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NASA’s Kepler Mission
Posted: 16 February 2009 08:46 AM   [ Ignore ]
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On March 5th, 2009, NASA’s Kepler Mission [CLICK] will blast off into the Milky Way to search for habitable planets.  The mission is scheduled for five years and it is hoped that it will identify planets in other solar systems that resemble earth and that may be able to sustain life.  The Kepler Mission follows the discovery of the first planets (Gas Giants about the size of Neptune and larger) in 1995; the number of planet discoveries now exceeds 300.  If the Kepler Mission is successful, it will lead to further missions which will attempt to establish whether, in fact, life does exist on the most likely of the photographed planets.  The Kepler Mission is primarily a very large camera which will photograph planets as they pass over the face of their sun (eclipse).

The importance of the Kepler Mission as both scientific exploration, and as a stepping-stone in man’s future cannot be overemphasized.

I have searched CSI and can find very little about the Kepler Mission (I may be wrong), but I would like to suggest that it be set up as a separate forum for members to use to discuss the expanding philosophical, historic, scientific and educational ramifications of this space exploration.

[ Edited: 16 February 2009 08:54 AM by Fat Man ]
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Posted: 16 February 2009 04:46 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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I don’t think it needs a separate forum.  This thread should be sufficient.

Occam

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Posted: 16 February 2009 06:17 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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Occam - 16 February 2009 04:46 PM

I don’t think it needs a separate forum.  This thread should be sufficient.

Occam

I think that a response from a higher authority is merited here.  Someone like the director of CFI.  No thread will last for the five years that this mission is intended to last and continued updates and various discussions that can and should result cannot be covered in a single thread.

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Posted: 16 February 2009 07:36 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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EL, I’m not as optimistic about Kepler as you seem to be. The kind of planets that might support life are just too tiny and too close to their parent stars to be observable by anything we have, even Kepler. Yes, Kepler will find more extrasolar planets, and Kepler has the resolution to see smaller planets, but we’re still talking about very few possible hits. Moreover, I’m not as optimistic that water means life. I think there’s a lot more to it. Still, I think the mission is a good idea and I know that it will advance science. I suppose that I consider the “Let’s find extraterrestrial life” thing to be more politics than science.

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Posted: 16 February 2009 08:19 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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Kepler is mainly a “Screening tool”.  Its job is to examine large numbers of stars all at once ( 100,000), looking for the variations in brightness that indicate a planet transit. Once those stars are identified then the information will allow us to use other telescopes to further analyze the planets that Kepler finds.  Its basically a way of weeding out the wheat from the chaff. It is of course limited to finding planets who pass directly between their sun and the earth. That means the vast majority of planetary system won’t be detected by this method since the plane of their orbits will not be at the right angle for Kepler to see them. Kepler may only detect a small proportion of the planets out there but it will be easy to calculate from that data how many planets exist since we know what percentage of solar systems will have planetary discs lined up at the correct angle for us to see them with Kepler.

Its an essential first step forward to gain critical information required for further research, but it doesn’t need its own forum here. Anyone interested in this can keep up on the latest developments at NASA’s web site for Kepler. You could always keep the forum aware of important new info by updating this thread from time to time.

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Posted: 16 February 2009 09:49 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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Yes, the screening function is important, but let’s not forget that the fraction of systems that they’ll catch is extremely low. If we’re looking for earth-like planets, the geometry of the situation limits us to just 1 in 180 planets; and the timing is even trickier, as the chance of seeing an eclipse is roughly 0.3% per day. However, the odds really are in our favor: if only 1% of the 100,000 stars surveyed have earthlike planets, then we’ll be able to see 5 such stars, and the three year length of the mission gives us a very good chance of catching all five. The bad news is that we’ll have only very rough estimates of the masses of the planets we discover. I could do some calculations with the performance specs they give for the photometer, but it’s going to be very, very difficult to get really good data on that.

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Posted: 16 February 2009 11:20 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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Chris Crawford - 16 February 2009 07:36 PM

EL, I’m not as optimistic about Kepler as you seem to be. The kind of planets that might support life are just too tiny and too close to their parent stars to be observable by anything we have, even Kepler. Yes, Kepler will find more extrasolar planets, and Kepler has the resolution to see smaller planets, but we’re still talking about very few possible hits. Moreover, I’m not as optimistic that water means life. I think there’s a lot more to it. Still, I think the mission is a good idea and I know that it will advance science. I suppose that I consider the “Let’s find extraterrestrial life” thing to be more politics than science.

