NASA's Kepler Promises to Irreversibly Alter Humanity's Relationship to the Cosmos

452px-Kepler_Space_Telescope.jpgA few moments before this post was published, Kepler was thrown into space on the back of a massive Delta II rocket. This Kepler mission has the potential to dramatically increase our awareness of extrasolar planets. The goal of the scope is to find out how common it is for a star to have a planet similar to our own. It has only been 13 years since we first found a planet orbiting a star other than our own Star. In 2009, there are more than 300 exoplanets. If the Kepler mission delivers on its scientific goals, we will be identify hundreds or thousands of potential candidates in a very limited section of our own galaxy. In a few months, inhabitants of this planet will likely have solid, concrete evidence and data that suggests that our Earth is only one of many millions just like it. This mission has the potential to irreversibly alter our relationship to the Cosmos.

From Wikipedia's page on the Kepler Mission:

The Kepler Mission will use a space photometer developed by NASA to search for Earth-like planets orbiting other stars. It will observe the brightness of over 100,000 stars over 3.5 years to detect periodic transits of a star by its planets (the transit method). The mission is named in honor of Johannes Kepler.

Kepler is a mission under NASA's Discovery Program of low-cost, focused science missions. NASA's Ames Research Center is the home organization of the science principal investigator and is responsible for the ground system development, mission operations and science data analysis. Kepler mission development is managed by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp. is responsible for developing the Kepler flight system.

This mission is named after Kepler. Here's a quick video about Kepler form Carl Sagan's always relevant Cosmos. Sagan Quote: "Kepler was the first person in the history of the human species to understand correctly and quantitatively how the planets move, how the solar system works."

In this next video, Sagan talks of the persecution of Kepler. His elderly mother was arrested and tried as a witch. (Thankfully, most of the readers on this blog no longer live in such a "Demon Haunted" world.)

(BTW, will someone please just give Brian Cox a few million dollars to create the next Cosmos? But, please keep the music, the early synthesizer music of the orignal Cosmo series is the apex of modern music.)

PHOTO CREDIT: NASA, Public Domain.

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This is a very good post. The Kepler mission brings much promise to the scientific enterprise, and exposes the general public to a side of the U.S. space program that it knows very little about: the search for intelligent life. Whilr the Mars missions are famous for their experiments to detect microbial life (of the evidence that it once existed), the search for extrasolar planets brings something new to the table. Frank Drake must be very happy that his famous equation is finally being tested, albeit on a limited basis.

But just as the Kepler telescope is a bold experiment in the search for other habits for life in our galaxy, so too does the mission bring a certain peril for mankind. While it is good to remember that we in the West, for the most part, do not live in the "Demon Haunted World" that Johannes Kepler found himself struggling through, that world of narrow-mind mysticism and superstition is uncomfortably close, in the form of fundamentalist religion and new-age pseudo-science.

Sometimes we forget that although we live in a secular society where science and technology is fully, if sometimes tacitly, accepted, that even here there are people who will see the Kepler mission's success as a threat to their worldview, an attempt to extinguish their most cherished beliefs.

We who see the promise of scientific endeavor must also be ready for the backlash that our enterprise brings.

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