Destination Innovation - Episode 1 - Kepler

Uploaded by nasaames on 06.01.2012

Estelle Dodson: People have studied the night skies for thousands of years
wondering if another world like ours might be out there.
After the first planet was discovered outside our solar system,
the real search for an Earth-like planet began.
Today, the question still remains unanswered, but probably not for long.
Join us as we discover how a team of scientists, working on the Kepler Mission
at NASA Ames Research Center, are on a quest
to find an Earth-size planet, in orbit around a distant star.
Estelle Dodson: To give us a better idea of how they hunt for alien worlds,
let’s meet Bill Borucki, Principal Investigator of the Kepler Mission.
Bill, can you tell us a little bit about the Kepler Mission and how you hunt for planets and stars?
Bill Borucki: Sure, I'd be delighted to.
Basically what we have is a telescope in space that orbits the sun,
looks at 150,000 stars constantly,
looking to see if a planet crosses any of these stars.
Estelle Dodson: And does being outside of the atmosphere help with the observations?
Bill Borucki: Having a telescope outside the atmosphere is essential to success.
Basically, to look through the Earth's atmosphere you have clouds and dust and day-night cycle.
In space, you have none of that.
So you have a hundred times more precision.
You can find much smaller planets out in space than you could ever find
from a ground-based telescope.
Estelle Dodson: And what do you do with the data once it comes down,
how is this different than say, the Hubble Mission?
Bill Borucki: Hubble takes these wonderful images of various galaxies and whatnot.
But, what we do instead is we send back just the brightness of each of these 150,000 stars.
So basically you're looking at the brightness of a star as it changes with time.
Is it constant or did it show dips for planets?
So basically it's a search through all this data to find those dips.
Estelle Dodson: It sounds like you've been getting great data.
Bill Borucki: We're getting absolutely wonderful data.
Basically we're getting data over a huge range of objects: stars and planets,
small planets, large planets, planets together.
We're also getting very precise data.
Data that is so precise that we can make measurements that no one has ever made before.
People only dreamed they could make these kinds of measurements.
Estelle Dodson: So you're really star explorers.
Bill Borucki: We're certainly explorers.
And we're going to be rewriting the astronomy books on all the stars we're finding
and all the planets we're finding,as well.
Natalie Batalha: You also see this raining down of points...
Estelle Dodson: To tell us more about what's been going on with the Kepler Mission,
we're here with Natalie Batalha, Deputy Science Lead.
Natalie, how hard is it to see the planets transiting their stars
once the science team gets the processed data?
Natalie Batalha: Planets about the size of a Neptune or a Jupiter those are really easy to see.
Planets the size of an Earth however, those are really truly hidden in the noise.
In order to see those we have to build, we have to make use of this very innovative
software pipeline that we have spent years developing,
and our pipeline is really exceeding our expectations on this front.
Estelle Dodson: What has been some of the real exciting things you have been able to discover?
Natalie Batalha: The year started off with a bang after the discovery
of our first rocky planet: Kepler-10b.
We followed right on its heels with the discovery of the Kepler-11 system,
where you've got six planets packed so close to their parent star,
five of them are within a radius comparable to Mercury's orbit in our own solar system.
So it is something very different than our own solar system.
So that was very exciting as well.
Recently, the team reported on the discovery of Kepler-16b.
A Saturn-sized planet orbiting not one but two stars.
We call this a circumbinary system.
Now we've seen this before in science fiction.
George Lucas depicted Luke Skywalker's home world as a world with two suns looming above the horizon.
So what was imagined has become reality with the discovery of this planet.
Natalie Batalha: At the end of 2011, we announced two discoveries.
The first was Kepler-22b, a planet about 2.4 times the radius of our own Earth,
but lies in that just-right temperature region.
It's orbiting a star that's almost exactly like our own Sun
and it's orbiting out at a 300-day period.
The second announcement was Kepler-20e and "f,"
two planets orbiting the same star that are likely to have the same kind
of composition as Venus and Earth in our own solar system,
except they're not at the just-right temperature.
So you can see that we're zeroing in on the planets that are both
Earth-sized and in the habitable zone...we're almost there.
Kepler has exceeded all of our expectations,
yet we still know that our most interesting,
most compelling results are yet to come.
Estelle Dodson: What's been the reaction to the Kepler mission in the large,
larger science community?
Natalie Batalha: Kepler has been a game changer in exoplanet science.
We are having dialogs now that we didn't have two years ago even.
The scientific community is going to be working on this database,
characterizing these planets for decades to come.
But what we will end up with is a deeper understanding of the abundance of Earth-size,
potentially habitable worlds in our galaxy.
Estelle Dodson: Thanks for joining us!
And you can meet us again on our next Destination Innovation.
Narrator: To learn more about NASA's Kepler Mission, go to www dot nasa dot gov slash Kepler.
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