A video of recent public lecture at the SETI Institute giving an overview of the exoplanet discoveries of the Kepler space telescope: The Era of Exoplanets Has Arrived – Jeff Coughlin & Geert Barentsen (SETI Talk 2017) –
NASA’s Kepler space telescope was launched in 2009 and measured the brightness of 200,000 stars at unprecedented precision for over four years, with the prime mission goal of detecting Earth-sized exoplanets. Now after another four, Kepler’s final planet catalog is complete — over 4,000 planet candidates have been found, with 50 of them possibly rocky and capable of having liquid water. For the first time in human history, we can calculate how common planets the same size and temperature as Earth are, a key component to SETI’s goal of figuring out how common life may be in the universe.
The K2 mission began three years ago, and uses the Kepler spacecraft to stare at many different parts of the sky for 80 days at a time. A broad portion of the Astronomical community chooses what targets to observe, resulting in a wide variety of science, including supernovae, galaxies, stars, and of course exoplanets. K2 has found over 300 confirmed exoplanets and an additional 500 candidates. Some of these are likely to be habitable, and many of them are prime targets to be observed by future missions, such as the James Webb space telescope. We’ll discuss what we may learn about these worlds over the next few decades, and what future missions are being planned to find planets to which our descendants may one day travel.
Our generation has a unique opportunity to discover Earthlike planets around other stars, and Project Blue could make this breakthrough. We’re creating detailed plans for the spacecraft, and we want you to be a part of advancing our mission to the Launchpad!
We believe a sister Earth could exist not too far from the place we call home and, thanks to recent breakthroughs, the technology now exists to find out. We at Project Blue aim to search the Alpha Centauri system for planets like Earth, and we want your help to launch our engineering design effort, like creating blueprints for a house before construction begins. We are looking to raise $175,000 to complete this engineering phase and to establish our industry partnerships. And we want to get you involved in the mission right at the start so that, together, we can all take a bold leap into shaping humanity’s future!
The observatory would be much smaller, and much cheaper, than the Hubble or similar big science spacecraft:
Project Blue is a space telescope mission that seeks to find and photograph a habitable world, another Earthlike planet where life can potentially thrive. Our goal is simple — to build & launch a telescope so powerful it can detect a blue planet in the nearby Alpha Centauri star system. Thanks to recent technological innovations, our telescope is small enough to fit on a coffee table, but powerful enough to pick up a planet over a billion times dimmer than its star — from four light years away! With this telescope we aim to take the first ever optical image of a potentially habitable exoplanet, and the team hopes that the results will show a ‘pale blue dot’ similar to the famous photo of Earth taken by the Voyager probe.
With sufficient public support, the spacecraft could go into orbit by 2023:
Jill has been a pioneer in SETI research – it has been and still is her life’s work. Jill currently holds the Bernard M. Oliver Chair for SETI at the SETI Institute, serves on the management board for the Allen Telescope Array (ATA), is President Emeritus of the California Academy of Sciences Board of Trustees and continues to make groundbreaking impacts in the worlds of science, education and the arts. ‘Making Contact’ is Jill’s story.
The all-sky TESS mission will soon revolutionize our view of planets transiting the nearest, brightest stars to the Sun, just as the four-year survey by NASA’s Kepler mission transformed our understanding of exoplanet demographics. Using the repurposed Kepler spacecraft, the ongoing K2 mission provides a natural transition from Kepler to TESS in terms of sky coverage, survey duration, and intensity of ground-based follow-up observations. For the past three years I have led a large, multi-institutional team to discover, follow up, validate, and characterize hundreds of new candidates and planets using data from K2. I will highlight some of our key results from the first two years of K2 data, and will conclude with a discussion of the path forward to future exoplanet discovery and characterization.
Dr. Gary H. Blackwood earned his BS, MS and PHD in Aeronautical and Astronautical Engineering from MIT. He has been an employee at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, CA since 1988 and has worked on technology development for precision astronomical instruments and astrophysics missions including the Hubble Wide/Field Planetary Camera-2, the StarLight formation-flying interferometer, the Space Interferometry Mission and the Terrestrial Planet Finder. Since 2012 he has served as the Program Manager for the NASA Exoplanet Exploration Program, managed by JPL for the Astrophysics Division of the NASA Science Mission Directorate.