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article imageMission to find life sustaining planets begins tonight

By KJ Mullins     Mar 6, 2009 in Science
The Kepler spacecraft is scheduled to launch on Friday at 11 p.m. The telescope craft will search out the stars in the Cygnus-Lyra region of the Milky Way for more than three years looking for dips in brightness.
Those light differences could be a signal that a planet is in front of it in transit. The mission will cost $600 million. It is named after Johannes Kepler, the first astronomer to get the planetary motion theory correct in the 17th century.
The Kepler is so advanced that it is able to collect light data from the 95-megapixel telescope sensitive enough to detect slight changes in the number of photons. That technology is needed to find other planets with life. The goal is to find planets in the small size range as Earth. Already researchers have discovered more than 340 planets circling stars beyond our solar system. Those planets though appear to be to large to have life on them.
The goal is to find other planets in the 'Goldilocks zone.' The theory is that to support life a planet needs to be able to orbit their sun in about a year. A planet's need for water makes for that theory to be important which is way NASA's motto is "follow the water."
That mission is much like finding a needle in a haystack. The Kepler team will would need to spot shifts in a star's movement of less than one metre per second. It's believed that there could be 10 billion trillion planets like ours in the Milky Way. reports:
Gibor Basri, a Kepler scientist at the University of California, said: "It could possibly tell us that earths are very, very common, that we have lots of neighbours out there. Or, it could tell us that earths are really, really, really rare - perhaps we're the only Earth."
While the NASA team does not expect to find "E.T." it just may find a home that other life forms reside on reports CNN.
"This is a historical mission. It's not just a science mission," NASA Associate Administrator Ed Weiler said during a pre-launch news conference.
"It really attacks some very basic human questions that have been part of our genetic code since that first man or woman looked up in the sky and asked the question: Are we alone?"
Last month COROT out of Europe found the smallest terrestrial exoplanet ever located. The planet is less than twice the diameter of the Earth and is very close to its star which gives the orb a temperature of up to 1,55 degrees Celsius.
CNN reports:
"The density of these planets has been astounding," William Borucki, science principal investigator for the Kepler mission said. "We're finding planets that float like a piece of foam on water, [with] very, very low densities. We're finding some planets where the densities are heavier than that of lead."
With the Kepler, when it finds a planet it will be able to calculate size, mass, orbital period, distance from its star and the temperature of the orb's surface. It is the first step on intergalactic exploration.
CNN reports:
"Once we know how many there really are ... then NASA will be able to build space telescopes that can actually go out and take a picture of that nearby 'Earth' and measure the elements and compounds in its atmosphere of the planet and give us some hint as to whether or not it's got life," Alan Boss, an astronomer with the Carnegie Institution who serves on the Kepler Science Council said.
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