SEEKING EARTH (2.0) February 17, 2012Posted by wmmbb in Natural Environment.
The search to extrasolar planets has been extraordinarily successful. Now it seems this search will have to be aborted because of budgetary restrictions.
Although many planets circulating around the equivalent of the Sun have been found, none so far match the parameters of the Earth. It seems we are just the right distance from the sun for the oceans to neither boil or freeze. Water sustains life.
Success in finding these extrasolar planets has been due to the Kepler space telescope launched by NASA in 2009. As Ian O’Neill explains at Al Jazeera, the space telescope has discovered numerous “exoplanets” and on the 5 December 2011 they discovered a planet in a earth-like habitable zone circulating a star that was 2.4 times larger than Earth. The telescope is unable to identify whether a planet has an atmosphere.
It now looks as if this exploration will not continue. As Ian O’Neil observes:
Unfortunately, despite Kepler’s amazing track record, its primary mission is drawing to a close. After 3.5 years of operations, mission funding is set to end, and so far there is no promise of a mission extension. Ironically, the initial Kepler mission was tailored in the hope of detecting a true Earth-sized world orbiting a Sun-like star within the habitable zone. 3.5 years is the minimum time that a world like this may be confirmed to exist – remember, Kepler needs 4 orbits for an exoplanetary discovery, the Kepler science team therefore needs to wait 3.5 Earth years for such a discovery to happen. They came close with the discovery of super-Earth Kepler-22b, but not close enough.
By the end of this year, we may be close to the historic announcement of the discovery of Earth’s twin, but NASA’s budget is looking grim and a mission extension may not be on the cards. Only time will tell if the politics of science spending will put an abrupt end to this revolutionary age of exoplanetary discoveries.
The discovery of these planets in other solar systems have been discovered in the last fifteen years. Astronomer Dimitar Sasselov described the planetary studies in the context of astronomical history in a TED talk presented in 21 July 2010.
- Little Exoplanets Found In Tiny Solar System (wired.com)
- Proving Life On Other Planets (rajawaseem6.wordpress.com)
- Kepler mission discovers most Earth-like planet to date (gizmag.com)
- Kepler telescope hot on discovery trail (smh.com.au)