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Space Science

Kepler Mission Could Detect Exomoons 64

Posted by Soulskill
from the that's-no-exomoon-hurrrr dept.
Lord Northern writes "According to several news sources, NASA's Kepler mission is said to be able to detect habitable moons orbiting planets in other star systems. Kepler is a space telescope designed to detect exoplanets. Its mission will have it orbiting the Sun for 3.5 years, after which we'll be able to tell if any of our neighboring stars actually have planetary systems around them. However, apparently we will be able to detect not only exoplanets, but also exomoons orbiting those exoplanets. The Kepler team came to that conclusion after running a computer simulation which found that the telescope was sensitive enough to detect the gravitational pull of an orbiting moon (PDF). This means that the data expected by the end of the mission is going to be very rich, and it is said that moons as small as 0.2 times the mass of earth could be detected. Further details about the Kepler mission are available from NASA."
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Kepler Mission Could Detect Exomoons

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday September 05, 2009 @02:29AM (#29321287)

    Actually, according to the lightcurve measured by Kepler, it is one. My bad.

    • by rossdee (243626)

      Presumably the Death Star is habitable (or was until the Rebel alliance destroyed it.)

      Whether it would show up as habitable is a different matter, the livable part is internal so surface temperature, atmosphere etc won't show up from a distance.

      • by Teancum (67324)

        I don't think that the Death Star was ever designed to operate in "stealth" mode. If anything, it was intended to be a shining beacon to the planets of the galaxy, letting them know that if they rebelled, that the Emperor certainly could dispatch them post-haste in a gruesome manner.

        In other words, physical properties would be plainly obvious from even astronomical distances that you are dealing with the Death Star.

        I'm still trying to wrap my head around how something that big can travel at superluminal ve

  • Big moon (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Given that Mars weighs only 10% of Earth, a 0.2 Earth-mass moon is large indeed.

  • its a shame (Score:2, Interesting)

    by chucklebutte (921447)
    That my generation (I'm 27) will never get to space, at the current rate nasa is being funded. Id kill to go to space or to another planet. I wish that instead of wasting money on worthless crap we focus more on ditching this rock and finding a better rock! Seriously though going to space would be total pwnage hopefully we will be able to do some 6th day shit and clone ourselves till the day we can go to another planet!
    • Id kill to go to space

      Would you? ... we might be able to make an arrangement here.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by 4D6963 (933028)
      If you're going to space that's not going to be thanks to an exploration agency. NASA is to space tourism as Vasco de Gama is to Atlantic cruises.
    • by grumbel (592662)

      Humans have evolved over quite a long while to fit onto this rock and its environment, the chance that you will find a better one are pretty much zero.

      Space is for most part just empty room that will try to kill you and non-earth planets aren't really much better.

      • Re:its a shame (Score:4, Insightful)

        by smoker2 (750216) on Saturday September 05, 2009 @10:20AM (#29323033) Homepage Journal

        Humans have evolved over quite a long while to fit onto this rock and its environment, the chance that you will find a better one are pretty much zero.

        No not zero at all. Nowhere near zero in fact. Chance is probability, and the probability is defined by the number of planets, which mathematically works out to "quite a lot". The chances of YOU finding a habitable planet are of course zero because you are not even interested in looking. So far we have a sample size of 8 (9 if you still appreciate Pluto), so to say there is no chance is premature. Not to mention of course the way we evolved to fly at 35000 feet at -50 C at twice the speed of sound.

        Space is for most part just empty room that will try to kill you and non-earth planets aren't really much better.

        Space does not "try" to do anything. Water does not "try" to drown you, in fact if you take your own air, it can be fun. How many "non-earth" planets do you know of ? How many of them have tried to kill you ? When you last crossed the road, how many cars "tried to kill you" ? What did you do to mitigate this risk ? Or did you see it as inescapable fate and stick to your original side of the road ?
        Oceans for the most part are just empty space with storms that try to kill you, and any non-european continents aren't really much better either. Oh wait ...

        • by grumbel (592662)

          Water does not "try" to drown you, in fact if you take your own air, it can be fun.

          And when you run out of air you have to return back to where you came from... thats not quite good enough when you want to have a self sustaining outer space colony, as returning back to earth and refueling resources just isn't an option when its a 5 light year trip.

          The earth ecosystem doesn't work so well for it by random chance, but because we are an evolved part of it. Chances of finding a compatible one are pretty slim.

          • by Teancum (67324)

            Water does not "try" to drown you, in fact if you take your own air, it can be fun.

            And when you run out of air you have to return back to where you came from... thats not quite good enough when you want to have a self sustaining outer space colony, as returning back to earth and refueling resources just isn't an option when its a 5 light year trip.

            The earth ecosystem doesn't work so well for it by random chance, but because we are an evolved part of it. Chances of finding a compatible one are pretty slim.

            Why? Are organic chemical unique to just the Earth? Are hydrogen and oxygen only found combined in the oceans of the Earth? Now that would be a remarkable scientific discovery if it were to be true.

            Finding a place where organic chemistry can function like it does here on the Earth, however, might be a huge accomplishment. I would certainly say that such a place would be quite rare.

