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NASA Space Science

NASA's Kepler Telescope Launched Successfully 82

Posted by Soulskill
from the take-that-gravity dept.
Iddo Genuth writes "At precisely 10:49 p.m. EST, NASA's 'Kepler' telescope was successfully kicked off into space, embarking on a mission that the agency says 'may fundamentally change humanity's view of itself.' The telescope will search the nearby region of our galaxy for the first time looking for Earth-size planets, which orbit stars at distances where temperatures permit liquid water to endure on their surface — a region often referred to as the 'habitable' zone."
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NASA's Kepler Telescope Launched Successfully

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  • I've always wanted to travel to other worlds... Unfortunately it would take hundreds of years at near light speed...

    • by AliasMarlowe (1042386) on Saturday March 07, 2009 @02:50AM (#27102897) Journal

      I've always wanted to travel to other worlds.

      It's an appealing thought. But is also works in reverse.

      Do we really want the other worlds' explorers coming here? Let's see what we humans have done to new lands: genocide, penal colony, battleground, food resource, or tourist trap. I vote we use Kepler to watch out for the scumballs, so we can prepare to zap them before they arrive.

      • by Sasayaki (1096761) on Saturday March 07, 2009 @02:58AM (#27102933)

        Another way to look at this is:

        When in human history has encountering a more advanced civilisation ever been good for a less advanced civilisation?

        • by Slumdog (1460213)

          Another way to look at this is:

          When in human history has encountering a more advanced civilisation ever been good for a less advanced civilisation?

          Same as in the movie "The Day The Earth Stood Still" I think?

        • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

          by xevioso (598654)

          Another way to look at this is:

          When in human history has encountering a more advanced civilisation ever been good for a less advanced civilisation?

          You need to play more computer games with benevolent overlords. Albeit these are few and far between.

        • by Urkki (668283)

          So let's do our best to make sure that when/if we encounter other civilization(s), we're the more advanced one... Or we're the one that encounters the aliens, not that the aliens encounter us, here on Earth.

        • by PolygamousRanchKid (1290638) on Saturday March 07, 2009 @07:19AM (#27103741)

          That's why I like film "Liquid Sky (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liquid_Sky)." Instead of coming to the Earth to help us or destroy us, the aliens came to Earth looking for drugs.

          Certainly a welcome break from the usual Hollywood dichotomy.

          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by AliasMarlowe (1042386)

            That's why I like film "Liquid Sky (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liquid_Sky)." Instead of coming to the Earth to help us or destroy us, the aliens came to Earth looking for drugs.

            A low budget classic (I have the movie on VHS). The humans were social outliers and were indeed on drugs quite a lot, but the aliens preferred leeching sex energy. Unfortunately the aliens were a bit greedy and people began dying during orgasm...

            If it were shown to the politicos, they'd panic (the horror: dallying with interns becoming fatal). NASA's budget would be either slashed or weaponized!

        • by meringuoid (568297) on Saturday March 07, 2009 @09:01AM (#27104171)
          When in human history has encountering a more advanced civilisation ever been good for a less advanced civilisation?

          Japan didn't do too badly; once they realised how backward they were they acted quickly to catch up, taking less than ninety years from the Black Ships to Pearl Harbour. A case could perhaps be made for India, whose existence as a unified state rather than countless squabbling principalities is largely a result of the Raj. And awful though the Conquistadors were, the Aztec Empire was a brutal tyranny that enslaved all its neighbours, who were very glad indeed to see the back of Montezuma.

          • by quanticle (843097)

            To be fair, though, for the tribes that were under Aztec domination, the arrival of the Spaniards was simply the exchange of one brutal enslaver for another.

            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by ScentCone (795499)
              To be fair, though, for the tribes that were under Aztec domination, the arrival of the Spaniards was simply the exchange of one brutal enslaver for another.

              Well yeah, but at least the Spaniards only shot them or occasionally burned them at the stake, instead of ripping their beating hearts of out their chests as part of the daily ritual in the town square. I mean, come on, you have to acknowledge progress, even when it's just incremental. Also, the Spaniards spoke Spanish, which was already being used a
          • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

            by cyn1c77 (928549)

            When in human history has encountering a more advanced civilisation ever been good for a less advanced civilisation?

