To promote the work of its Kepler probe, NASA has recently released three posters advertising the planets Kepler-16b, Kepler-186f and HD 40307g. With taglines like “Where the Grass is Always Redder on the Other Side” and “Experience the Gravity of a Super Earth,” the prints make travel to the terrestrial planets sound like possibilities of the near future. As if not far from now, one really could “relax on Kepler-16b: Where your shadow always has company.”
Printed on each poster are the various properties (gravitational pull, temperature, color, mass and size) of Kepler-16b, Kepler-186f and HD 40307g – each discovered by the space observatory, Kepler. The probe, which was named for German astronomer, Johannes Kepler, was designed to survey portions of outerspace in search of Earth-like planets. In particular, Kepler scans the circumstellar habitable zone, where planets have the atmospheric pressure to support liquid water. According to NASA’s website, the probe’s goal “is the creation of a statistical survey that predicts how many Earth-like planets likely exist in our galaxy.”
From its position in space, Kepler looks at stars as close as a few hundred and as far as a few thousand light-years away. According to Kepler’s website, Kepler “will simultaneously measure the variations in the brightness of more than 100,000 stars every 30 minutes, searching for the tiny ‘winks’ in light output that happen when a planet passes in front of its star…The mission is designed to detect these changes in the brightness of a star when a planet crosses in front of it, or transits the star.” This is called the “transit method” of finding planets.
Since its launch on March 7th, 2009, Kepler has found 4,994 exoplanets. Of these, 3,199 are considered merely exoplanet candidates and only 1,795 have been confirmed by NASA scientists. Today, Kepler continues its duties of examining the Milky Way, specifically the Orion spiral arm of the galaxy (includes a large area in the constellations Cygnus and Lyra), as well as its search for another or at least a similar little blue dot.
In the meantime, space enthusiasts can look forward to the possibility of extra terrestrial habitation in the coming future.
All Photos Courtesy of NASA/JPL-Caltech