When many people think of the chemist in the white lab coat, they are bound to picture a White male.
But, there are Black women who have greatly contributed to the science of chemistry.
The world of chemistry affects all of our lives on a daily basis.
In the medicines we take; hair care products, such as shampoos, conditioners, and hair colors; fertilizers for our plants; cleaners for dishes, clothes, floors, and our vehicles; the dyes used in the clothes we wear; even in the preparation and preservation of the foods we eat as we bake a pie or a cake or cook meat and vegetables for dinner.
Many people have given their gifts of insight and knowledge to the field of chemistry. One such lady is Ms. Marie Maynard Daly. Ms. Daly is best known for being the first Black American woman to receive a Ph.D. in chemistry in the United States and the first Black American woman to receive a doctoral degree, which she earned from Columbia University in 1947, for her thesis A Study of the Products Formed by the Action of Pancreatic Amylase on Corn Starch (1947).
She also conducted pioneering research on the effects of hypertension (high blood pressure) and blockage in arteries leading to a better understanding of how heart attacks are caused.
Marie Maynard Daley, chemist (b. April 16, 1921 – d. October 28, 2003). Marie M. Daly was born on April 16, 1921, in Corona, Queens, New York. She was raised in an education-oriented family, and Ms. Daly quickly received her B.S. and M.S. in biochemistry at Queens College and New York University. After completing her Ph.D. at Columbia—and becoming the first Black American woman to obtain a Ph.D. in chemistry in the United States—Ms. Daly taught and conducted research.
The pioneering scientist and future chemist was the first African-American woman to receive a Ph.D. in chemistry in the United States, and her groundbreaking work helped clarify how the human body works.
Ms. Daly came from a family who believed strongly in the power of education. Her father, Ivan C. Daly, had emigrated from the West Indies as a young man and enrolled at Cornell University to study chemistry. A lack of money blocked his path, however, and he was forced to quit college, instead returning to New York City where he found work as a postal clerk.
Ms. Daly’s mother, Helen, grew up in Washington, D.C., and came from a family of readers. She spent long hours reading to her daughter, and fostered Marie’s love of books—in particular those that centered on science and scientists.
After graduating from Hunter College High School, an all-girls institution in New York City, Ms. Daly attended Queens College in Flushing, New York, choosing to live at home in order to save money.
Ms. Daly graduated with honors in 1942 and, to get around the fact that she didn’t have much money for graduate school, landed work as a lab assistant at her old college as well as a hard-earned fellowship. Both were instrumental in helping her to cover the costs of getting a graduate degree in chemistry from New York University.
Ms. Daly didn’t waste time in completing her studies. She finished her master’s degree in just a year and then, in 1944, enrolled at Columbia University as a doctoral student. Aided by her own ambition and intelligence, Ms. Daly was further helped by timing. World War II was at its peak, and employers were looking for women to fill the jobs left by the scores of men who’d been sent overseas to fight. In addition, Columbia’s chemistry program was being led by Dr. Mary L. Caldwell, a renowned scientist who helped blaze new trails for women in chemistry throughout her career.
At Columbia, Ms. Daly took to the lab, studying how the body’s chemicals help digest food. She finished her doctorate—unknowingly making history as the first female African American to receive a Ph.D. in chemistry in the United States—in 1947. Fascinated by the human body’s complicated inner workings, Ms. Daly landed a grant in 1948 from the American Cancer Society. This was the start of a seven-year research program at the Rockefeller Institute of Medicine, where Ms. Daly examined how proteins are constructed in the body.
Researcher and Activist
In 1955, Ms. Daly returned to Columbia, working closely with Dr. Quentin B. Deming on the causes of heart attacks. Their groundbreaking work, which was later relocated to the Albert Einstein College of Medicine at Yeshiva University in New York, disclosed the relationship between high cholesterol and clogged arteries. That work opened up a new understanding of how foods and diet can affect the health of the heart and the circulatory system.
