Skip to main content

Mankind's most ambitious mission to find habitable planets orbiting distant stars roared into the night sky from Cape Canaveral, Florida, Friday evening at 10:49 PM. Perched atop the Delta II rocket is a revolutionary observatory designed to detect earth-like planets thousands of light-years away. NASA's newest mission is appropriately named after one the most influential pioneers of modern planetary astronomy, Johannes Kepler.

Spurred by 16th century advances in global positioning technology critical to maritime explorers, small discrepancies began to appear in the measurements of stars and planets that could not be fully explained by the then prevailing geocentric model. A competing proposal with the sun at the center of the solar system slowly gained support and by 1550 a raging debate with profound theological and historical overtones was on to determine which, if either, was right.

Johannes Kepler (1571 - 1630), part astronomer, part astrologer, and full time brilliant mathematician, became deeply interested in the debate while teaching in Austria. As fate would have it, Kepler fell under the patronage of a wealthy benefactor named Tycho Brahe around the year 1600. At first glance, Brahe was a rock-and-rolling party animal, so rich he owned his own castle and island, more interested in throwing lavish legendary drunken bashes and slapping nubile servent girls on the arse than in making scientific history. But Brahe had another side, a serious one; he was a great thinker, and perhaps the most dedicated stargazer of his time. Before the first prototype telescopes were widely available, using only precision crafted, custom designed versions of the sextants, compasses, and protracters used on ships at sea, using only his naked eye, Tycho Brahe recorded volumes of data on the movement of planets relative to the fixed stars night after night, month after month, year after year. Until he fell deathly ill from a probable ruptured bladder after a particularly epic drinking party. Legend has it his dying words were "Ne frusta vixisse vidar" (May I not have lived in vain)". The wish would soon be granted.

Upon Brahe's death, Kepler poured over his former mentor's prolific records -- think of an excel spreadsheet with thousands of rows and columns, and no auto sorting! After several false starts, Kepler eventually derived an elegant solution in 1605 that unified the apparent motion of all planets -- including earth! -- under a heliocentric framework, and made testable predictions about the future position of a planet at any time. Within a few years, the first crude telescopes were pointing hungrily at the heavens, tracking the movement and activity of all known planets (Much to the dismay of entrenched religious and political interests in some cases), Kepler's Laws of Planetary Motion were confirmed, and the modern science of planetary astronomy was born.

For centuries scientists and writers speculated on the possibility that distant stars might have planets of their own, faithfully following the same ellipses and other rules Kepler described so well for our solar system. But it was only 14 years ago that the first exosolar planet was solidly confirmed orbiting a sun-like yellow-dwarf, known to stargazers as 51 Pegasus. Since then the list of exoplanets has exploded: 342 candidates now reside in the Extrasolar Planets Encyclopedia. Most were inferred by their gravitational effect on their primary star. As clever and difficult as it is, that method works best when the system they belong to is very different from our familiar solar system.

Planets circle stars, but as illustrated in the image to the left, the planet also swings its star just a bit. We can't see the planets, yet, but we can see the wobbling stars! The problem for finding small, earth-like worlds using this technique is it selects for relatively large planets that are tightly orbiting their comparatively small star. And so the list of exosolar planets to date is dominated by giant planets whizzing perilously close around modest stars in days or weeks. It's debatable if an earthlike world orbting in the habitable "Goldilocks" zone could survive in such an inhospitable system. Fortunately, there's another way, and that's where the Kepler Mission comes in.

Kepler is basically a horrendously accurate photometer married to a powerful wide view telescope that will trail the earth in deep space, undeterred by earth's shadow, designed to detect minute changes in stellar brightness as planets cross in front of a parent star. The accuracy of Kepler's photometer is so sensitive that it could detect a moth fluttering in front of a searchlight from hundreds of miles away. Only a tiny fraction of exosolar systems are likely to align in such a way that one or more planets conveniently eclipses its sun from our local perspective, but Kepler can look at one-hundred thousand stars at once!

