NASA Confirms Planet Around Distant Star, Merging Tsunamis Here on Earth

NASA Confirms Planet Around Distant Star, Merging Tsunamis Here on Earth

NASA’s contributions to understanding our own planet as well as planets around distant stars were on display at the American Geophysical Union (AGU) meeting in San Francisco today.

Among them was a finding that the horrific damage caused in Japan this year was the result of merging tsunamisobserved by chance when three earth observation satellites with radar altimeters happened to be in the right place at the right time to measure wave heights.  “It was a one in 10 million chance that we were able to observe this double wave with satellites” according to Y. Tony Song of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), a federally funded research and development center operated for NASA by the California Institute of Technology.

The three satellites were the NASA/CNES Jason-1, NASA/ESA Jason-2, and ESA’s EnviSAT.  CNES is the French space agency; ESA is the European Space Agency.   All three have radar altimeters that measure sea level changes and each crossed the tsunami at different locations, enabling the findings.

The satellite data showed that at least two wave fronts merged into a single, double-wave.  “This wave was capable of travelling long distances without losing power” and “doubled in intensity over rugged ocean ridges, amplifying its destructive power at landfall,” according to NASA.

Completely separately, scientists now have confirmed the existence of a planet that is similar in size to Earth orbiting a distant star similar to our Sun and within a zone where they believe life could arise.   NASA’s Kepler space-based telescope is studying a comparatively small region of the sky hunting for planets around other stars.  It cannot directly observe such planets, but stares at the stars to notice changes in their brightness that could indicate an orbiting body passing in front — a planet.

Scientists describe a region around stars where it might be possible for life to arise called a “habitable zone.”   Kepler 22-b, as this planet is designated, is in the habitable zone of a star similar to ours that is 600 light years away.   It is one of 48 planet candidates in habitable zones of stars that Kepler is studying, down from the 54 reported earlier this year because scientists are now using a stricter definition of a habitable zone – sometimes referred to as the Goldilocks zone, where the temperature is not too hot and not too cold, but just right for life.    Planet “candidates” must be verified through observations using other ground- or space-based telescopes before they are confirmed as actually being planets.  Kepler 22-b is the first to be confirmed.

User Comments has the right (but not the obligation) to monitor the comments and to remove any materials it deems inappropriate.  We do not post comments that include links to other websites since we have no control over that content nor can we verify the security of such links.