Tracing Dark Matter with Ripples in the Whirlpool Galaxy

M51
The distribution of HI hydrogen in the Whirlpool Galaxy (M51) as determined by the THINGS VLA survey extends far beyond the visible stars in the galaxy and its satellite NGC 5195 (marked by cross), which is situated in the short arm of the spiral. Analysis of perturbations in the hydrogen distribution can be used to predict the location of such satellites, in particular, those satellites that are composed primarily of dark matter and are thus too faint to be detected easily. (Click image for hi-res version.) (Sukanya Chakrabarti/UC Berkeley)

[/caption]A new paper presented at this week’s American Astronomical Society conference promises to shine some light, so to speak, on the pursuit of dark matter in individual galaxies. The current model of cold dark matter in the Universe is extremely successful when it comes to mapping the mysterious substance on large scales, but not on galactic and sub-galactic scales. Earlier today, Dr. Sukanya Chakrabarti of Florida Atlantic University described a new way to map dark matter by observing ripples in the hydrogen disks of large galaxies. Her work may finally allow astronomers to use their observations of ordinary matter to probe the distribution of dark matter on smaller scales.

Spiral galaxies are typically composed of a disk, which is made of normal (baryonic) matter and contains the central bulge and spiral arms, and a halo, which surrounds the disk and contains dark matter. In recent years, surveys such as THINGS (conducted by the NRAO Very Large Array) have been undertaken to analyze the distribution of hydrogen in nearby galactic disks. Last year, Dr. Chakrabarti used such surveys to investigate the way that small satellite galaxies affect the disks of larger galaxies such as M51, the Whirlpool Galaxy. But the real prize lies in investigating what astronomers cannot see. Chakrabarti remarked, “Since the 70s, we’ve known from observations of flat rotation curves that galaxies have massive dark matter halos, but there are very few probes that allow us to figure out how it’s distributed.” She has now broadened her research to do just that.

Astronomers believe that the density distribution of dark matter relies on a parameter called its scale radius. As it turns out, varying this parameter visibly affects the shape of the galaxy’s hydrogen disk when the influence of passing dwarf galaxies is accounted for.

“Ripples in outer gas disks serve to act like a mirror of the underlying dark matter distribution,” said Chakrabarti. By varying the scale radius of M51’s dark matter halo, Chakrabarti was able to see how it would affect the shape and distribution of atomic hydrogen in its disk. She found that large scale radii give rise to galaxies with a dark matter halo that becomes gradually more diffuse as it extends along the length of the disk. This causes the hydrogen in the disk to be very loosely wrapped around the central bulge of the galaxy. Conversely, small scale radii have density profiles that fall off much more steeply.

“Steeper density profiles are more effective at holding onto their ‘stuff’,” explained Chakrabarti, “and therefore they have a much more tightly wrapped spiral planform.”

Chakrabarti’s map of the distribution of dark matter in the halo of M51 is consistent with existing theoretical models, leading her to believe that this method may be extremely useful for astronomers trying to probe the elusive, invisible substance that makes up almost a quarter of our Universe. A preprint of her paper is available on the ArXiv.

Astronomers Witness a Web of Dark Matter

Dark matter in the Universe is distributed as a network of gigantic dense (white) and empty (dark) regions, where the largest white regions are about the size of several Earth moons on the sky. Credit: Van Waerbeke, Heymans, and CFHTLens collaboration.

[/caption]

We can’t see it, we can’t feel it, we can’t even interact with it… but dark matter may very well be one of the most fundamental physical components of our Universe. The sheer quantity of the stuff – whatever it is – is what physicists have suspected helps gives galaxies their mass, structure, and motion, and provides the “glue” that connects clusters of galaxies together in vast networks of cosmic webs.

Now, for the first time, this dark matter web has been directly observed.

An international team of astronomers, led by Dr. Catherine Heymans of the University of Edinburgh, Scotland, and Associate Professor Ludovic Van Waerbeke of the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada, used data from the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope Legacy Survey to map images of about 10 million galaxies and study how their light was bent by gravitational lensing caused by intervening dark matter.

Inside the dome of the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope. (CFHT)

The images were gathered over a period of five years using CFHT’s 1×1-degree-field, 340-megapixel MegaCam. The galaxies observed in the survey are up to 6 billion light-years away… meaning their observed light was emitted when the Universe was only a little over half its present age.

