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SETI Chairman Using Kepler Data To Look For Alien Starships And Dyson Spheres

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keplerSearching for an object doesn’t always mean trying to find the object itself, but rather signs that it’s possible the object is around. Can’t find your keys? Why not grab all your laundry and shake it, listening for that familiar jingle? Geoff Marcy, the Watson and Marilyn Alberts Chair for SETI at the University of California at Berkeley, is no longer just looking for exoplanets to signify alien life. He’ll be using the Kepler telescope in a massive search for signs of intelligent life out in the cosmos. If only it were as easily sending out an intergalactic census report.

Awarded a $200,000 grant from the Templeton Foundation, Marcy will now scour the Kepler data to search for signs of alien spacecraft, possible Dyson spheres, and even the presence of a “galactic laser internet.” This all sounds rather lofty, but Marcy is an expert when it comes to space exploration, having overseen the discovery of over 110 exoplanets — 70 out of the first 100 discoveries are credited to him — and he’ll be using roughly the same techniques in hunting out signs of alien life.

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NASA Will Try To Fix Kepler Space Telescope

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Kepler telescopeKepler, we just can’t quit you. During bouts of insomnia, cruising the NASA website for news and photos of your discoveries is kind of like dreaming. And if/when we need to move the human race (or whatever we become) elsewhere, we’ll be relying on you.

So back in May it was devastating to hear of Kepler’s health problems, especially after NASA extended its mission to 2016. One of its reaction wheels, also known as a gyroscope, broke down. Why does a space telescope need wheels, you might ask? Because it has to be pointed very precisely in order to capture images, and the reaction wheels keep it aligned.

Kepler, which searches for habitable planets out there in the big ol’ universe, requires three of these wheels. Last July, a different wheel malfunctioned, so NASA used the spare then (they had four wheels in all). After imagining what it’s like to change a spare wheel on a space telescope, I don’t think I’ll complain again about changing a spare tire on my car. Now that Kepler’s lost another wheel, the telescope can’t point steadily enough to take usable images.

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Kepler Finds A Binary Solar System That Could Support Life

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Good news everyone! If you’ve been in the market for some real estate with a nice climate and a pretty sweet view of two suns, then you may be in luck. The Kepler space telescope has just found a pretty choice spot around a binary pair and it’s looking like the best chance yet to get the Tatooine real estate you’ve always wanted. This isn’t the first time astronomers have found a planetary system orbiting a binary pair, but it is the first one that could possibly harbor life.

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NASA Closer To Finding Earth’s Twin

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The universe may be vast, but the conditions under which life as we know it could exist are actually very specific.  It can’t be too close to a star or too far away.  There has to be at least the potential for water and the ratio of gasses much be just right.  A good deal of our gazing out into the cosmos focuses on tracking down planets that fit the complex matrix of conditions.  Today, NASA announced that its Kepler mission has confirmed the existence of the very first planet in a “habitable zone”.

This new planet – Kepler-22b – is 2.4 times the radius of Earth, making it the “smallest yet found to orbit in the middle of the habitable zone of a star similar to our sun”.  We don’t know much of anything about the terrain or gaseous make-up of Kepler-22b, but finding a planet similar to Earth’s size in the sweet spot of a habitable zone is itself cause for celebration.  Kepler-22b also follows an Earth-like, 290-day orbit around its star, which is smaller and cooler but in the same class as our own sun (G-type).

Kepler identifies potential planets by tracking variations in the brightness of stars that are caused by other celestial bodies passing in front them.  Once an identical blip is detected at least three times, researchers qualify the body as a potential planet.  In February 2011, NASA announced 54 habitable zone planet candidates and Kepler-22b is the first of those to be confirmed as a planet.  NASA also says that the increased numbers of smaller planet candidates proves that Kepler is fulfilling its mission of identifying planet candidates that are both Earth-like in size and potentially habitable, which puts us closer to finding “Earth’s twin”.