An inspiring triumph at Keck observatory
The exciting discovery of an Earth-like rocky planet 15 light years away is a reminder of how technology amplifies great human pursuit of knowledge and the powerful role that Hawai'i can play.
Scientists from the University of California Santa Cruz designed a new light sensor installed at Mauna Kea's W.M. Keck Observatory that enabled a breakthrough detection of the planet, orbiting the star Gliese 876 in the constellation Aquarius. The sensitive instrument can detect minute changes in star movement, a telltale sign that a planet is in orbit.
Experts believe this one is about twice the diameter of our world and may be the first rocky planet found orbiting a normal-size star, unlike the voluminous Jupiter-type gas giant planets.
What's awesome is that this finding points to the possibility of many planets like Earth in our universe. The newly detected planet is circling its star too closely for temperatures to harbor life as we know it.
But it's clear evidence that other, more hospitable worlds could exist and, most thrillingly of all, could harbor the development of life.
Hawai'i can take pride in the fact that Mauna Kea provides such a wonderful window into the cosmos. We must also appreciate that it's the pristine, natural environment that affords atmospheric clarity and such a crystalline view. Future improvements at Mauna Kea, while welcome, must proceed with sensitivity to both the environmental quality as well as the cultural importance of this treasured place.
This week's announcement is indeed an occasion for celebration that the stated mission of the Keck Observatory can be so triumphantly realized: "We advance the frontiers of astronomy and share our discoveries to inspire the imagination of all."