Thursday, 27 February 2014 02:43 Published in National News
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Our galaxy is looking far more crowded and hospitable. NASA on Wednesday confirmed a bonanza of 715 newly discovered planets outside our solar system.
Scientists using the planet-hunting Kepler telescope pushed the number of planets discovered in the galaxy to about 1,700. Twenty years ago, astronomers had not found any planets circling stars other than the ones revolving around our sun.
"We almost doubled just today the number of planets known to humanity," NASA planetary scientist Jack Lissauer said in a Wednesday teleconference, calling it "the big mother lode."
Astronomers used a new confirmation technique to come up with the largest single announcement of a batch of exoplanets - what planets outside our solar system are called.
While Wednesday's announcements were about big numbers, they also were about implications for life behind those big numbers.
All the new planets are in systems like ours where multiple planets circle a star. The 715 planets came from looking at just 305 stars. They were nearly all in size closer to Earth than gigantic Jupiter.
And four of those new exoplanets orbit their stars in "habitable zones" where it is not too hot or not too cold for liquid water which is crucial for life to exist.
Douglas Hudgins, NASA's exoplanet exploration program scientist, called Wednesday's announcement a major step toward Kepler's ultimate goal: "finding Earth 2.0."
It's a big step in not just finding other Earths, but "the possibility of life elsewhere," said Lisa Kaltenegger, a Harvard and Max Planck Institute astronomer who wasn't part of the discovery team.
The four new habitable zone planets are all at least twice as big as Earth so that makes them more likely to be gas planets instead of rocky ones like Earth - and less likely to harbor life.
So far Kepler has found nine exoplanets in the habitable zone, NASA said. Astronomers expect to find more when they look at all four years of data collected by the now-crippled Kepler; so far they have looked at two years.
Planets in the habitable zone are likely to be farther out from their stars because it is hot close in. And planets farther out take more time orbiting, so Kepler has to wait longer to see it again.
Another of Kepler's latest discoveries indicates that "small planets are extremely common in our galaxy," said MIT astronomer Sara Seagar, who wasn't part of the discovery team. "Nature wants to make small planets."
And, in general, smaller planets are more likely to be able to harbor life than big ones, Kaltenegger said.
Wednesday, 26 February 2014 04:22 Published in Local News
EAST ST. LOUIS, Ill. (AP) - A disgraced metro-east judge at the center of a courthouse drug scandal involving the cocaine death of a prosecutor-turned-judge is about to be sentenced.
Former St. Clair County Circuit Judge Michael Cook is scheduled to be sentenced Wednesday afternoon in U.S. District Court in East St. Louis. That's where he pleaded guilty in November to heroin and gun charges.
Cook had negotiated an 18 month sentence as part of a plea deal. But it's possible the federal judge assigned to the case, Joe Billy McDade, may depart from that.
Cook resigned from the bench last May, after his legal troubles surfaced after Joe Christ died of a cocaine overdose while with Cook at a hunting cabin. Christ was a former St. Clair County prosecutor and newly sworn-in judge.
Wednesday, 26 February 2014 04:08 Published in Local News
Missouri education officials want to intervene sooner in school district that are struggling to maintain accreditation. That was the jist of the plan officials with the State Department of Elementary and Secondary Education outlined at a public meeting on the UMSL campus Tuesday night. Education officials held the meeting to gather feedback on the proposed plan to improve performance in stuggling districts.
Most of the speakers expressed concerns that the plan doesn't do enough to help districts that are already failing and burdened with the cost of a state mandated transfer program, districts like Normandy.
Missouri Education Commissioner Dr. Chris Nicastro spoke with Fox 2 News. She acknowledges that the problems in Normandy go beyond those addressed by DESE's proposal. "Unless something significant happens in the legislature to alter the course, it's pretty clear that the transfer program expenditures will cause the district to go bankrupt," Nicastro said.
Many at last night's meeting also took the opportunity to criticize the transfer program and its affect on districts like Normandy. That includes Maryville University Professor Emeritus Dan Rocchio. "We need to be changing the system within the district," Rocchio said, "as opposed to spending money to send kids outside the district."
Public comments on DESE's proposed plan can be submitted online at www.dese.mo.gov/unaccredited-districts.