January 11, 2016-01-11
It’s probably no big revelation that I’m a Star Trek fan ( I think it’s a good bet to speculate that most folks who have a strong interest in this area are ) from way back. Yup- the proverbial Trekkie. So it’s hard to not think back to the now famous opening narrative of that iconic series when one thinks of the Kepler Space Telescope- the metaphorical Nino, Pinto and Santa Maria of the search for exoplanets and life elsewhere in the Universe: For the purists, it reads exactly as follows:
“Space, the final frontier. Its 5 year mission to explore strange new worlds, seek out new life and new civilizations and to boldly go where no man ( or as the updated, politically correct version says- “no-one”) has gone before.”
Kepler, named for 17th century German astronomer Johannes Kepler, was launched in 2009 and has been the most successful planet hunting mission ever, discovering and cataloguing over 1000 planets—truly“new worlds”, and with all due respect to Captain Kirk, it remains to be seen how “strange” they are. Unfortunately, Kepler was sidelined in 2013 due to a malfunction but due to the extreme talent and dedication of the planet hunting scientists, Kepler is back in business and the first, “second round” of exoplanets was discovered in late 2014. At a recent meeting of the American Astronomical Association in Florida, astronomers associated with the Kepler mission announced that this new “second chance “ mission, dubbed “K2”, has confirmed 100 brand new planets! And that is darn good news, indeed. The Kepler website, which I checked today, reports that of the 4692 planets discovered to date, 1032 have been confirmed as planets, and of those, 12 are small planets in the coveted “Goldilocks” habitable zone. As a life long Math phobe, I will try not to get into a lot of numbers in my posts, but these ones are significant. And as a writer, I try to avoid clichés, but it’s hard to avoid using this one: in our unimaginably vast universe, these discoveries are truly the tip of that iceberg that everyone keeps talking about.
What else will be discovered as 2016 unfolds in front of us?