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NASA Space Science

NASA: Mission Accomplished, Kepler – Now Look Harder Still 28

cylonlover writes "It's been more than three and a half years since the Kepler Space Telescope began its mission as humanity's watcher for Earth-like planets outside of the Solar System. In that time, Kepler has done exactly what was asked of it: provide the data to help identify more than 2,300 exoplanet candidates in other star systems. And so NASA has announced the 'successful completion' of Kepler's prime mission. There's one nagging detail, though: we are yet to find a truly Earth-like planet. It's time to alter the parameters of the search, which is why NASA has announced Kepler will now begin an extended mission that could last as long as four years."
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NASA: Mission Accomplished, Kepler – Now Look Harder Still

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  • Re:Subtlety (Score:5, Insightful)

    by queazocotal ( 915608 ) on Friday November 16, 2012 @08:28PM (#42008355)

    Well - sort of.
    The aim of the kepler primary mission was to detect earth-like planets, in earth-like orbits, around sun-like stars.
    Unfortunately, as one of the scientists working on the project pointed out, an early discovery was the sun wasn't a sun-like star.

    The sun turns out to flicker rather less than most stars in the sun-like population.
    This does unfortunate things when you're trying to pick the tiny, tiny signals of planets crossing the stars disks, as the noise swamps the signal.
    It means that it can't be picked up in the primary mission length, and you need longer integration periods - hence the extended mission.
    It's not to get more data than was intended, but to get back to the baseline that was assumed, before we realised that stars twinkle rather more than we thought.

    (It will have the side-effect of picking up some planets in non-earthlike orbits that couldn't have been seen too - very tiny and very long orbit ones.)

  • by aNonnyMouseCowered ( 2693969 ) on Friday November 16, 2012 @09:16PM (#42008827)
    The best that Kepler and allied planet-finding projects can do is whittle down the list of exoplanets to a candidate list of Earth-like planets. Spectral analysis might give a hint to the chemical composiition of a planet's atmosphere, but other factors might transform that planet into something worse than our worst climate-change nightmares. What we're probably looking for are planets that are easier to terraform, rather than life itself, which would be invisible to any direct imaging technique here on earth. Ironically, the SETI project probably stands a greater chance of confirming the presence of life on an extra-solar planet. Then again, that extraterrestrial transmission might come from the intelligent machines of a long extinct God-like species.
  • by Immerman ( 2627577 ) on Saturday November 17, 2012 @04:17AM (#42010657)

    I believe the key phrase is "attainable goals". Shoot for the stuff you're fairly certain you can accomplish on your grant application - then all the really interesting stuff comes as the "added bonus". Especially good if the "easy" stuff is interesting in it's own right. It certainly looks much better under congressional review than "yeah... so we though we could accomplish X, but it turns out to be a lot harder than we expected..."

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