            Japan didn't do too badly; once they realised how backward they were they acted quickly to catch up, taking less than ninety years from the Black Ships to Pearl Harbour.

            And then they got nuked.

        • by Ihlosi (895663)
          When in human history has encountering a more advanced civilisation ever been good for a less advanced civilisation?

          Ask the barbarians that plundered the Roman Empire ...

          • by QuoteMstr (55051)

            Or, consider the unwashed barbarians [wikipedia.org] who conquered Al-Andalus [wikipedia.org], or Muslim Spain, which was one of the most peaceful, tolerant, and sophisticated states of its era.

          • I read a very interesting article in the German version of the Scientific American (called "Spektrum der Wissenschaft"). Thene "barbarians" were not barbaric at all. That's revisionist history. They just freed their land from the foreign dominance of a empire that was falling apart.

            In fact, they had a very high culture, and many traditions got included into the Roman set of traditions. Even the west-European Christmas and Eastern come from those traditions.

            Well. Both had their high and low times, their good

        • Japan, 1853.
        • apart from the sanitation, medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, the fresh water system and public health?

        • by khallow (566160)
          A number of examples. Italian peninsula during the time of Greek colonization, Japan in 1853 (as mentioned by another replier), the neighbors of China, some advanced empires have proven beneficial to their subjects.
        • Come on, do you really think the native Americans would have ever developed casinos on their own?

          <ducks>

        • by QuoteMstr (55051)

          The Romans did pretty well when they conquered the (arguably more advanced) Greeks and Egyptians. The Mongols conquered the far more advanced Chinese and assimilated into its culture; Kublai Khan is one of the great leaders of China.

        • by VagaStorm (691999)
          I say lets four founding into research so we ensure we are the most advanced race. In all seriousness, a thing or two has happened since Europeans first set foot in America. Like how we do not contact the less advanced Indians still living in isolation in the amazon.
      • by skeeto (1138903)

        I vote we use Kepler to watch out for the scumballs, so we can prepare to zap them before they arrive.

        This A Softer World strip [asofterworld.com] reflects that sentiment.

      • by tyrione (134248)

        I've always wanted to travel to other worlds.

        It's an appealing thought. But is also works in reverse.

        Do we really want the other worlds' explorers coming here? Let's see what we humans have done to new lands: genocide, penal colony, battleground, food resource, or tourist trap. I vote we use Kepler to watch out for the scumballs, so we can prepare to zap them before they arrive.

        With progress comes challenges, change, loss and gains. Earth is supposed to be one giant Man in the Bubble? I think not.

      • So you assume that aliens might be hostile because humans are hostile to each other? That's depressing...

        • by QuoteMstr (55051) <dan.colascione@gmail.com> on Saturday March 07, 2009 @11:06PM (#27109819)

          Our species is not a unique and special snowflake. We're likely to see all kinds of convergent evolution [wikipedia.org]. An example from biology: Cephalopods [wikipedia.org]. (Squids, octopuses, and so on.) We can use Cephalopods to test theories about extraterrestrial life like we can use Antarctica to test Mars rovers.

          The most developed of these is the Octopus. Not only do these guys have eyes [bumblebee.org] that are better than our own, but they have brains. This is important because our last common ancestor with these guys had neither brains nor eyes, and was as complex as yeast. Yet the Octopus nervous system has quite a few similarities to our own [biolbull.org]:

          The findings emerging from recent electrophysiological studies in the octopus suggest that a convergent evolutionary process has led to the selection of similar networks and synaptic plasticity in evolutionarily very remote species that evolved to similar behaviors and modes of life. These evolutionary considerations substantiate the importance of these cellular and morphological properties for neural systems that mediate complex forms of learning and memory. In particular, the similarity in the architecture and physiological connectivity of the octopus MSF-VL system to the mammalian hippocampus and the extremely high number of small interneurons in its areas of learning and memory suggest the importance of a large number of units that independently, by en passant innervation, form a high redundancy of connections. As these features are found in both the octopus MSF-VL system and the hippocampus, it would appear that they are needed to create a large capacity for memory associations.