The amount of distortion of the galaxies’ light provided the team with a visual map of a dark matter “web” spanning a billion light-years across.

“It is fascinating to be able to ‘see’ the dark matter using space-time distortion,” said Van Waerbeke. “It gives us privileged access to this mysterious mass in the Universe which cannot be observed otherwise. Knowing how dark matter is distributed is the very first step towards understanding its nature and how it fits within our current knowledge of physics.”

This is one giant leap toward unraveling the mystery of this massive-yet-invisible substance that pervades the Universe.

The densest regions of the dark matter cosmic web host massive clusters of galaxies. Credit: Van Waerbeke, Heymans, and CFHTLens collaboration.

“We hope that by mapping more dark matter than has been studied before, we are a step closer to understanding this material and its relationship with the galaxies in our Universe,” Dr. Heymans said.

The results were presented today at the American Astronomical Society meeting in Austin, Texas. Read the release here.

Does Earth Have Many Tiny Moons?

This radar image of asteroid 2005 YU55 was obtained on Nov. 7, 2011. Credit: NASA/JPL/Caltech.

[/caption]

Look up in a clear night sky. How many moons do you see? Chances are, you’re only going to count to one. Admittedly, if you count any higher and you’re not alone, you may get some funny looks cast in your direction. But even though you may not be able to actually see them, there may very well be more moons out there orbiting our planet.

For the time being, anyway.

Today, Earth has one major moon in orbit around it. (Technically the Earth-Moon system orbits around a common center of gravity, called the barycenter, but that’s splitting hairs for the purpose of this story.) At one time Earth may have had two large moons until the smaller eventually collided into the larger, creating the rugged lump we now call the farside highlands. But, that was 4 billion years ago and again not what’s being referred to here.

Right now, at his moment, Earth may very well have more than the one moon we see in the night sky. Surprise.

Of course, it would be a very small moon. Perhaps no more than a meter across. But a moon nonetheless. And there could even be others – many others – much smaller than that. Little bits of solar system leftovers, orbiting our planet even farther out than the Moon we all know and love, coming and going in short-lived flings with Earth without anyone even knowing.

This is what has been suggested by researcher Mikael Granvik of the University of Helsinki in Finland. He and his colleagues have created computer simulations of asteroids believed to be occupying the inner solar system, and what the chances are that any number of them could be captured into Earth orbit at any given time.

Orbit of 2006 RH120, a confirmed TCO identified in 2006.

The team’s results, posted Dec. 20 in the science journal Icarus, claim it’s very likely that small asteroids would be temporarily captured into orbit (becoming TCOs, or temporarily captured objects) on a regular basis, each spending about nine months in up to three revolutions around Earth before heading off again.

Some objects, though, might hang around even longer… in the team’s simulations one TCO remained in orbit for 900 years.

“There are lots of asteroids in the solar system, so chances for the Earth to capture one at any time is, in a sense, not surprising,” said co-author Jeremie Vauballion, an astronomer at the Paris Observatory.

In fact, the team suspects that there’s most likely a TCO out there right now, perhaps a meter or so wide, orbiting between 5 and 10 times the distance between Earth and the Moon. And there could be a thousand smaller ones as well, up to 10 centimeters wide.

So if these moons are indeed out there, why don’t we know about them?

Put simply, they are too small, too far, and too dark.

At that distance an object the size of a writing desk is virtually undetectable with the instruments we have now.. especially if we don’t even know exactly where to look. But in the future the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST) may, once completed, be able to spot these tiny satellites with its 3200-megapixel camera.

Once spotted, TCOs could become targets of exploration. After all, they are asteroids that have come to us, which would make investigation all the easier – not to mention cheaper – much more so than traveling to and back from the main asteroid belt.

“The price of the mission would actually be pretty small,” Granvik said. And that, of course, makes the chances of such a mission getting approved all the better.

Read more on David Shiga’s article on New Scientist here.

The team’s published paper can be found here.