In addition to her research work at Einstein, Ms. Daly also taught biochemistry courses. Recognizing the importance of her own career path, Ms. Daly championed efforts to get students of color enrolled in medical schools and graduate science programs. In 1988 she started a scholarship, in honor of her father, for minority students who want to study science at Queens College. Her career milestones include the following: serving as an instructor in Physical Science at Howard University between 1947-48; an Associate at the Columbia University Research Service of the Goldwater Memorial Hospital, from 1955-59; Assistant Professor (1960-1971) and Associate Professor (1971-1986) of Biochemistry and Medicine at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, an Investigator for the American Heart Association (1958-63), and elected as a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
Ms. Daly retired from Albert Einstein College in 1986. Her many honors included induction into Phi Beta Kappa as well as being tapped as a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
Ms. Daly, who married Vincent Clark in 1961 and whose full married name was Marie Maynard Daly Clark, died in New York City on October 28, 2003.
April 23 marks the anniversary of the birth or death of a range of well-known writers, including Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, Maurice Druon, Inca Garcilaso de la Vega, Haldor Kiljan Laxness, Manuel Mejía Vallejo, Vladimir Nabokov, Josep Pla and William Shakespeare. For this reason, UNESCO’s General Conference chose this date to pay tribute to books, the authors who wrote them, and the copyright laws that protect them.
People of all ages take the time to appreciate books and their authors on World Book and Copyright Day.
A range of activities to promote reading and the cultural aspects of books are held all over the world. Many of these emphasize international cooperation or friendships between countries. Events include: relay readings of books and plays; the distribution of bookmarks; the announcement of the winners of literary competitions; and actions to promote the understanding of laws on copyright and the protection of authors’ intellectual property.
In some years, the Children’s and Young People’s Literature in the Service of Tolerance is awarded. This is a prize for novels, collections of short stories or picture books that promote tolerance, peace, mutual understanding and respect for other peoples and cultures. There are two categories: one for books aimed at children aged up to 12 years; and one for those aimed at young people aged 13 to 18 years.
Purpose of the day
World Book and Copyright Day is an occasion to pay a worldwide tribute to books and authors and to encourage people to discover the pleasure of reading. It is hoped that this will lead to the renewed respect for those who have made irreplaceable contributions to social and cultural progress. In some years, the UNESCO Prize for Children’s and Young People’s Literature in the Service of Tolerance is awarded. It is also hoped that World Book and Copyright Day will increase people’s understanding of and adherence to copyright laws and other measures to protect intellectual copyright.
The year 1995 was named the United Nations Year for Tolerance and UNESCO’s General Conference, held in Paris, concentrated on this theme. The delegates voted to establish an annual occasion to carry the message of tolerance into the future, in the form of a day to celebrate books, authors and the laws that protect them. The date was chosen because April 23 marks the anniversary of the birth or death of a range of internationally renowned writers and because of the Catalan traditions surrounding this day. In Catalonia, a region of Spain, April 23 is known as La Diada de Sant Jordi (St George’s Day) and it is traditional for sweethearts to exchange books and roses. World Book and Copyright Day has been held annually since 1995.
Each year a poster is designed and distributed around the world. It features images designed to encourage people, particularly children, to read books and appreciate literature. There is also a logo for World Book and Copyright Day. It features a circle, representing the world, and two books, one of which is open.
English Language Day aims to entertain and inform people about the history, culture and achievements associated with the language. The day often features book-reading events, English quizzes, poetry and literature exchanges, and other activities that promote the English language.
English Language Day is a global observance and not a public holiday.
About English Language Day
English is one of the two working languages of the UN Secretariat and one of the organization’s six official languages. English is often referred to as a “world language”, or the lingua franca (bridge language or common language used by speakers of different languages) of the modern era because it is widely spoken. The UN first celebrated English Language Day on April 23, 2010.
Did you know?
For a language that was used by only 3 tribes about 1500 years ago, English has official or special status in at least 75 countries with a total population of over two billion.
The April 22 Earth Day is usually celebrated with outdoor performances, where individuals or groups perform acts of service to earth. Typical ways of observing Earth Day include planting trees, picking up roadside trash, conducting various programs for recycling and conservation, using recyclable containers for snacks and lunches. Some people are encouraged to sign petitions to governments, calling for stronger or immediate action to stop global warming and to reverse environmental destruction. Television stations frequently air programs dealing with environmental issues.
Earth Day is not a public holiday and public life, with regard to transport schedules and opening hours for schools and businesses, is not affected.
