So you want to find planets, but not just any planets — you want Earth 2. How would you go about it? Well, here’s what you’d need:
1. A star that acts much like our sun
2. A planet about the same size as Earth
3. That planet being the right distance from the star to have liquid water
4. All kinds of other stuff — like the right atmosphere, other planets plus moons to protect it from constant meteor bombardment, a magnetic field for radiation deflection, etc.
Turns out we haven’t found #2 yet, so numbers 3 and 4 are right out. But there’s a new mission designed to help us find #2, and hopefully #3!
So what is Kepler? From NASA’s website:
… NASA’s first mission capable of finding Earth-size and smaller planets around other stars.
Kepler has been in the works for several years now with a launch date scheduled for next February. The science behind it is really cool and interesting, but I’m not going to get into it here. Let’s just say that it looks at the light coming from stars and can tell if something moves between the star and us. Based on how much the star dims and some other stuff, we can tell how big the object is and how far it is from the star.
I can remember talking about the possibility of finding extrasolar planets when I was in college, and though we all knew it was just a matter of time, it hadn’t been done yet. Then one we believed had been identified was confirmed, and very quickly we had a dozen more. By 2002 we had 100. Now we’re finding more and more every month. We’re up to 300 now, and none of them resemble our Holy Grail.
I’m very excited about this mission and wish that I could be working on it. I have high hopes for the team and believe that if there’s a planet like Earth near us, they’ll find it. To read all about the project and learn a lot more about the science involved, head over to the official website. It contains a timeline and even a biopage for the genius for which the project was named, Johannes Kepler.