The Contributor to SN 2011fe

Astrophoto: Supernova PTF11kly in M101 by Rick Johnson
Supernova PTF11kly in M101. Credit: Rick Johnson

[/caption]

When discovered on August 24, 2011, supernova 2011fe was the closest supernova since the famous SN 1987A. Located in the relatively nearby Pinwheel galaxy (M101), it was a prime target for scientists to study since the host galaxy has been well studied and many high resolution images exist from before the explosion, allowing astronomers to search them for information on the star that led to the eruption. But when astronomers, led by Weidong Li, at the University of California, Berkeley searched, what they found defied the typically accepted explanations for supernovae of the same type as 2011fe.

SN 2011fe was a type 1a supernova. This class of supernova is expected to be caused by a white dwarf which accumulates mass contributed by a companion star. The general expectation is that the companion star is a star evolving off the main sequence. As it does, it swells up, and matter spills onto the white dwarf. If this pushes the dwarf’s mass over the limit of 1.4 times the mass of the Sun, the star can no longer support the weight and it undergoes a runaway collapse and rebound, resulting in a supernova.

Fortunately, the swollen up stars, known as red giants, become exceptionally bright due to their large surface area. The eighth brightest star in our own sky, Betelgeuse, is one of these red giants. This high brightness means that these objects are visible from large distances, potentially even in galaxies as distant as the Pinwheel. If so, the astronomers from Berkeley would be able to search archival images and detect the brighter red giant to study the system prior to the explosion.

But when the team searched the images from the Hubble Space Telescope which had snapped pictures through eight different filters, no star was visible at the location of the supernova. This finding follows a quick report from September which announced the same results, but with a much lower threshold for detection. The team followed up by searching images from the Spitzer infrared telescope which also failed to find any source at the proper location.

While this doesn’t rule out the presence of the contributing star, it does place constraints on its properties. The limit on brightness means that the contributor star could not have been a luminous red giant. Instead, the result favors another model of mass donation known as a double-degenerate model

In this scenario, two white dwarfs (both supported by degenerate electrons) orbit one another in a tight orbit. Due to relativistic effects, the system will slowly lose energy and eventually the two stars will become close enough that one will become disrupted enough to spill mass onto the other. If this mass transfer pushes the primary over the 1.4 solar mass limit, it would trigger the same sort of explosion.

This double degenerate model does not exclusively rule out the possibility of red giants contributing to type Ia supernovae, but recently other evidence has revealed missing red giants in other cases.

Solar Powered Dragon gets Wings for Station Soar

SpaceX Dragon set to dock at International Space Station on COTS 2/3 mission. Falcon 9 launch of Dragon on COTS 2/3 mission is slated for Feb.7, 2012 from pad 40 at Cape Canaveral, Florida. Artist’s rendition of Dragon spacecraft with solar panels fully deployed on orbit. ISS crew will grapple Dragon and berth to ISS docking port. Credit: NASA

[/caption]

The Dragon has grown its mighty wings

SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft has gotten its wings and is set to soar to the International Space Station (ISS) in about a month. NASA and SpaceX are currently targeting a liftoff on Feb. 7 from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

Dragon is a commercially developed unmanned cargo vessel constructed by SpaceX under a $1.6 Billion contract with NASA. The Dragon spacecraft will launch atop a Falcon 9 booster rocket also built by SpaceX, or Space Exploration Technologies.

Dragon’s solar array panels being installed on Dragon’s trunk at the SpaceX hangar in Cape Canaveral,FL.

The Feb. 7 demonstration flight – dubbed COTS 2/3 – represents the first test of NASA’s new strategy to resupply the ISS with privately developed rockets and cargo carriers under the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) initiative.

Following the forced retirement of the Space Shuttle after Atlantis final flight in July 2011, NASA has no choice but to rely on private companies to loft virtually all of the US share of supplies and equipment to the ISS.

The Feb. 7 flight will be the first Dragon mission actually tasked to dock to the ISS and is also the first time that the Dragon will fly with deployable solar arrays. The twin arrays are the primary power source for the Dragon. They will be deployed a few minutes after launch, following Dragon separation from the Falcon 9 second stage.

The solar arrays can generate up to 5000 watts of power on a long term basis to run the sensors and communications systems, drive the heating and cooling systems and recharge the battery pack.

SpaceX designed, developed and manufactured the solar arrays in house with their own team of engineers. As with all space hardware, the arrays have been rigorously tested for hundreds of hours under the utterly harsh conditions that simulate the unforgiving environment of outer space, including thermal, vacuum, vibration, structural and electrical testing.