The instrument should be able to detect the transit of smaller, more earthlike worlds along with their larger siblings, and hopefully produce a fair estimate on their size and mass. Future space and earth-based observatories will build on Kepler's results to obtain spectra, and maybe one day the first ever direct images, revealing the atmospheric and surface composition of some of these new planets.


Left: A hypothetical view from the surface of a recently discovered exosolar planet, here depicted as an ocean world, circling red dwarf Gleise 581. Center: The fictional homeworld of Stephen Baxter's QAX; a hot new world orbiting a young giant star. Right: Carbon planet. Click to enlarge.

What kind of objects might Kepler detect? Traditional gas and ice giants along with smaller, terrestrial planets we know from our own solar neighborhood are a solid bet. Kepler might sense the presence of super KBOs a dozen times the size of Pluto, or brown dwarfs on the precipice of starhood many times more massive than mighty Jupiter, some possibly accompanied by a secondary retinue of moons large enough to rate as full blown earth-like planets in their own right. But Kepler and subsequent research may confirm wholly new, exotic denizens: ocean or methane planets swaddled by blankets of water or compressed natural gas thousands of kilometers thick, carbon planets with mantles of graphite and solid diamond, or worlds stranger than any yet dreamed up by the most visionary scientists and authors. As an added benefit, the same design will allow Kepler to produce reams of data on minute fluctuations on distant stars, flares and sunspot activity, lurking in every niche of the Hertzsprung-Russell diagram.

At the risk of briefly letting our imagination soar free of formal science, future devices like Kepler could ostensibly infer other large scale structural anomalies; naturally occurring rings -- or artificial ringworlds -- stars with dense, well defined Oort Clouds -- or encased by Dyson swarms. Or for all we know, hollowed out, planet-sized objects familiar to any fan of Star Wars.

In short, if all goes well, our species is on the cusp of a golden age of planetary astronomy as revolutionary in scope as the one started when Johannes Kepler worked out the intricacies of our local planetary system four-hundred years ago. And if even the simplest bacterial life is, as some astrobiologists speculate and earth certainly demonstrates, inextricably intertwined with the surface and atmospheric chemistry of its native world after billions of year of evolutionary resonance, the dawn of astro-exobiology may not be far behind.

Originally posted to Daily Kos on Sun Mar 08, 2009 at 05:51 AM PDT.

Tags

EMAIL TO A FRIEND X
Your Email has been sent.
You must add at least one tag to this diary before publishing it.

Add keywords that describe this diary. Separate multiple keywords with commas.
Tagging tips - Search For Tags - Browse For Tags

?

More Tagging tips:

A tag is a way to search for this diary. If someone is searching for "Barack Obama," is this a diary they'd be trying to find?

Use a person's full name, without any title. Senator Obama may become President Obama, and Michelle Obama might run for office.

If your diary covers an election or elected official, use election tags, which are generally the state abbreviation followed by the office. CA-01 is the first district House seat. CA-Sen covers both senate races. NY-GOV covers the New York governor's race.

Tags do not compound: that is, "education reform" is a completely different tag from "education". A tag like "reform" alone is probably not meaningful.

Consider if one or more of these tags fits your diary: Civil Rights, Community, Congress, Culture, Economy, Education, Elections, Energy, Environment, Health Care, International, Labor, Law, Media, Meta, National Security, Science, Transportation, or White House. If your diary is specific to a state, consider adding the state (California, Texas, etc). Keep in mind, though, that there are many wonderful and important diaries that don't fit in any of these tags. Don't worry if yours doesn't.

You can add a private note to this diary when hotlisting it:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from your hotlist?
Are you sure you want to remove your recommendation? You can only recommend a diary once, so you will not be able to re-recommend it afterwards.
Rescue this diary, and add a note:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from Rescue?
Choose where to republish this diary. The diary will be added to the queue for that group. Publish it from the queue to make it appear.

You must be a member of a group to use this feature.

Add a quick update to your diary without changing the diary itself:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary?
(The diary will be removed from the site and returned to your drafts for further editing.)
(The diary will be removed.)
Are you sure you want to save these changes to the published diary?

