Our Earth is located within The Orion Spur of The Milky Way Galaxy. We are positioned within our solar system, located roughly 26,000 light years from the galactic center. For centuries, humanity has wondered as to whether or not we are alone in all of the vastness known as space, or at least whether or not anyone, anything else is alive within our galaxy.
During March 2009, N.A.S.A. launched The Kepler Mission, sending The Kepler Spacecraft to search for Earth-like planets that are outside of our solar system, yet might be within nearby areas of our galaxy. Five planets have been located by this spacecraft, thus far. Yet, up to 1,235 bodies that have been labeled as planet candidates have been viewed, as of February 2011.
The discoveries of this spacecraft were made official to the public by February, 2011. These discoveries have been labeled as candidates because official observations have not been made to determine whether or not these objects are actual planets. Kepler’s observations are detecting the movements of bodies around stars, which does not give official identification to them as actual planets.
This space probe is functioning with the use of what is labeled as The Kepler Planet Orrery. It is an animated depiction of the discovered solar systems that contain more than one planet. This displays the sizes of the discovered worlds through color identification. The larger planets are identified through the red end of the spectrum, whereas the smaller planets are shown through the violet end of the spectrum.
The Kepler Planet Orrery has captured images of systems that contain more than one planet. Each of these worlds is located in the hot regions of their solar systems, with the most distant one being situated no more than 0.17 astronomical units from the host star. This would make the planet far too hot to host life, as we understand it, to survive!
Kepler has confirmed that twenty-four worlds exist through it’s methods of discovery. All of them are more massive than our world, with one, Kepler 9d, remaining to be examined and labeled to precision. As expected, none of the immediate finds is anything like Earth.
Kepler functions by the use of the observations of the flashes in front of stars to detect planets orbiting them. It’s photometer is recognized as the most sophisticated piece of equipment that has been sent to observe distant worlds. As it has viewed more than 150,000 distant stars, Kepler has observed these worlds through the transit method.
This manner of observing distant worlds shows their existence through recognizing the planets as they pass around their host stars. When a planet moves in front of it’s star, the light emitted from that star dims, momentarily. At that time, Kepler is able to detect the size of the planet, as well as the amount of time that it spends orbiting it’s host star.
Smaller planets are observed by Kepler through shifts in velocity, stellar wobbling, temporary dimmings of host stars, and pulsating flashes of movements in front of stars. The method of photometry is the best manner, to date, for observing planets that may be similar in size to Earth. If found, these worlds would be situated within their solar system’s habitable zones!
Artist’s impression of Kepler Spacecraft