SpaceX engineers conducting an early solar panel test. Hundreds of flood lamps simulate the unfiltered light of the sun. Photo: Roger Gilbertson/ SpaceX

The two arrays were then shipped to Florida and have been attached to the side of the Dragon’s bottom trunk at SpaceX’s Cape Canaveral launch processing facilities. They are housed behind protective shielding until commanded to deploy in flight.


Video Caption: SpaceX testing of the Dragon solar arrays. Credit: SpaceX

I’ve toured the SpaceX facilities several times and seen the Falcon 9 and Dragon capsule launching on Feb. 7. The young age and enthusiasm of the employees is impressive and quite evident.

NASA recently granted SpaceX the permission to combine the next two COTS demonstration flights into one mission and dock the Dragon at the ISS if all the rendezvous practice activities in the vicinity of the ISS are completed flawlessly.

Dragon with the protective fairings installed over the folded solar arrays, at the SpaceX

The ISS crew is eagerly anticipating the arrival of Dragon, for whch they have long trained.

“We’re very excited about it,” said ISS Commander Dan Burbank in a televised interview from on board the ISS earlier this week.

The ISS crew will grapple the Dragon with the station’s robotic arm when it comes within reach and berth it to the Earth-facing port of the Harmony node.

“From the standpoint of a pilot it is a fun, interesting, very dynamic activity and we are very much looking forward to it,” Burbank said. “It is the start of a new era, having commercial vehicles that come to Station.”

Burbank is a US astronaut and captured stunning images of Comet Lovejoy from the ISS just before Christmas, collected here.

Read recent features about the ISS and commercial spaceflight by Ken Kremer here:
Dazzling Photos of the International Space Station Crossing the Moon!
Absolutely Spectacular Photos of Comet Lovejoy from the Space Station
NASA announces Feb. 7 launch for 1st SpaceX Docking to ISS

Jan 11: Free Lecture by Ken at the Franklin Institute, Philadelphia, PA at 8 PM for the Rittenhouse Astronomical Society. Topic: Mars & Vesta in 3 D – Plus Search for Life & GRAIL

Tranquillityite – Moon Mineral Found In Western Australia

A mineral brought back to Earth by the first men on the Moon and long thought to be unique to the lunar surface has been found in Australian rocks more than one billion years old, scientists say. Image Credit: Birger Rasmussen

[/caption]

When it comes to our natural human curiosity, we want to know if there’s something new out there… something we haven’t discovered yet. That’s why when lunar rock samples were returned, geologists were thrilled to find very specific minerals – armalcolite, pyroxferroite and tranquillityite – which belonged only to our Moon. However, over the years the first two were found here on Earth and tranquillityite was disclosed in specific meteorites. Named for Tranquility Base, site of the first Moon landing, tranquillityite was supposed to be the final hold-out… the last lunar unique mineral… until now.

Birger Rasmussen, paleontologist with Curtin University in Perth, and colleagues report in their Geology paper that they’ve uncovered tranquillityite in several remote locations in Western Australia. While the samples are incredibly small, about the width of a human hair and merely microns in length, their composition is undeniable. What’s more, tranquillityite may be a lot more common here on Earth than previously thought.

Rasmussen told the Sydney Morning Herald, “This was essentially the last mineral which was sort of uniquely lunar that had been found in the 70s from these samples returned from the Apollo mission.The mineral has since been found exclusively in returned lunar samples and lunar meteorites, with no terrestrial counterpart. We have now identified tranquillityite in six sites from Western Australia.”

Why has this remote mineral stayed hidden for so long? One major reason is its delicate structure. Composed of iron, silicon, oxygen, zirconium, titanium and a tiny bit of yttrium, a rare earth element, tranquillityite erodes at a rapid pace when exposed to natural environmental conditions. Another explanation is that tranquillityite can only form through a unique set of circumstance – through uranium decay. Rasmussen explains it’s evidence these minerals were ‘always’ located here on Earth and we share the same chemical processes as our satellite.

“This means that basically we have the same chemical phenomena on the Moon and on Earth.” says Rasmussen. And one of the reasons it has taken so long to be found is, “No one was looking hard enough.”

