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Liftoff February 16, 2009

Posted by Mike Trudeau in Space.
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The first post is the hardest, I hope. I’ve definitely deleted about a post’s worth of first few words.

There are are two things happening in the sky in the next few weeks. First, the comet Lulin will be swinging by with incredible speed. She’s travelling in the opposite direction around the Sun from the Earth, so she’ll be moving very fast from our perspective.

Her path suggests that this is her first time through the inner solar system. It’s nice to see some fresh faces every once in a while. 

Lulin will be closest to the Earth on February 24. Maybe some other Sheffield residents would like to head out to the Peaks for a peek?

Here’s a good article about it.

Also, woot woot! Let’s hear it for the launch of the Kepler Mission! Although we have recently seen a spate of planets discovered outside our solar system, they have mostly been gas giants and “super-earths” orbiting so close to the sun that chances of supporting life are pretty grim. However, Kepler will be able to see smaller planets orbiting further from their stars, and hopefully begin to catalogue the hundreds of billions of earth-like planets that exist in our galaxy. 

Kepler will launch on March 5th at the earliest. You can see the official countdown clock here.

I have to give the Times the award for overstatement with their headline “‘Trillions’ of Planets May Be Supporting Life” on February 16th. The small print is that this number is the estimated number of Earth-like planets in the galaxy multiplied by the estimated number of galaxies in the universe. Maybe I should remind Mark Henderson that given the still not-disproven theory of parallel or multiple universes, there could be up to an infinite number of Earth-likes out there. If he wanted to pump up the headline a little more maybe he should just say that there may be a gazillion-kajillion planets capable of supporting life.

Ah, I’m too harsh. It’s a good article.

I could be preaching to the converted here, as we’ve all heard the argument that there are so many stars and so many planets that there must be inhabitable or inhabitted worlds out there. It’s just nice to see some quantification.

Finally, the idea that we soon may be able to do this blows my mind a little bit. Check out the ingenius wing mechanism that prevents us from burning up during reentry. Beautiful!

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Comments»

1. Alli - February 19, 2009

Regarding your assertion that you may be preaching to the converted: I have an odd coincidence. Yesterday, during podcast time (alternately known as during my run), there was a segment about physicists and the Drake Theory. You’ll have to play with the spelling a bit on that one, seeing as how I only heard the word. But the basic premise is that it’s a mathematical way to figure out what the odds are of there existing another planet with life (or the potential for life) in the universe. First, you take the rough number of stars and reduce the number from there by stars with planets, are close enough to a star to support life, etc. etc.

Unfortunately, the podcast was more related to using this theory to determine the odds of said group of physicists finding girlfriends…I would say that in both scenarios, the odds are quite small.


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