Feb. 10, 2012, "Kepler mission: discovering new planets", Matt A. Wood, Professor, Department of Physics and Space Sciences, Florida Institute of Technology
For millenia, people have wondered if planets orbited other stars, and in particular have asked "Are we alone in the Universe?" In the past few decades, we've gone from knowing only 9 planets, to knowing of over 450 at present. Most planets found to date are massive and close to their parent stars, because these are the easiest to find. The NASA Kepler Mission is specifically designed to find Earthlike planets orbiting in the habitable zone of Sun-like stars by staring continuously for 3.5 years at some 150,000 stars. When a planet crosses in front of it's parent star, Kepler will measure the slight dimming, and multiple crossings will confirm the planetary status as well as the temperature of the planet. Kepler is a small but important first step in our quest to find evidence for life on other planets. As such, it has the power to capture the imagination of the non-scientific public, as well as provide specific targets for searches of extraterrestrial radio signals. Should we eventually confirm the existence of intelligent life outside our solar system, it will draw a bright, sharp line in the history of humanity, forever separating before and after.
Matt A. Wood, Professor
Department of Physics and Space Sciences
Florida Institute of Technology
Professor Matt A. Wood received a B.S. in Physics from Iowa State University, and M.S. and Ph.D. degrees from the University of Texas at Austin. He spent a year as a NATO-NSF Postdoctoral Fellow before coming to The Florida Institute of Technology in 1991. He is an author of over 70 refereed publications, and is the coordinator and host of the Florida Tech Astronomy & Astrophysics Public Lecture Series. When not doing astronomy, he can be found riding his bike, playing bass with the Florida Tech Jazz Syndicate, or working on home improvement projects with his lovely wife.