The April 22 Earth Day, founded by Senator Gaylord Nelson, was first organized in 1970 to promote ecology and respect for life on the planet as well as to encourage awareness of the growing problems of air, water and soil pollution.
Some people prefer to observe Earth Day around the time of the March equinox. In 1978, American anthropologist Margaret Mead added her support for the equinox Earth Day, founded by John McConnell. She stated that the selection of the March Equinox for Earth Day made planetary observance of a shared event possible.
Symbols used by people to describe Earth Day include: an image or drawing of planet earth; a tree, a flower or leaves depicting growth; or the recycling symbol. Colors used for Earth Day include natural colors such as green, brown or blue.
The “Earth Flag”, which was designed by John McConnell, has been described as a “flag for all people”. It features a two-sided dye printed image of the Earth from space on a dark blue field, made from recyclable, weather-resistant polyester. Margaret Mead believed that a flag that showed the earth as seen from space was appropriate.
Coral reef and beach. SOURCE: Photograph taken 7/2/2007, by Mark A. Wilson (Department of Geology, The College of Wooster.
Ancient ice-free Pingualuit impact crater, now filled with water, marks Earth’s surface. Location: Ungava Peninsula. SOURCE
Stratocumulus clouds above the northwestern Pacific Ocean, about 460 miles east of northern Honshu, Japan. SOURCE
Sunrise on Earth. The first photograph taken by humans of Earthrise during Apollo 8. SOURCE
NASA’s Cassini spacecraft photographs the Earth and Moon (visible bottom-right) from Saturn (July 19, 2013).
“In this rare image taken on July 19, 2013, the wide-angle camera on NASA’s Cassini spacecraft has captured Saturn’s rings and our planet Earth and its moon in the same frame. It is only one footprint in a mosaic of 33 footprints covering the entire Saturn ring system (including Saturn itself). At each footprint, images were taken in different spectral filters for a total of 323 images: some were taken for scientific purposes and some to produce a natural color mosaic. This is the only wide-angle footprint that has the Earth-moon system in it.
The dark side of Saturn, its bright limb, the main rings, the F ring, and the G and E rings are clearly seen; the limb of Saturn and the F ring are overexposed. The “breaks” in the brightness of Saturn’s limb are due to the shadows of the rings on the globe of Saturn, preventing sunlight from shining through the atmosphere in those regions. The E and G rings have been brightened for better visibility.
Earth, which is 898 million miles (1.44 billion kilometers) away in this image, appears as a blue dot at center right; the moon can be seen as a fainter protrusion off its right side. An arrow indicates their location in the annotated version. (The two are clearly seen as separate objects in the accompanying narrow angle frame: PIA14949.) The other bright dots nearby are stars.
This is only the third time ever that Earth has been imaged from the outer solar system. The acquisition of this image, along with the accompanying composite narrow- and wide-angle image of Earth and the moon and the full mosaic from which both are taken, marked the first time that inhabitants of Earth knew in advance that their planet was being imaged. That opportunity allowed people around the world to join together in social events to celebrate the occasion.
This view looks toward the unilluminated side of the rings from about 20 degrees below the ring plane.
Images taken using red, green and blue spectral filters were combined to create this natural color view. The images were obtained with the Cassini spacecraft wide-angle camera on July 19, 2013 at a distance of approximately 753,000 miles (1.212 million kilometers) from Saturn, and approximately 898.414 million miles (1.445858 billion kilometers) from Earth. Image scale on Saturn is 43 miles (69 kilometers) per pixel; image scale on the Earth is 53,820 miles (86,620 kilometers) per pixel. The illuminated areas of neither Earth nor the Moon are resolved here. Consequently, the size of each “dot” is the same size that a point of light of comparable brightness would have in the wide-angle camera.”
RUBIN (HURRICANE) CARTER, BOXER WHOSE MURDER CONVICTIONS WERE OVERTURNED
By SELWYN RAAB
APRIL 20, 2014
Rubin (Hurricane) Carter, a star prizefighter whose career was cut short by a murder conviction in New Jersey and who became an international cause célèbre while imprisoned for 19 years before the charges against him were dismissed, died on Sunday morning at his home in Toronto. He was 76.
The cause of death was prostate cancer, his friend and onetime co-defendant, John Artis, said. Mr. Carter was being treated in Toronto, where he had founded a nonprofit organization, Innocence International, to work to free prisoners it considered wrongly convicted.
