Update: The 365 Days of Astronomy site is back up, and the podcast is available to listen with the player below, or by going to the site itself.
February is over! The northern hemisphere will soon begin to thaw due to its changing tilt toward the sun in this part of earth’s orbit, and melting ice and snow will nourish the green life lying dormant in the soil under our feet. That’s right, the Jolly Green Giant will soon emerge to party Spring Break in Daytona Beach.
March 1st also means that it’s only 5 more days until the scheduled launch of the Kepler Mission! The beanies of exoplanetoligists, planetary scientists, and astrobiologists everywhere are spinning at 10,000 rpm in anticipation of what will be a groundbreaking mission for the search for planets and life in the Universe. The Kepler satellite will monitor 100,000 stars in the constellation of Cygnus for over 3 years for the dimming caused by planets moving in front of stars. I’ve been looking forward to this mission for so long, not only have I planned to name my firstborn after it, but I was inspired to dedicate today’s 365 Days of Astronomy podcast to talking about this amazing scientific endeavor I had to use a borrowed microphone – apologies for the popping “p”s).
To give you an idea of how quickly we’re discovering extrasolar planets, my podcast is already out of date. Since I recorded it just a few days ago, we’re discovered 2 new extrasolar planets, bringing the grand total to 342 (as of this hour, anyway)! Kepler will quickly bring that total into the thousands. Also in the last few days since the podcast was recorded, the launch date has slipped to no earlier than March 6.
Kepler will be flying with the largest CCD camera every put into orbit – a 96 megapixel array about the size of an endtable. Kepler is a long term lightbucket – counting the photons from the same 100,000 stars over 3 years, watching for any change in their brightness. Watching stars for this long not only lets astronomers see planet transits that will repeat over a periods of time, but also help eliminate light pulses that may be due to other causes, like stellar burping.
As I mention in the podcast, this mission is going to answer one of the the most important questions in astronomy, one around since the times of the ancient Greeks (now that’s a long funding cycle): How many earth-like planets are out there? By finding how many there are in this swath of the galaxy, we can quickly scale that to the rest of the galaxy, and indeed to other galaxies as well. In just over 3 years, we’re gong to know how many earth-like planets there are in the galaxy. That is spine-tinglingly incredible, and has vast implications on the possible existence of extraterrestrial life and the discovery of even more Baldwin brothers.
After listening to the podcast, and perusing the internet for all the information about Kepler, you may have overlooked this little piece of information from NASA’s Kepler website.
In the 1960s, two employees from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) met on a blind date. The couple eventually married and had twin identical boys one of whom has grown up to be the lead for the data analysis group of NASA’s Kepler Mission – Jon Jenkins of NASA’s Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif.
Very interseting! So this begs the inevitable question – who is Jon’s twin brother, and what does he do? Is he the evil twin, set of to some antithetical job to NASA (maybe he works for a Creationist Space Program)? Has he asked NASA send Jon to a distant star, returning him so that his age could be compared with his brother’s?
With the sun shining here on a cold Ohio morning, I’ll leave you today with this poem, which was happened to be featured on today’s Writer’s Almanac.
April 5, 1974
by Richard Wilbur
The air was soft, the ground still cold.
In the dull pasture where I strolled
Was something I could not believe.
Dead grass appeared to slide and heave,
Though still too frozen-flat to stir,
And rocks to twitch, and all to blur.
What was this rippling of the land?
Was matter getting out of hand
And making free with natural law?
I stopped and blinked, and then I saw
A fact as eerie as a dream,
There was a subtle flood of steam
Moving upon the face of things.
It came from standing pools and springs
And what of snow was still around;
It came of winter’s giving ground
So that the freeze was coming out,
As when a set mind, blessed by doubt,
Relaxes into mother-wit.
Flowers, I said, will come of it.