Join the Meeting Place for Moms!
Talk to other moms, share advice, and have fun!

(minimum 6 characters)

Spacecraft blasts off in search of 'Earths' - Are We Alone? Do you think there is life out there?

Posted by on Mar. 7, 2009 at 12:19 AM
  • 38 Replies

Spacecraft blasts off in search of 'Earths'

 

(CNN) -- NASA launched its Kepler spacecraft just before 11 p.m. Friday in a mission that the agency says may fundamentally change humanity's view of itself.

This image shows part of the Milky Way region of the sky where the Kepler spacecraft will be pointing.

This image shows part of the Milky Way region of the sky where the Kepler spacecraft will be pointing.

The Kepler spacecraft blasted into space on top of a Delta II rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

The telescope will search our corner of the Milky Way galaxy for Earth-like planets.

"This is a historical mission. It's not just a science mission," NASA Associate Administrator Ed Weiler said during a prelaunch news conference.

"It really attacks some very basic human questions that have been part of our genetic code since that first man or woman looked up in the sky and asked the question: Are we alone?"

Kepler contains a special telescope that will stare at 100,000 stars in the Cygnus-Lyra region of the Milky Way for more than three years as it trails Earth's orbit around the Sun.

The spacecraft will look for tiny dips in a star's brightness, which can mean an orbiting planet is passing in front of it -- an event called a transit. Video Watch how astronomers will try to find 'Earths' »

The instrument is so precise that it can register changes in brightness of 20 parts per million in stars that are thousands of light years away.

"Being able to make that kind of a sensitive measurement over a very large number of stars was extremely challenging," Kepler project manager James Fanson said.

"So we're very proud of the vehicle we have built. This is a crowning achievement for NASA and a monumental step in our search for other worlds around other stars." See what the telescope looks like and which part of the galaxy it will monitor »

Are we alone?

The $600 million mission is named after Johannes Kepler, a 17th-century German astronomer who was the first to correctly explain planetary motion. His discoveries combined with modern technology may soon help to answer whether we are alone in the universe or whether Earth-like worlds inhabited by some type of life are common.

"We won't find E.T., but we might find E.T.'s home," said William Borucki, science principal investigator for the Kepler mission.

About 330 "exoplanets" -- those circling sun-like stars outside the solar system -- have been discovered since the first was confirmed in 1995.

Most are gas giants like Jupiter, but some have been classified as "super earths," or worlds several times the mass of our planet, said Alan Boss, an astronomer with the Carnegie Institution who serves on the Kepler Science Council. They are too hot to support life, he added, calling them "steam worlds."

Europe's COROT space telescope caused a stir last month when it spotted the smallest terrestrial exoplanet ever found. With a diameter less than twice that of Earth, the planet orbits very close to its star and has temperatures up to 1,500° Celsius (more than 2,700° Fahrenheit), according to the European Space Agency. It may be rocky and covered in lava.

Scientists have marveled how strange some of the alien worlds are.

"The density of these planets has been astounding," Borucki said. "We're finding planets that float like a piece of foam on water, [with] very, very low densities. We're finding some planets where the densities are heavier than that of lead."

The Kepler telescope, however, is seeking something much more familiar: Earth-like planets with rocky surfaces, orbiting in their stars' habitable, or "Goldilocks," zones -- not too hot or too cold, but just right for liquid water to exist. Video Watch a NASA scientist explain where life could exist »

Quest for a 'pale blue dot'

Once Kepler spots a planet, scientists will be able to calculate its size, mass, orbital period, distance from star and surface temperature, Boss said. He called the mission a "step one" that will tell astronomers how hard it is to find nearby habitable worlds.

"Once we know how many there really are ... then NASA will be able to build space telescopes that can actually go out and take a picture of that nearby 'Earth' and measure the elements and compounds in its atmosphere of the planet and give us some hint as to whether or not it's got life," Boss said.