Mr. Carter was convicted twice on the same charges of fatally shooting two men and a woman in a Paterson, N.J., tavern in 1966. But both jury verdicts were overturned on different grounds of prosecutorial misconduct.
The legal battles consumed scores of hearings involving recanted testimony, suppressed evidence, allegations of prosecutorial racial bias — Mr. Carter was black and the shooting victims were white — and a failed prosecution appeal to the United States Supreme Court to reinstate the convictions.
Mr. Carter first became famous as a ferocious, charismatic, crowd-pleasing boxer who was known for his shaved head, goatee, glowering visage and devastating left hook. He narrowly lost a fight for the middleweight championship in 1964.
He attracted worldwide attention during the roller-coaster campaign to clear his name of murder charges. Amnesty International described him as a “prisoner of conscience” whose human rights had been violated. He portrayed himself as a victim of injustice who had been framed because he spoke out for civil rights and against police brutality.
A defense committee studded with entertainment, sports, civil rights and political personalities was organized. His cause entered pop music when Bob Dylan wrote and recorded the song “Hurricane,” which championed his innocence and vilified the police and prosecution witnesses. It became a Top 40 hit in 1976.
Mr. Carter’s life was also the subject of a 1999 movie, “The Hurricane,” in which he was played by Denzel Washington, who was nominated for an Academy Award for the performance. The movie, directed by Norman Jewison, was widely criticized as simplistic and rife with historical inaccuracies.
A more complex picture was provided in accounts by Mr. Carter’s relatives and supporters, and by Mr. Carter himself in his autobiography, “The 16th Round,” published in 1974 while he was in prison. He attracted supporters even when his legal plight seemed hopeless, but he also alienated many of them, including his first wife.
With a formal education that ended in the eighth grade in a reform school, Mr. Carter survived imprisonment and frequent solitary confinement by becoming a voracious reader of law books and volumes of philosophy, history, metaphysics and religion. During his bleakest moments, he expressed confidence that he would one day be proved innocent.
“They can incarcerate my body but never my mind,” he told The New York Times in 1977, shortly after his second conviction.
Troubled From the Start
Rubin Carter was born on May 6, 1937, in Clifton, N.J., and grew up nearby in Passaic and Paterson. His father, Lloyd, and his mother, Bertha, had moved there from Georgia. To support his wife and seven children, Lloyd Carter worked in a rubber factory and operated an ice-delivery service in the mornings.
A deacon in the Baptist church, his father was also a disciplinarian. He put Rubin to work cutting and delivering ice at age 8, and when he learned that Rubin, at 9, and some other boys had stolen clothing from a Paterson store, he turned his son in to the police. Rubin was placed on two years’ probation.
A poor student and troubled from the start, Rubin was placed in a school for unruly pupils when he was in the fourth grade. At 11, after stabbing a man, he was sent to the Jamesburg State Home for Boys (now called the New Jersey Training School for Boys). He said he had acted in self-defense after the man had made sexual advances and tried to throw him off a cliff. At Jamesburg, guards frequently beat and abused him, he wrote in his autobiography.
After six years in detention he escaped and made his way to an aunt’s home in Philadelphia, where he enlisted in the Army. Recruitment officers apparently accepted his word that he had grown up in Philadelphia and made no inquiries in New Jersey, where he was wanted as a fugitive.
Thriving in the Army, Mr. Carter became a paratrooper in the 101st Airborne Division in Germany and put on boxing gloves for the first time. He found he enjoyed associating with boxers. “They were strong, honest people, hardworking and equally hard-fighting,” he recalled. “There were no complications there whatsoever, no tensions, no fears.”
He won 51 bouts, 35 by knockouts, while losing only five. He became the Army’s European light-welterweight champion.
Mr. Carter also took speech therapy courses and overcame his stutter. He became interested in Islamic studies. Although he never formally converted, he sometimes used the Muslim name Saladin Abdullah Muhammad.Honorably discharged, he returned to Paterson in 1956 and took a job as a tractor-trailer driver. But the authorities tracked him down and arrested him for his escape from the reform school before he had joined the Army. He was sentenced to 10 months at the Annandale Reformatory for youthful offenders.
