Kepler Diagram image

“…we must choose between two assumptions: either the souls which move the planets are the less active the farther the planet is removed from the sun, or there is only one moving soul in the center of all the orbits, that is the sun, which drives the planet the more vigorously the closer the planet is, but whose force is quasi-exhausted when acting on the outer planets because of the long distance and the weakening of the force which it entails.” (in ref. 1, p 261)

As the story goes, on Christmas night 2,000 years ago, wise men followed a star in the night sky to reach the baby Jesus. NASA-Ames is following the stars too, looking for life on other worlds, and astronomers have a new celestial tool to help them.

“If we’re going to be looking for planets, earth-like planets are the key,” Foothill College Astronomy Department Chair Andrew Fraknoi said.

Fraknoi has loved astronomy since childhood. He says NASA’s Kepler mission is one of the most exciting in quite some time.

“In the last 16 years, we’ve discovered over 400 planets going around other stars, but the methods so far that we have been using only allowed us to find big planets like Jupiter,” Fraknoi said.

Kepler is a telescope designed to find planets orbiting other stars by looking for a break in the star light as a planet moves in front of it.

The challenge now is to find planets that are half to twice the size of the earth in the habitable zone of their stars, where it is possible that water and even life might exist.

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