Almighty Kepler

4 03 2009


[Update:  The mission launched successfully at 10:49pm on March 6.  I have to admit that right at launch the primary ground camera whited out completely and my heart stopped, thinking the whole thing might have catastrophically failed on the ground — but then they went to a better camera angle and the launch looked beautiful!  You can read a nice write-up from NASA over here.]

Everyone, and I mean Everyone is talking about the new Kepler telescope.  So why haven’t I?  Well, it’s just that I’ve been letting everyone else do the talking for me.  Anyone who knows me knows that I would be willing to go on for hours about the whole mess, so it just seems somehow like overkill for me to hit on it too.  But, the bug finally caught me and so I’m too excited to just stay quiet anymore.

My hero, Johannes Kepler, finally gets a telescope named in his honor.  And not just any scope!  This monster is an ultra-sensitive, mega-high-resolution, super-precise, photo bucket.  I’ve been paying attention to the plans since I first heard of it several years ago and the day is finally here for it’s launch.  [I’m so excited!]

This mission is destined to honor the memory of the man for whom it was named.  Kepler’s story is amazing and I highly recommend picking up any biography you can, especially Kepler’s Witch by James Connor. Kepler was, in my opinion, the most brilliant man to ever walk the face of the Earth.  He calculated the orbital ephemeris of Mars in three dimensions without the use of a calculator.  Without calculus, every position required 70 computations to determine.  His final product would show that all his deeply religious associations to planetary orbits could not be maintained, and that a new theory had to be developed.

What history remembers most about this man is his honesty to the data.  Even when he had to turn his back on his own beliefs, facing tremendous persecution from various religions and governments, even losing his home because he was unable to get payment until his work was finished, he relentlessly refused to allow his own convictions to blur the accuracy of the data.  Because of his devotion to pure science, he gets the privilege of being called the first astrophysicist.  And the three planetary laws get his name to this day.

This new telescope is all about the data.  It isn’t designed to give us beautiful pictures or look for exotic headline grabbers.  It will study, meticulously, the proportion of planetary systems scattered in geometric ratio throughout the galaxy.  Something I can easily see Kepler loving very much.

My friend, Davin Flateau, has posted a very cool podcast about the mission on  You should go here and check it out now!  He has a really creative view of the whole thing, which I’m copying here in the hopes someone reading quickly will think I wrote myself:

The Kepler mission will challenge thousands of stars to a staring contest, you know, like the ones you used to have with your siblings when you were younger, and that you have with the cat every once in awhile?  Now with Kepler, just replace your two eyes with the largest camera ever flown in space – a 96 megapixel monster the size of a large litterbox.  And instead of one cat, you’re now staring down 100,000 cats.

Davin goes on to say that all astronomy can be described in terms of improbable animal analogies.  It’s incredibly entertaining and I do hope you all give it a listen to see how a podcast is supposed to be done!

In the meantime, Kepler is due to be launched in the next two days on March 6.  You can watch the countdown here.

…so I skipped out on a lot of the science this time.  That’s cool.  Those links back at the top can take you to all the nerd-core stuff that’ll let you rest well, counting little stars and dreaming of electric sheep.




3 responses

4 03 2009

That is so cool! You’re right, it is a very fitting name. Not like that artsy-fartsy Hubble. (and now you, Johnson, are thinking about that episode of the Simpsons where they go to the arts fair/ chili cook off.) That’s right I’m in your head.

4 03 2009
Terry Johnson

Curse you, Jones!

5 03 2009


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