Image Credit: Birger Rasmussen
And exactly what does it take to locate it? More than a billion years old, the only sure way to identify tranquillityite is to subject it to a series of electron blasts. By exposing it to a high-energy accelerating electron beam, it produces spectra. From there “an elemental composition in combination with back-scattered electron (BSE) brightness and x-ray count rate information is converted into mineral phases.” According to Rasmussen’s paper, “Terrestrial tranquillityite commonly occurs as clusters of fox-red laths closely associated with baddeleyite and zirconolite in quartz and K-feldspar intergrowths in late-stage interstices between plagioclase and pyroxene.”

While it has no real economic value, terrestrial tranquillityite is another good reason mankind should try to preserve pristine regions such as the northeast Pilbara Region and the Eel Creek formation. Who knows what else we might find?

Original Story Source: PhysOrg.com.

Journal Club: On Nothing

Today's Journal Club is about a new addition to the Standard Model of fundamental particles.

[/caption]

According to Wikipedia, a journal club is a group of individuals who meet regularly to critically evaluate recent articles in scientific literature. Being Universe Today if we occasionally stray into critically evaluating each other’s critical evaluations, that’s OK too. And of course, the first rule of Journal Club is… don’t talk about Journal Club.

So, without further ado – today’s journal article under the spotlight is about nothing.

The premise of the article is that to define nothing we need to look beyond a simple vacuum and think of nothing in terms of what there was before the Big Bang – i.e. really nothing.

For example, you can have a bubble of nothing (no topology, no geometry), a bubble of next to nothing (topology, but no geometry) or a bubble of something (which has topology, geometry and most importantly volume). The universe is a good example of a bubble of something.

The paper walks the reader through a train of logic which ends by defining nothing as ‘anti De Sitter space as the curvature length approaches zero’. De Sitter space is essentially a ‘vacuum solution’ of Einstein’s field equations – that is, a mathematically modelled universe with a positive cosmological constant. So it expands at an accelerating rate even though it is an empty vacuum. Anti De Sitter space is a vacuum solution with a negative cosmological constant – so it’s shrinking inward even though it is an empty vacuum. And as its curvature length approaches zero, you get nothing.

Having so defined nothing, the authors then explore how you might get a universe to spontaneously arise from that nothing – and nope, apparently it can’t be done. Although there are various ways to enable ‘tunnelling’ that can produce quantum fluctuations within an apparent vacuum – you can’t ‘up-tunnel’ from nothing (or at least you can’t up-tunnel from ‘anti-de Sitter space as the curvature length approaches zero’ ).

The paper acknowledges this is obviously a problem, since here we are. By explanation, the authors suggest:

  • get past the problem by appealing to immeasurable extra dimensions (a common strategy in theoretical physics to explain impossible things without anyone being able to easily prove or disprove it);
  • that their definition of nothing is just plain wrong; or
  • that they (and we) are just not asking the right questions.

Clearly the third explanation is the authors’ favoured one as they end with the statement: ‘One thing seems clear… to truly understand everything, we must first understand nothing‘. Nice.

So – comments? Is appealing to extra dimensions just a way of dodging a need for evidence? Nothing to declare? Want to suggest an article for the next edition of Journal Club?

Today’s article:
Brown and Dahlen On Nothing.

Virtual Star Parties, More Astronomers Needed

For those of you following me on Google+, you know that I’ve been hosting virtual star parties with Phil Plait and Pamela Gay. We’ve teamed up with astronomer Mike Phillips who has been livestreaming his telescopes into a Google+ Hangout and then broadcasting it live so everyone can watch. So, it’s sort of like looking through an amazing telescope, but with color commentary from us at the same time.

It’s been an amazing experience so far, but I know it can be even better. I need to find more astronomers able to livestream the view from their telescopes into a webcam and then into a Google+ Hangout. I’d like to have multiple telescopes going at the same time, with different views of the skies. Some focused on planets, others at deep sky objects.

And it doesn’t have to be big telescopes. There are beautiful objects in the sky, like open clusters, which look better with a wider field of view.

So, if you’re interested in participating, you’ll need to have a way to get the view from your telescope, into a webcam, and then use that webcam to join a Google+ Hangout. If you can do that, drop me an email at [email protected] and we’ll run some tests.

Here are two previous nights of experiments that we’ve done so far.