          Any technological alien civilization would face the same mathematical evolutionary pressures described by game theory, and would develop along lines close to our own. The differences we see between alien cultures and our own will be on the order of the differences between human cultures, and not something radically different.

          Why would you suppose that the distance between us and extraterrestrial life would be any greater than that between us and the octopus? We can be reasonably confident that:

          1. The laws of physics and the mathematical realities of game theory are the same everywhere
          2. Life will be carbon-based, because there aren't really any good alternatives. (No, silicon won't work.)
          3. Some kind of organic polymer will be used to encode each orgasm's genetic information, because there really isn't a good alternative. DNA is good choice because it's stable and cheap to make.
          4. Carbon-based life will require roughly the same environment we do. For instance, there will be no creatures that require bio-suits kept at the temperature of molten lead because any reasonable enzyme would denature at that point. Some kind of liquid environment will be needed for chemical reactions to take place in, probably water because it's abundant, simply, and is liquid in the right temperature range.
          5. Organisms will face roughly the same environment challenges we do, and will produce similar results.

          Really, we're not going to see off-the-wall organisms. They'll have eyes. They'll have brains. Anything that required technology will require air, fire, and water. Fire requires oxygen, so our aliens will have roughly the same atmospheric needs we do.

          The differences we may see are in the arbitrary choices evolution has made: I think we'll see extraterrestrial life use some of the amino acids that don't occur in nature here. Maybe their proteins and carbohydrates have opposite orientations. But the fundamental structures will be very similar because the problem is similar everywhere! [wikipedia.org]

          Also, cultu

    • by edisrafeht (1199347) on Saturday March 07, 2009 @03:37AM (#27103071)
      If it really is near-light-speed, then to the traveler, only a small amount of time has passed:
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Time_dilation#Time_dilation_and_space_flight [wikipedia.org]
      • by Kagura (843695)
        That's right. And according to the frame of reference of the traveler, it doesn't take four years to cover four light-years of distance. The traveler could, say, make the distance to Proxima Centauri in just a month by his watch. Some (other) people don't know this.
      • So single or dual-generation colony ships are feasible if you go fast enough, but the journey is even more one-way than the Altantic crossing to the British Colonies. At least relativity would make trans-planetary governance difficult, preventing humanity's eggs from being kept all in one basket.
        • > So single or dual-generation colony ships are feasible if you go fast enough...

          Stronger: if you can manage about 1 gravity of acceleration for on the order of one year you can reach any point in the universe. Just don't try to go home.

          > ...but the journey is even more one-way than the Altantic crossing to the British
          > Colonies.

          Interstellar travel at relativistic speeds is time travel.

          > At least relativity would make trans-planetary governance difficult...

          Impossible, one hopes.

    • Go fast enough and it will take only a year or so of your time.

  • Congrats to everyone involved! And what a way to start off Spring IYA 2009!
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday March 07, 2009 @02:49AM (#27102895)

    ...but it's generating it's own power and is communicating. From http://www.nasa.gov/home/hqnews/2009/mar/HQ_09-052_Kepler_launches.html

    Engineers acquired a signal from Kepler at 12:11 a.m. Saturday, after it separated from its spent third-stage rocket and entered its final sun-centered orbit, trailing 950 miles behind Earth. The spacecraft is generating its own power from its solar panels.

    • Sweet. After the failed OCO launch this is great news.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Also, telemetry from the on-board AI's neural net has already been translated as meaning:

      "Pfft, just when I'd found a nice Earth-like planet to live on WHICH IS WHAT I'M SUPPOSED TO DO the buggers at NASA kicked me off it".

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by dotancohen (1015143)

      ...but it's generating it's own power and is communicating.

      Which was in question for about a minute. I was watching the launch on NASA TV and the signal did _not_ get reported when expected. There were a few tense moments and you could see the engineers squirming and getting frustrated. Then the report of the signal came, and a collective "ahh" was heard. Apparently the signal was received on time, but the person in charge of announcing it was a bit late. Or, he was making for drama!

  • by Ihlosi (895663) on Saturday March 07, 2009 @03:01AM (#27102945)
    The Orbiting Carbon Observatory failed to launch, but Kepler launched just fine.