Boss believes that there may be 100 billion Earth-like planets in the Milky Way, or one for every sun-type star in the galaxy. He said scientists should know by 2013 -- the end of Kepler's mission -- whether life in the universe could be widespread.

The 20-year goal is to someday take a picture of a pale blue dot orbiting a nearby star, said Debra Fischer, an astronomy professor at San Francisco State University, during a NASA news conference.

Boss called it a potentially unprecedented time of discovery for scientists.

"Sometimes, people call this the golden age of astronomy. I think it's more like the platinum age of astronomy. It's beyond gold," Boss said.

by on Mar. 7, 2009 at 12:19 AM
Add your quick reply below:
You must be a member to reply to this post.
Replies (1-10):
TawnyR
by on Mar. 7, 2009 at 12:24 AM

Here's how I see it. Look the human species. Really look. Now ask yourself this. Do you REALLY think we, the human species, are the most intelligent life out there?

treadmillappledancing

blondekosmic15
by on Mar. 7, 2009 at 1:43 AM

When I was younger....I was in question concerning any life beyond the earth. I have been married for 24 yrs. now * my husband is very fond of stories & various accounts of " other beings " out there. We took our son a few yrs. ago to visit Roswell, New Mexico etc. Interesting! I believe the Universe has plenty of room & more than likely has other life presented in it's atmosphere. The numerous documented accounts of ppl. being abducted does give one reason to pause & sincerely consider the possibility of space being shared by others...not just humans~       I just hope they are friendly!

The current technology available reveals man's ability to discover the " Big Universe " out there. The challenges are endless~

Had to add this pic for a lil' humor I took in my back yard of my coal black German Shepherd named Dakota when he was a puppy. He just turned 2 y/o & is 90 lb. now. This is the way it developed. Crop Circles in my back yard & ET ready to abduct my lil' guy LOL!!!

 

Junebug926
by Bronze Member on Mar. 7, 2009 at 8:58 AM

I think it is rather silly to think we are the ONLY beings in the universe. The universe is infinite. There is so much out there that we can't even begin to wrap our brains around.

tvschiulaz
by Member on Mar. 7, 2009 at 10:27 AM

This is way cool!  I have always been a fan of NASA and its missions.  Lately it seems that they are cutting back on things and are not as focused.  People just do not seem to care anymore.

Yes, there are most def other "earth" like planets out there.  And with that, there must be other life forms out there as well.  Let's just hope that they are friendly!

mom_wrhsc
by on Mar. 7, 2009 at 10:31 AM

Theres too many eye witness accounts to deny it, so yes I believe there other life out there. As a matter of fact some of them are in the white house...lol just kidding, don't bash it was just a joke:)

heyiitsang84
by on Mar. 7, 2009 at 10:51 AM

Ok so there's 8 other planets out there and we're the only ones??? NO WAY!!! Theres so many things that we just don't know about!!! So yes I do think that theres life out there. I also believe in ghosts too!!!!! 

dr_m
by on Mar. 7, 2009 at 10:54 AM

this is interesting !

mission to explore..  star trek !

 

Cafe GroupAdmin
by Head Admin on Mar. 7, 2009 at 6:28 PM


Quoting TawnyR:

Here's how I see it. Look the human species. Really look. Now ask yourself this. Do you REALLY think we, the human species, are the most intelligent life out there?


laughing

forsythia_18
by on Mar. 7, 2009 at 6:31 PM


Quoting Junebug926:

I think it is rather silly to think we are the ONLY beings in the universe. The universe is infinite. There is so much out there that we can't even begin to wrap our brains around.


Yeah, it's really self-centered thinking we're the ONLY ones.  seriously.  I hope we're not. lol

acrogodess
by Silver Member on Mar. 7, 2009 at 8:49 PM

Nope I have never believed we are the only planet with life on it. Even as a Catholic, I do not have problems thinking that life exists elsewhere besides on Earth.

Add your quick reply below:
You must be a member to reply to this post.
Join the Meeting Place for Moms!
Talk to other moms, share advice, and have fun!

(minimum 6 characters)



Featured