Shortly after his release, in 1957, he was charged with snatching a woman’s purse and assaulting a man on a Paterson street. He said he had been drinking. He served four years in Trenton State Prison, where “quiet rage became my constant companion,” he wrote. He also rekindled his interest in boxing and attracted the attention of fight managers.
On Sept. 22, 1961, a day after his release from prison, he fought his first professional fight, winning a four-round decision for a $20 purse. “I was in my element now,” he wrote. “Fighting was the pulse beat of my heart and I loved it.”
Mr. Carter was an instant success and became a main-event headliner. With a powerful left hook, he was more of a puncher than a stylist, winning 13 of his first 21 fights by knockouts.
Showman in the Ring
Promoters capitalized on his criminal record as a box-office lure, suggesting that prison had transformed him into a terrifying fighter. One promoter nicknamed him Hurricane, describing him in advertisements as a raging, destructive force.
Mr. Carter was a showman in the ring. Solidly built at 5-foot-8 and about 155 pounds, he would enter in a hooded black velvet robe trimmed with metallic gold thread, the image of a crouching black panther on the back.
He also made sure he was noticed on the streets of Paterson, where he had returned to live. He dressed in custom-tailored suits and drove a black Cadillac Eldorado with “Rubin Hurricane Carter” engraved in silver letters on each side of the headlights. In 1963 he married Mae Thelma Basket.
Mr. Carter’s biggest victory came in Pittsburgh in December 1963, when he knocked out Emile Griffith, the welterweight champion, who was trying to move into the middleweight division for a crack at its world title. A year later, at the peak of his career, Mr. Carter battled the reigning middleweight champion, Joey Giardello, for the title in Philadelphia, Mr. Giardello’s hometown. He lost a close decision.
Mr. Carter received unfavorable attention when an article in The Saturday Evening Post in 1964 suggested that he was a black militant who believed that blacks should shoot at the police if they felt they were being victimized. He denied he had expressed that view. It was around this time that the police began harassing him, he said. One night, when his Cadillac broke down in Hackensack, he was jailed for several hours without being charged with a crime.
Before bouts, the police compelled him to be fingerprinted and photographed for their files on the ground that he was a convicted felon. He discovered that the Federal Bureau of Investigation had opened a file on him and was tracking his movements.
On the night of June 16 and the early morning of June 17, 1966, while his wife and their 2-year-old daughter, Theodora, were at home, Mr. Carter visited several bars in Paterson, winding up at one called the Night Spot.
A half-mile away, about 2:30 a.m., two black men entered the Lafayette Grill and killed two white men and a white woman in a barrage of shotgun and pistol blasts. The police immediately suspected that the shootings were in retaliation for the shotgun murder that night in Paterson of a black tavern owner by the former owner, who was white.
Mr. Carter had encountered John Artis, a casual acquaintance, that night and was giving him a lift home when they were stopped by the police. They said Mr. Carter’s leased white Dodge sedan resembled the murderers’ getaway car. Except for being black, neither Mr. Carter nor Mr. Artis matched the original descriptions of the killers. They were released after both passed lie detector tests and a patron who had been wounded in the Lafayette Grill failed to identify them. But they remained under suspicion.
On Aug. 6, 1966, in Rosario, Argentina, Mr. Carter lost a 10-round decision to Rocky Rivero. It was his last fight. His record would remain 27 wins (20 by knockout), 12 losses and one draw. Two months later, he and Mr. Artis were charged with the three murders.
At their trial in 1967, three alibi witnesses placed them elsewhere at the time of the killings. They were nonetheless convicted, primarily on the evidence of Alfred P. Bello and Arthur D. Bradley, two white prosecution witnesses with long criminal records. Mr. Bello testified that he saw both defendants leave the tavern with guns in their hands; Mr. Bradley identified only Mr. Carter.
Both witnesses admitted that they were in the vicinity of the Lafayette Grill at the time of the murders because they were trying to burglarize a factory nearby.
The prosecution offered no motive for the slayings.
Facing the possibility of death sentences, Mr. Carter received 30 years to life and Mr. Artis 15 years to life. Their appeals were denied unanimously by the New Jersey Supreme Court.
Back in prison, a defiant Mr. Carter refused to wear a uniform or work at institutional jobs. He ate in his cell, sustained by canned food and soup that he heated with an electric coil. He scoured the trial record and law books and typed out unsuccessful briefs for a new trial.