    This means:

    1. THEY don't want the world to know the truth about global warming.

    2. THEY know that Kepler will be pointed the wrong way anyway.

    • by Mr_Reaper (231387)

      3. THE cake is a lie.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by dotancohen (1015143)

      2. THEY know that Kepler will be pointed the wrong way anyway.

      If Kepler is pointed at Earth then it would stand a much better change of finding an Earth-like planet, no?

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by im_thatoneguy (819432)

      Or:

      1) They know global warming is true and a hopeless cause.
      2) They are looking for a replacement earth. :D Earth 2!

    • by Thing 1 (178996)

      I know that you went for Funny, but I had a similar thought about the two missions last night:

      If one of these was doomed to fail, I'm very, very glad it was the one pointing down. We can achieve a lot more looking out than we can looking in. And anyway, we're only stuck here for a couple more centuries at most. I'd even go so far as to say we'll start colonizing the sky before the end of this century.

      So knowing where else to go is much more important than knowing more about what processes are going on lo

  • GJ Nasa! (Score:5, Funny)

    by binarylarry (1338699) on Saturday March 07, 2009 @03:03AM (#27102951)

    Nasa needs to get the facts:

    You take the good, you take the bad,
    you crash billions of dollars of equipment into the ocean,
    The Facts of Life, the Facts of Life.

    There's a time you got to go and show
    You're growin' now you know about
    The Facts of Life, the Facts of Life.

    When the world never seems
    to be livin up to your dreams
    And suddenly you're finding out
    the Facts of Life are all about you, you.

    It takes a lot to get 'em right
    When you're learning the Facts of Life. (learning the Facts of Life)
    Learning the Facts of Life (learning the Facts of Life)
    Learning the Facts of Life.

    Ahh, I never get sick of that old Alan Thicke jingle.

  • "Kicked off into space"? I thought they usually used rockets for space launches. Is this some new, eco-friendly launch technology based on that big boot that Australians use to punish children?
  • by ILuvRamen (1026668) on Saturday March 07, 2009 @03:38AM (#27103079)
    I know this is obvious to most people but the "habitable zone" is awfully generous. It's hard to gauge the exact amount of heat given off by a star from as far away as we are. Plus, the atmosphere content is extremely important. Our moon is basically the same distance away from the sun as us and with no atmosphere it goes from like -180 to +200 F or something like that. So yeah, it kinda needs to have an exact amount of certain gases to keep water from boiling and freezing repeatedly, which would probably kill everything organic in it. And how are be supposed to tell if it's 40% as opposed to 50% CO2 in the atmosphere from all the way out here? It's impossible and that could mean a huuuuge temperature difference. So even if they find one that's supposedly perfect from what we can detect, it's still extremely likely that it's not.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by MadnessASAP (1052274)

      Exactly, a planets distance from the sun is a far more tolerant variable then its atmospheric makeup whent its comes to habitability, and not only makeup but pressure too, we can actually only survive for a long term within a very small range.

      • by WindBourne (631190) on Saturday March 07, 2009 @04:52AM (#27103329) Journal
        Problem is, you are talking about HUMAN RANGE. It is quite possible for other forms of life to live over much broader range of specs. What is will come to, is if a planet has life, we will probably only figure it out IFF it the planet is similar to us, or if life has made it to similar or further on the evolutionary scale.
        • by quanticle (843097)

          Problem is, you are talking about HUMAN RANGE. It is quite possible for other forms of life to live over much broader range of specs.

          Given that we've yet to find life on Mars, I think that its pretty safe to say that the only life we know of exists in the range occupied by the Earth.

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by Graymalkin (13732)

          Stop bringing this point up as it is for the most part worthless. For starters looking for completely alien types of life is damn near pointless because we would be highly unlikely to recognize it as such. Such life could readily exist on Earth right now but we do not recognize it. Looking for something without knowing what to look for isn't going to be very fruitful. It will be more useful to look for planets and solar systems like ours to look for life like ours. We would be able to recognize it more easi

    • Re: (Score:1, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward
      The surface temperature can be measured by the infrared spectrum the planet is radiating ("surface" might be the cloud top if is too dense). They are not trying to simulate the atmosphere including composition, density, clouds etc. to calculate a temperature.
    • by hcetSJ (672210)
      This is true, but the "uninhabitable zone" would be much greater. Astronomically greater, I think is the appropriate way of stating it.
    • by mangu (126918) on Saturday March 07, 2009 @09:28AM (#27104293)

      I know this is obvious to most people but the "habitable zone" is awfully generous. It's hard to gauge the exact amount of heat given off by a star from as far away as we are. Plus, the atmosphere content is extremely important.