Your response raises several issues, scientific and philosophical.  I’m neither optimistic nor pessimistic.  I just think that you have proved my point that this is a much more complex process than firing a rocket into space.  Kepler could break down in its first couple of days or weeks or months, but I’m no prophet either.  I simply think that the scientific initiative and its mandates require close attention from a website and organization that professes to be a “Center for Inquiry”, particularly scientific inquiry.  Besides, sending a multi-million dollar scientific Mission on its way in the middle of an economic crisis also has an aura of romanticism about it and gives us something else to consider.

I stood with my father on our lawn in South Africa in 1957 and watched the faint blip of Sputnik.  My father spoke of his father who was in Dover in 1909 when Bleriot flew the English Channel for the first time.  My father became a navigator in 25th Fighter Squadron of the RAF, flying open-cockpit biplanes, and he lived in Portsmouth near Plymouth where the first flight across the Atlantic landed in 1919.  While I and all of the rest of us will be long gone before regular space flight becomes a reality, and other civilizations may be discovered, it seems important to maintain a “spirit of adventure” in our vision of what will be ahead of us, and to follow early attempts to move beyond our immediate space and time.  When my father saw the mottled TV pictures of the first moon landing he said, “and I said it would never happen….”  Kepler may fail, but let’s watch and discuss anyway - perhaps before I stare into the maw of the bucket, I may stand with my great grandson and say, “I hoped it would happen in my lifetime and talked about about for a long time.”

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Posted: 19 February 2009 09:55 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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KEPLER MISSION SCHEDULE UPDATE [Click]

“Over a four-year period, Kepler will continuously view an amount of sky about equal to the size of a human hand held at arm’s length or about equal in area to two “scoops” of the sky made with the Big Dipper constellation.’ A map of the area Kepler will search is shown superimposed on a picture of the constellation Cygnus, The Swan. NASA has posted a countdown clock for Kepler, as well as animations of the spacecraft mission and the science objectives.”

[ Edited: 19 February 2009 10:00 AM by Fat Man ]
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Posted: 19 February 2009 10:07 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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NASA missions are always “more than meets the eye”: the public version of the mission’s purpose is always the sexy part, while the real effort may be on something entirely different. While musing over the mission profile, I realized something that is almost certainly part of the mission: search for low-amplitude variability in middle Main Sequence stars. The Kepler photometer is astoundingly precise, because the brightness changes we’ll see in planetary eclipses will be a tiny fraction of a percent. That kind of precision is really hard to get with regular photometric systems, so they apparently put a lot of money into building a truly magnificent instrument. So they’re going to get extremely precise data on 100,000 stars, only a few of which will show planetary eclipses. But those stars that don’t have planetary eclipses might still show some variability, and the data on that could be very interesting for fine-tuning our theories of stellar structure and evolution. There’s even another application: the data could be applied to our sun to get an estimate of any solar variability—which is significant for the AGW hypothesis.

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Posted: 19 February 2009 10:14 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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KEPLER MISSION SIMULATED VIDEOS FROM THE JET PROPULSION LAB [Click]

This website, developed by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory of the California Institute of Technology, provides two simulated videos targeting the Kepler Mission: The Mission, and The Science, under the banner: “A Search For Habitable Planets.”

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Posted: 19 February 2009 10:25 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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KEPLER MISSION: THE SCIENCE OF FINDING PLANETS [Click]

This page from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory Kepler Mission Website offers clearly illustrated descriptions of the scientific theory and processes used to find planets, and to design the Kepler Mission.  There is also a very nice animated video providing simple illustrations of what the scientific process involves:

“FINDING PLANETS

“Multiple Methods Help Track Elusive Quarry  

“The first planets to be found around nearby stars have never been seen. Instead, astronomers have discovered them indirectly, inferring the existence of an unseen companion through its effects on the star itself.

“So far, astronomers have only turned up huge planets that probably don’t harbor life. However, future missions such as Terrestrial Planet Finder and its precursors will search for direct evidence of new planets as small as Earth.

“The challenges of observing extrasolar planets stem from three basic facts:
Planets don’t produce any light of their own, except when young.
They are an enormous distance from us.
They are lost in the blinding glare of their parent stars.

“For example, if there were a planet orbiting Proxima Centauri, the nearest star, it would be 7,000 times more distant than Pluto. Trying to observe this planet would be like standing in Boston and looking for a moth near a spotlight in San Diego.”