Mr. Carter also lost his vision in his right eye after an operation on a detached retina, a condition he attributed to inadequate treatment in a prison hospital. His celebrity boxing background and his outspoken contempt for prison rules made him a hero to many inmates. The prison authorities credited him with trying to calm down rioters at Rahway State Prison in 1971, and one prison guard reportedly said Mr. Carter had saved his life.
By 1974, Mr. Carter’s prospects for a new trial seemed hopeless. But that summer the New Jersey Public Defender’s Office and The New York Times independently obtained recantations from Mr. Bello and Mr. Bradley. Both men asserted that detectives had pressured them into falsely identifying Mr. Carter and Mr. Artis.
Moreover, it was revealed that the prosecution had secretly promised leniency to the two witnesses regarding their own crimes in exchange for their cooperation in the Carter case.
Based on the recantations and the new information, the New Jersey Supreme Court overturned the guilty verdicts in 1976. Overnight, Mr. Carter was hailed as a civil rights champion, with a national defense committee working on his behalf and fund-raising concerts headlined by Mr. Dylan at Madison Square Garden and the Houston Astrodome; the Garden concert also included Joni Mitchell, Joan Baez and Roberta Flack. Muhammad Ali attended a pretrial hearing in Paterson in 1976 to show his support for Mr. Carter.
At a second trial, in December 1976, a new team of Passaic County prosecutors resuscitated an old theory, charging that the defendants had committed the Lafayette Grill murders to exact revenge for the earlier killing of the black tavern owner. Mr. Bello resurfaced as a prosecution witness and recanted his recantation. He was the only witness who placed Mr. Carter and Mr. Artis at the murder scene.
After being free for nine months on bail, Mr. Carter and Mr. Artis were sent back to prison and deserted by most of the show business and civil rights figures who had flocked to their cause. Mr. Carter’s second child, a son, Raheem Rubin, was born six days after the two men were found guilty.
Racial Revenge Theory
Over the next nine years, numerous appeals in New Jersey courts failed. But when the issues were heard for the first time in a federal court, in 1985, Judge H. Lee Sarokin of United States District Court in Newark overturned the convictions on constitutional grounds. He ruled that prosecutors had “fatally infected the trial” by resorting, without evidence, to the racial revenge theory, and that they had withheld evidence disproving Mr. Bello’s identifications. Mr. Carter was freed; Mr. Artis had been released on parole in 1981.
When the prosecution’s attempts to reinstate the convictions were rejected by a federal appeals court and by the Supreme Court, the charges against Mr. Carter and Mr. Artis were formally dismissed in 1988, 22 years after the original indictments.
During his second imprisonment in the case his wife had sued for divorce, after learning that he had had an affair with a supporter while he was free on bail awaiting trial. Information about his survivors could not immediately be learned.
On his final release from prison, Mr. Carter — with a full crop of curly hair, clean-shaven and wearing thick eyeglasses — moved to Toronto, where he lived with a secretive Canadian commune and married the head of it, Lisa Peters. He ended relations with her and the commune in the mid-1990s.
He founded Innocence International in 2004 and lectured about inequities in America’s criminal justice system. His former co-defendant, Mr. Artis, joined the organization. In 2011 he published an autobiography, “Eye of the Hurricane: My Path From Darkness to Freedom,” written with Ken Klonsky and with a foreword by Nelson Mandela.
In his last weeks he campaigned for the exoneration of David McCallum, a Brooklyn man who has been in prison since 1985 on murder charges. In an opinion article published by The Daily News on Feb. 21, 2014, headlined “Hurricane Carter’s Dying Wish,” he asked that Mr. McCallum “be granted a full hearing” by Brooklyn’s new district attorney, Kenneth P. Thompson.
“Just as my own verdict ‘was predicated on racism rather than reason and on concealment rather than disclosure,’ as Sarokin wrote, so too was McCallum’s,” Mr. Carter wrote.
He added: “If I find a heaven after this life, I’ll be quite surprised. In my own years on this planet, though, I lived in hell for the first 49 years, and have been in heaven for the past 28 years.
“To live in a world where truth matters and justice, however late, really happens, that world would be heaven enough for us all.”
