planets form? This topic has been going through major revolutions in the last ten years on how they supposedly evolved within its paradigm. Back in 2001, theories on planet formation began to fall apart especially with Jupiter-size planets. A story that has been taught in public school textbooks known as the “planetesimal hypothesis” where dust accretes to build up a planet a grain at a time was deem too time consuming. It also predicts that Jupiter would have an iron core equal to 10 earth masses, but recent Galileo spacecraft data indicate it is less than six earth masses – and there may be none at all.
Also, astronomer Alan Boss had proposed an alternative theory called “disk instability” in which the original gas cloud had lumps that condensed into the gas giants. But this mechanism doesn’t last long enough to form planets. And that’s not all, ever since secular astronomers have embraced the idea of the nebular hypothesis where disks of dust and gas will slowly condense into planets that have come into conflicting observational data with that idea.
This conflicting observational data has to do with the discovery of gas giants orbiting extremely close to their parent stars known as; “hot Jupiters” was shocking to astronomers because it indicated that planets migrate inward and will quickly be destroyed unless they can form much faster than the core accretion model would allow. In 2005, Nature publishes research with the problems of trying to explain how planets supposedly evolved…
“The binary orbital period of HD 188753 is just 25.7 years, and the orbital separation of the stars, both of Sun size, is a mere 12.3 AU – about the distance from the Sun to Saturn. Konacki’s velocity measurements reveal that the primary star (the more massive star, denoted HD 188753A) has a planetary companion of a minimum of 1.14 Jupiter masses that orbits the star every 3.35 days at a distance of about 0.05 AU. Yet according to the orbital migration theory, this planet should not exist.”
“The secondary star is so close that its gravitational pull would have stripped away the protoplanetary disk of the primary star – where, even if it later migrated, the planet must have formed – reducing the disk to a radius of just 1.3 AU. But within this radius, ices are unlikely to last and so cannot contribute to the formation of a massive core. The alternative explanation – that the planet formed where it is – would challenge the standard picture, but runs into the problem of where the necessary solid material came from.”
Anomalies and constraints are good for science because they put the brakes on speculation which evolutionary planet formation, and Darwinism evolution thrives on in general. With all these problems in various planet formation stories, an upper limited was put on at ten million years or less to avoid the death spiral. But with more data coming in, this appears too long once again. The discovery of IC 348, a cluster of stars thought to be two or three million years old, shows that the dust is rapidly depleting in nine disks detected. In other words, you want to make a planet, you better hurry!
New Scientist makes an interesting observation concerning Kepler’s mission so far…
“Exoplanet systems around other stars are surprisingly flat compared with our own. The discovery means that the solar system must have had a far more colourful history than many of its counterparts and is forcing astronomers to rethink their ideas about the way planetary systems form.”
As science progresses, there have been no solutions or explanations found to problems that occurred with new discoveries in 2001, 2003, 2005, 2006, and 2009, even with the latest Kepler Spacecraft observations. What does this say about their epistemic status? Perhaps they should reconsider their notions about planet formation and study what Johannes Kepler was so delighted with his discoveries that even with the progress of science today, the earth remains special in the universe!