Virtual Star Party – January 6th, 2012

Virtual Star Party – January 5th, 2012

Exomoons? Kepler‘s On The Hunt

An artist impression of an exomoon orbiting an exoplanet, could the exoplanet's wobble help astronomers? (Andy McLatchie)

[/caption]

Recently, I posted an article on the feasibility of detecting moons around extrasolar planets. It was determined that exceptionally large moons (roughly Earth mass moons or more), may well be detectable with current technology. Taking up that challenge, a team of astronomers led by David Kipping from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics has announced they will search publicly available Kepler data to determine if the planet-finding mission may have detected such objects.

The team has titled the project “The Hunt of Exomoons with Kepler” or HEK for short. This project searches for moons through two main methods: the transits such moons may cause and the subtle tugs they may have on previously detected planets.

Of course, the possibility of finding such a large moon requires that one be present in the first place. Within our own solar system, there are no examples of moons of the necessary size for detection with present equipment. The only objects we could detect of that size exist independently as planets. But should such objects exist as moons?

Astronomers best simulations of how solar systems form and develop don’t rule it out. Earth sized objects may migrate within forming solar systems only to be captured by a gas giant. If that happens, some of the new “moons” would not survive; their orbits would be unstable, crashing them into the planet or would be ejected again after a short time. But estimates suggest that around 50% of captured moons would survive, and their orbits circularized due to tidal forces. Thus, the potential for such large moons does exist.

The transit method is the most direct for detecting the exomoons. Just as Kepler detects planets passing in front of the disc of the parent star, causing a temporary drop in brightness, so too could it spot a transit of a sufficiently large moon.

The trickier method is finding the more subtle effect of the moon tugging the planet, changing when the transit begins and ends. This method is often known as Timing Transit Variation (TTV) and has also been used to infer the presence of other planets in the system creating similar tugs. Additionally, the same tugs exerted while the planet is crossing the disk of the star will change the duration of the transit. This effect is known as Timing Duration Variations (TDV). The combination of these two variations has the potential to give a great deal of information about potential moons including the moon’s mass, the distance from the planet, and potentially the direction the moon orbits.

Currently, the team is working on coming up with a list of planet systems that Kepler has discovered that they wish to search first. Their criteria are that the systems have sufficient data taken, that it be of high quality, and that the planets be sufficiently large to capture such large moons.

As the team notes

As the HEK project progresses, we hope to answer the question as to whether large moons, possibly even Earth-like habitable moons, are common in the Galaxy or not. Enabled by the equisite photometry of Kepler, exomoons may soon move from theoretical musings to objects of empirical investigation.

Analysis of the First Kepler SETI Observations

Example of signals KOI 817 and KOI 812. Credit: The Search for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence at UC Berkeley

[/caption]

As the Kepler space telescope begins finding its first Earth-sized exoplanets, with the ultimate goal of finding ones that are actually Earth-like, it would seem natural that the SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) program would take a look at them as well, in the continuing search for alien radio signals. That is exactly what SETI scientists are doing, and they’ve started releasing some of their preliminary results.

They are processing the data taken by Kepler since early 2011; some interesting signals have been found (a candidate signal is referred to as a Kepler Object of Interest or KOI), but as they are quick to point out, these signals so far can all be explained by terrestrial interference. If a single signal comes from multiple positions in the sky, as these ones do, it is most likely to be interference.

They do, however, also share characteristics which would be expected of alien artificial signals.

A couple of examples are from KOI 817 and KOI 812. They are of a very narrow frequency, as would be expected from a signal of artificial origin. They also change in frequency over time, due to the doppler effect – the motion of the alien signal source relative to the radio telescope on Earth. If a signal is found with these characteristics but also does not appear to be just interference, that would be a good candidate for an actual artificial signal of extraterrestrial origin.

These are only the results of the first observations and many more will come during the next weeks and months.

Looking for signals has always been like looking for a needle in the cosmic haystack; until now we were searching pretty much blind, starting even before we knew if there were any other planets out there or not. What if our solar system was the only one? Now we know that it is only one of many, with new estimates of billions of planets in our galaxy alone, based on early Kepler data. Plus the fact that the majority of those are thought to be smaller, rocky worlds like Earth, Mars, etc. How many of them are actually habitable is still an open question, but finding them narrows down the search, providing more probable actual targets to turn the radio telescopes toward instead of just trying to search billions of stars overall.

All twelve signal examples so far can be downloaded here (PDF).