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Posted: 19 February 2009 10:48 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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The question about whether there may be life on other planets has been tossed around for many years with mixed responses.  Exactly a year ago: February 18th, 2008, the U.K. Guardian reported that speculating discoveries suggest that there might, indeed, be other planets in our galaxy which can support life (known at the moment as “rocky planets”):

“An astronomer has estimated that rocky, Earth-like planets may form around many, if not most, of the nearby Sun-like stars in our galaxy. His results suggest that worlds with potential as cradles for life might be more common than previously thought.

“Using Nasa’s Spitzer Space Telescope, Michael Meyer of the University of Arizona discovered that at least 20% and possibly up to 60% of stars similar to the Sun could potentially have rocky planets in orbit around them.

“He presented his results at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Boston yesterday and they will be published in the February edition of Astrophysical Journal Letters.

“His team looked at six groups of stars with masses comparable to the Sun. “We wanted to study the evolution of the gas and dust around stars similar to the Sun and compare the results with what we think the solar system looked like at earlier stages during its evolution,” said Meyer.”


The following website deals with issues related to this topic, which is basic in understanding the current Kepler Mission:

Formation and Evolution of Planetary Systems (F.E.P.S.), Steward Observatory, University of Arizona [Click]

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Posted: 20 February 2009 10:16 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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Access to videos and animations which cover the technical aspects of the Kepler Mission: http://kepler.nasa.gov/media/animations.html

Here is the Kepler countdown clock: http://kepler.nasa.gov/media/animations.html


“NASA’s Kepler spacecraft is on its way to the launch pad and will soon begin a journey to search for worlds that could potentially host life.

“Kepler is scheduled to blast into space from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., aboard a Delta II rocket on March 5 at 10:48 p.m. EST. It is the first mission with the ability to find planets like Earth—rocky planets that orbit sun-like stars in a warm zone where liquid water could be maintained on the surface. Liquid water is believed to be essential for the formation of life.” (see photo included of the Kepler Spacecraft on its way to the launch pad to be placed on the top of a Delta II rocket).

NOTE: The launch of the Kepler Mission will be from Cape Canaveral Airforce Station.  Access to the launch:
http://www.patrick.af.mil/questions/topic.asp?id=665

Countdown: at time of writing this the launch is in 12 days, 22 hours, 33 minutes, and 48 seconds.

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Posted: 27 February 2009 10:11 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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UPDATE: 02/27/2009

Image above: Workers attach the two-part payload fairing over the Kepler spacecraft in preparation for launch. The cover, designed to jettison shortly after launch, protects the spacecraft from the friction and turbulence as it speeds through the atmosphere during launch. Image credit: NASA/Jack Pfaller (see photographs).  Also, photo of Delta II Rocket blastoff; Kepler will be on top of one of these rockets for the first part of the journey.

[ Edited: 27 February 2009 10:20 PM by Fat Man ]
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Posted: 28 February 2009 09:56 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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As an appendix to the Kepler Mission there is a question that could be raised:

What is a super-diamond and what effect does the scientific knowledge of these diamonds have on the possibility of extra-terrestrial life?

Abstract (St. Andrew’s University, Fife, UK)
An organically templated yttrium fluoride has been prepared hydrothermally and characterised by X-ray powder diffraction. The crystal structure of [C3N2H12]0.5[Y3F10] may be regarded as a ‘Super-Diamond’ framework, space group Fd, a=15.4817(1) Å, where each carbon atom site of the diamond structure is replaced by a polyhedral [Y6F8F24/2]2− unit. The basic framework type is isostructural with the known phase (H3O)[Yb3F10]·H2O. The novelty in the present case lies in the use of the organic structure-directing agent 1,3-diaminopropane.

National Geographic
http://channel.nationalgeographic.com/series/naked-science/3896/Overview

See thread: “Astronomy News”
The Times
Britain’s ‘Super X-ray’ Diamond Synchrotron to shed new light on the ancient world
http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/science/article5744170.ece

Geology.comhttp://geology.com/nasa/diamonds-in-space.shtml
Diamonds in Space
Diamonds in Meteorites Triggered Scientists’ Imagination
News Release by NASA and JPL-Caltech - February 2008

[ Edited: 11 April 2009 11:21 PM by Fat Man ]
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Posted: 28 February 2009 11:17 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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I did a little poking around and I can’t provide any good answers. I am fairly certain that the “super diamond” has no application in the search for extra-terrestrial life. What I did find was as follows:

First, there is research on doping diamond to create a high-temperature superconductor. This may be the source of the reference to a superdiamond with the English synchrotron. They’re talking about high-energy X-radiation, and my guess is that they’re able to get higher power densities by using a carefully doped diamond as the central resonator. If so, that would certainly be impressive work—but not any new fundamental physics.

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