      If you RTFA you'll see they are after statistics, not detailed data. They want to estimate the number of planets that have approximately the same characteristics as Earth.

      The Kepler will keep monitoring the same 100000 stars during five years. The number of planets detected around those stars will give a rough idea on how likely it is to find earth-like planets.

    • You're right regarding the importance of the atmosphere. In principle you could measure the atmospheric composition through transmission/emission spectroscopy at primary/secondary transit, however this is not feasible in the short term (maybe with 30m class telescopes it could be done). They'll have a hard enough time measuring the masses and securely confirming that any particular one of these things is planet (note the trouble with accurately determining the mass of Corot-Exo-7b for which the velocity sem
    • by rrohbeck (944847)

      The idea is to find potentially life supporting worlds, estimate their numbers, and later point larger telescopes at the best candidates and get spectral data to look for carbon dioxide, oxygen and water.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Skylax (1129403)
      On the other hand, what if life is tolerant in the beginning. And later when it established a basic biosphere it is capable of creating more favourable conditions for higher life forms (remember the oxygen rich atmosphere was created by bacteria). Sure the conditions must be favourable but if biospheres in general were not self-regulating systems who can deal with small changes in environmental conditions life on earth would have become extinct a long time ago.
      • if that's the case, why haven't they added us as friends on twitter or called? Or at least sent some comments on our Hitler speech that was broadcast into space :P
  • It's not like we can send a robot or probe there that will reach its destination anytime before we're all dead and gone and for all we know the fact that we even sent it will be forgotten.
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by LiquidCoooled (634315)

      Don't worry.
      Any probe we send out there will come back to "remind" us.

    • Re: (Score:1, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      The next step is to build or send up more telescopes to analyse the chemical signature of the atmospheres of all those planets. If there is oxygen and methane in similar proportions as on earth we can suspect that they have similar types of life as we have.

      Next step is to launch even better telescopes to look for traces of geoengineering or space construction on massive scales. If there are aliens out there they probably have tentacles reaching into space, figuratively speaking.

      We will hopefully soon be abl

      • by canthusus (463707)

        If there are aliens out there they probably have tentacles reaching into space

        Tentacles?

        Or Noodly Appendages?

  • The vast majority of people already have it in their minds that there are either aliens, or angels, or both. So, if they find a planet that might have life on it, its not going to be a shocker to anyone but the scientists who trumpet this discovery. For the rest of us, its no big deal at all.

    • by maxume (22995)

      I'm not sure that those people who believe in angels will be so blithe about it (I don't think they think that angels are alive or that they exist somewhere else in the universe.).

  • Keebler (Score:3, Funny)

    by The Dobber (576407) on Saturday March 07, 2009 @08:17AM (#27103953)

    Awesome. I lead the machining operations (Project Keebler) for the honeycombing of the mirror core. So long ago, another time in my life.

  • Intersting Orbit (Score:4, Informative)

    by dangle (1381879) on Saturday March 07, 2009 @08:18AM (#27103961)
    Instead of a low Earth orbit like Hubble, Kepler is going to use an "Earth-trailing heliocentric orbit with a period of 372.5 days.": http://kepler.nasa.gov/sci/design/orbit.html [nasa.gov]
  • Boo to CNN for showing some economic program rerun instead of breaking away for just a few minutes for the launch.

  • Most of planets discovered so far been through the doppler velocity method which is biased to large, fast, close-in planets, because thats what causes the larger and more easily detectable doppler shifts. Kepler use the "transit method" the temporary dimming of a star by a planet crossing in front of it. It should be able see smaller, slower, far out planets.

    Modeling suggests about one in thousand stars will have planets and will be tilted in the right way to see planetary transits. Kepler will watch
  • Everything I have learned from TV is that this is the kind of event listed in a prologue of a movie about an alien invasion.

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