The newly discovered planet, Kepler-186f, is the first Earth-size exoplanet circling in its star’s habitable zone. The media worldwide is gleaming with fantastical headlines, but readers in the know may have an inkling the result is less than it seems.
It’s just one more on a long laundry list of exoplanets. But it’s the first on a list of Earth-like exoplanets.
NASA’s Kepler mission announced the discovery of Kepler-186f — the smallest and most Earth-like planet found to date — in a press conference today. Only minutes after the embargo lifted, the media worldwide gleamed with fantastical headlines about this potentially habitable planet.
But readers in the know may already have an inkling that these headlines suggest a bigger breakthrough than the research shows.
“Some people call these habitable planets, which of course we have no idea if they are,” says exoplanet expert Stephen Kane (San Francisco State University). “We simply know that they are in the habitable zone, and that is the best place to start looking for habitable planets.”
Here’s the problem: the crippled Kepler space telescope has unleashed a windfall of exoplanets over the years and we’ve been talking about habitable ones ever since. There’s one here, here, and three more here. Oh and we’ve even talked about habitable moons here (but of course we haven’t had much luck on that front yet).
The discovery of habitable exoplanets and even extraterrestrial life is quite possibly the Holy Grail of science. Every astronomer wants to be the one to make the discovery and every reporter wants to be the first to write about it. So we throw around the term Earth-like like it’s a frisbee.
But by definition, to be Earth-like, a planet must be both Earth-size (less than 1.25 times Earth’s girth and less than twice Earth’s mass) and must circle its host star within the habitable zone — the band around a star where water could potentially exist in its liquid state, an essential component for life.
Of the nearly 1,800 confirmed exoplanets found in the past two decades, approximately 10 orbit their host star in the habitable zone. Before today, the smallest exoplanet on this list was Kepler-62f. But at 1.4 times the size of Earth, this exoplanet isn’t Earth-like at all (at least not by our regimented standards). It’s a super-Earth, which could mean it’s a rocky planet with oceans and an atmosphere, or it could be completely gaseous. Without a solar system analogue, the nature of any given super-Earth is hard to pin down.
Kepler-186f sizes in at 1.11 times the girth of Earth. But as with quite a few of Kepler’s planets, the system is too distant and therefore too faint to perform follow-up radial velocity observations, which would show the planet’s gravitational tug on its host star, and therefore reveal its mass. The team has to estimate its weight based on some pretty big assumptions.
The planet’s small size is a telltale sign that the composition is solid; it will have a hard time holding on to even the lightest elements, such as hydrogen and helium, so it probably doesn’t have a thick gaseous atmosphere either. But its composition could range from pure ice to pure iron, which results in a mass ranging from 0.32 to 3.77 times Earth’s mass. We may find in future years that this planet actually weighs more than twice as much as Earth, making astronomers re-classify it as a super-Earth after all.
Even so, there’s a huge difference between finding an Earth-like exoplanet and finding Earth’s twin. Kepler-186f’s orbit takes it along the outer edge of the star’s habitable zone so any liquid water on the surface would still be in danger of freezing. However, the team hopes that if the exoplanet is a little more massive than the Earth, this extra mass would result in a thicker atmosphere and therefore better insulation.
While Kepler-186f is a first, “it’s not a record we wish to keep,” Quintana says. “We want to find more of these.”
Eventually we’ll have collected a long laundry list of Earth-size exoplanets, and we’ll be able to take a closer look at each one, looking for key elements in their atmospheres and studying the activity of their stars. I fully think that if Earth 2.0 is floating somewhere in the nearby cosmos, we’ll find it. Just not today.
BEAUTIFUL, ALSO, ARE THE SOULS OF MY BLACK SISTERS · A BLOGSITE FOR THE PRAISING OF ALL THINGS BEAUTIFUL AND SUBLIME IN HONOR OF ALL BLACK WOMEN. "ONLY THE BLACK WOMAN CAN SAY WHEN AND WHERE I ENTER, IN THE QUIET, UNDISPUTED DIGNITY OF MY WOMANHOOD, WITHOUT VIOLENCE AND WITHOUT SUING OR SPECIAL PATRONAGE, THEN AND THERE THE WHOLE. . .RACE ENTERS WITH ME." ANNA JULIA COOPER, 1892