        • No not zero at all. Nowhere near zero in fact. Chance is probability, and the probability is defined by the number of planets, which mathematically works out to "quite a lot".

          Only if you ignore reasonable sub-light travel times. If you don't, it becomes "very, very few" instead. This comes up with the SETI project when you consider the number of starts with in a mere 100 light-years of us. There are only 511 G stars (those like our sun) in that distance and if you narrow the volume to a 50 ly radius, there are only 63 G stars. Within 20 ly, you can count the number on one hand -- 4.

          (Note: We don't have any known, non-speculative technology that could get us above 0.1c, so I

      • Re:its a shame (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Nyeerrmm (940927) on Saturday September 05, 2009 @11:21AM (#29323381)

        Actually, we evolved to fit into the savannas of Africa pretty well, everything after that has been colonization. Theres been some small scale evolution to adapt to new environments, but all of that was after we moved to the new areas, relying on the primary tool evolution gave us: intelligence.

        If colonization of other worlds is possible, then its worthwhile. Not because we want to find a better Earth, but because we want to find more Earths. It may very well be that we adapt those worlds to suit us as those worlds adapt the settlers. However, its our adaptability through intelligence that will get us there, and that makes more and more environments suitable for us. The colonizers have never had it easy, but they have a history of adapting and making it better for following generations.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by symbolset (646467)
        The fossil record seems to indicate that if we don't escape this rock, it will kill us off. It's almost like it's trying to develop a spacefaring species.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by bradbury (33372)

      If you are 27, then you must have heard about Eric Drexler and Molecular Nanotechnology. Indeed Eric's master's thesis at MIT was on the subject of solar sails and Eric wrote a number of papers [1] about how MNT would enable inexpensive space access.

      If you really wanted to go to space you might consider spending less time on wishful thinking and more time on constructive activities. If you were to use the existing (free) Nanoengineer-1 molecular design software to design the nanoscale parts which are elem

  • Exomorons? (Score:1, Funny)

    by blob.DK (477287)
    We do we spend time looking for exomorons? As if we didn't have enough morons already.
    • You see, exomorons have their stupidity on the outside, so we can determine at a glance that they're idiots. For our normal everyday endomorons, we have to talk to them for a while or observe their actions. If we can find some exomorons, we may be able (at a later date) to cross-breed them with endomorons and save everyone else a lot of time. Unfortunately, I have a sneaking suspicion that there may be selective pressures against displaying one's stupidity for all to see, so any species we create that do
  • When talking about "habitability" in the context of Kepler Mission, it's more like "as much as Kepler can say about this object's Habitability". It's not necessarily that the planet or the moon are within the so called habitable zone. Since Kepler is able to analyze the atmosphere on some of the bigger objects, a planet within the habitable zone but with an invalid atmosphere or for example a gas giant would not be considered "habitable" by Kepler's standards. It also includes many other factors. Not just t
  • by Nyeerrmm (940927) on Saturday September 05, 2009 @11:33AM (#29323489)

    The summary makes one error, suggesting that Kepler is capable of detecting the gravitational 'wobble' caused by a moon. Rather, Kepler, or any system of similar sensitivity, is able to detect the transit of a moon, and recognize it as being distinct from that of the parent planet.

    Understandable mistake, since all of the early exo-planet detections were made using the 'wobble' method (detecting the Doppler shift corresponding with a stars motion due to a heavy, close planet). However, the transit method, which measures small dips in the brightness as the planet passes in front of its parent star is far more sensitive, though more difficult to use due to noise constraints.

    Basically, imagine if you were looking at our sun from another star system, and Jupiter stood out clearly as a dip in the light curve, reappearing every 8 or 9 years(?). With this, something like Io or Europa would show up as a smaller periodic variation overlaid on that larger dip. Only noise levels are standing in the way of detecting it, and apparently they think Kepler can handle it.

    • Basically, imagine if you were looking at our sun from another star system, and Jupiter stood out clearly as a dip in the light curve, reappearing every 8 or 9 years(?). With this, something like Io or Europa would show up as a smaller periodic variation overlaid on that larger dip. Only noise levels are standing in the way of detecting it, and apparently they think Kepler can handle it.

      Well, no. It says they can detect exomoons with mass > 0.2 Earth masses. Since even Ganymede is only 0.025 Earth mass

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Sorry but you are wrong. Kepler is not able to detect the transit of a moon, it is able to detect the delay in the transit of a planet due to the pull of a moon on that planet.

      So it is true that it can "detect the gravitational pull of an orbiting moon", not just using the 'wobble' method as you assume the summary assumed.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by zoso1132 (1303697)
      Very nice catch. You are correct. I do mission operations for Kepler (at LASP) and I remember being trained/briefed on the engineering side of things about a year ago. One of the principle investigators (PIs) was there giving an overview of the science and he mentioned "star wobble" as an alternative method of exoplanet detection. Given the numbers he was throwing around talking about Kepler's sensitivity to light (which is outrageously good, at that), someone asked if it could detect "star wobble." He so

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