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Kepler May Find Endor

Will we here Imperial shuttle communications?

Will we here Imperial shuttle communications?

Ok. I’m stretching a little. But, from an article over at RedOrbit, the Kepler team believes that there is no reason that NASA’s latest planet hunter should not also be able to detect a planet’s moons. I really hope that Kepler finds a boatload of potentially habitable systems. With confirmation that there are other possibly life bearing worlds, a massive launch of new science and experiments could finally listen in on a galactic conversation. These are definitely exciting times!

You can follow more Kepler news here.

Thanks Slashdot!

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Peek-A-Boo, Kepler I See You

Found this tidbit in my GReader today from astronomer, Franck Marchis: Kepler first light – the birth of a new space telescope.

About a week ago, the spacecraft jettisoned the optics cover, allowing light to flow into the CCDs for the first time. Now, we have the first image! A few notable points have been identified and labeled by the NASA team. TrES-2 is the location of a previously discovered “Hot Jupiter”, a planet as big as our Jupiter but much, much closer to its solar parent.

As I mentioned before, this is a very exciting project. How long will it be before we have our first Earth-like discovery?

So Far So Good – Go Kepler!

Kepler leaving the gravity well

Kepler leaving the gravity well

In between commercials of this week’s BSG episode (which was a 7.5 out of 10 for me),  I kept switching back to the NASA TV channel (one of the benefits of living in Huntsville and next to a NASA facility, is that they have their own channel on cable!). I missed the initial live launch of Kepler, but caught it on a replay. So far so good!

UPDATE 2009/03/07: After a near perfect liftoff and separation (watch the cool video), Kepler has achieved its heliocentric orbit. Heliocentric means that Kepler will orbit the sun, not the Earth. The launch placed the new telescope in the same orbit as our planet, but 950 miles away (trailing of course). Over time, it will continue to drift further and further away. In about 30 days, we’ll start to see the first scientific results. Booya!

You Must Have Balance

Balance

Balance

The main character in Ben Bova’s Mars books is Jamie Waterman. Jamie is Navajo and due to his grandfather’s influence, he has a healthy dose of Navajo mysticism flowing through him. One of the lessons Grandfather Al imparts on Jamie is the need to maintain balance. It seems as if our wonderful US space program is working towards the same goal.  On the wrong end of the scale!

On the eve of the launch of one of the greatest pieces of astronomical hardware ever and on the heels of a string of scientific and media successes with the Mars program, we get this juicy tidbit floating around the mainstream media (MSM):

9 big NASA projects over budget: Auditors cite projects such as asteroid explorer, Earth-like planet hunter

Precede that with the loss of the new climate orbiter last week and I can already here the cat calls:

Why are we spending money on that stuff?!

NASA is a waste!

Blah, blah, blah!

Let’s remind the public again: the entire NASA budget is about 1/2 of 1% of the federal bankroll! Crumbs compared to a lot of other programs! (BTW, I love this poster: http://www.wallstats.com/poster/)

Now would be a good time for the Obama team to announce the selection of a new administrator. Strike while the iron is hot and NASA is on the brains of the America public. Appointing a new and dynamic leader NOW will help to get the juices going within the organization. It will also let Americans know that someone has the definitive task of bringing our space program back on track. I know the President is busy and we have some big issues to tackle, but don’t let the space program fade from view.

P.S. Bonus points to those that can name the constellation in the graphic!

Earth-sized planets coming soon

Preparing Kepler for launch

Preparing Kepler for launch

In just under 15 days, NASA will be launching one of the new next-generation space telescopes, Kepler. This photometer based scope will observe a section of the sky looking for planetary transits. A transit occurs when a planet crosses in front of the star it orbits (from our vantage point on Earth anyway). Kepler will be able to detect the slight drop in luminosity of the star’s shine. It will be sensitive enough to detect a planet as small as the Earth! The scope will be able to “continuously and simultaneously monitor the brightnesses of more than 100,000 stars“. Wow. We’re talking 30 – 90 terabytes of image data!

I can’t wait until we start to see results from this magnificant piece of hardware and software. How many more exoplanets will we add to our known catalog? How many will be earth-sized and have signatures for water and oxygen? Will one of the new discoveries be the target of humanity’s first extra-solar mission? So many questions, so many possibilities…