Comment Preferences

  •  I've been waiting all weekend (7+ / 0-)

    for this diary - I'm gonna read it so many times I'll have it memorized by this afternoon.

    Nothing can now be believed which is seen in a newspaper. Truth itself becomes suspicious by being put into that polluted vehicle. Thomas Jefferson 6/11/1807

    by Patriot4peace on Sun Mar 08, 2009 at 05:54:26 AM PDT

  •  Jupiter and Beyond the Infinite (7+ / 0-)

    Pink Floyd's "Echoes" synchronized with the end of "2001: A Space Odyssey".

    See also: Dark Side of the Rainbow

    :-)

  •  Very elegantly stated (7+ / 0-)

    I was wondering what the Kepler mission was all about. I knew it had to do with finding Earth-like worlds, but didn't know the particulars, and this explanation was very concise and informative. Superb science writing, DS. Thanks.

    Every day's another chance to stick it to The Man. - dls.

    by The Raven on Sun Mar 08, 2009 at 05:57:24 AM PDT

  •  I love it when WE do something like this. (8+ / 0-)

    Take a famous scientist and make a deep-space craft that essentially furthers their work.

    The last 8 years have been an absolute horror for people who love science - and especially for those who DO science.

    I pay taxes, dammit, and this is one way I want them spent!

    Socialism in Space!

    My song is just for events like this!

    And they said a black man would never be President.....

    by xxdr zombiexx on Sun Mar 08, 2009 at 06:04:42 AM PDT

  •  How awesome (8+ / 0-)

    How awesome would it be if we discovered a planet that was exactly like ours but they were looking for someone who looked exactly like ME to lead them ?

    You know what would be better, if they wanted me to lead them and there was peace all over the planet and all women look at me as the ideal man  ?

    BUT SERIOUSLY, this is awe inspiring . Oh, and Fuck Mars.

  •  How long (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    xxdr zombiexx

    before this reaches the Kuiper belt, and then how long before data is received from Pluto's orbit?

    Nothing can now be believed which is seen in a newspaper. Truth itself becomes suspicious by being put into that polluted vehicle. Thomas Jefferson 6/11/1807

    by Patriot4peace on Sun Mar 08, 2009 at 06:08:44 AM PDT

  •  Silly question from a non-science guy, (10+ / 0-)

    if this thing can only spot planets with an orbital plane that's straight on to us, does that mean that you can assume there's, like, 364 other systems out there for every planet we find?

    •  Correct (11+ / 0-)

      I've seen guesses from 1 in 100 to 1 in 500 systems would be conveniently lined up. But we don
      t know how many planets they might have, and Kepler looks at thousands and thousands of stars at once for several years. So we might expect anywhere from several hundred to several thousand planetary hits, and those would hopefully be a more representative sample of the vast exoplanetary population than what we have now.

      Read UTI, your free thought forum

      by DarkSyde on Sun Mar 08, 2009 at 06:19:35 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  I'm confused. (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        maizenblue

        If a planet is rotating at a declination(?) of 45% from ours, won't it - as a sphere - occlude its star just as much as if it were 'straight on'?

        Ignorance isn't exactly bliss but some things are better known when they are unknown to start with and pieced together on the way. - WineRev

        by Clem Yeobright on Sun Mar 08, 2009 at 06:39:05 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Hmmm (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Clem Yeobright

          not sure what you're asking. For the planet to trnasit the star from our/Kepler's view, the ecliptic only has to cross in front or nearly in front of that star. But that alien ecliptic can be all cock-eyed compared to ours. It could be at right angles or any angle in between to our local ecliptic.

          Read UTI, your free thought forum

          by DarkSyde on Sun Mar 08, 2009 at 06:41:38 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Our eliptic (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Clem Yeobright

            was, in the 1960's, explained incorrectly to me in school.

            Early models of our solar system showed the earth "tilting" on its axis every six months, instead of the off center orbit we know to be true.

            If the earth tilted every six months, everything not deeply rooted to the ground would be flung off into space.

            Were we taught a "simplistic" version of our actual orbit for the sake of building a gizmo that had a perpendicular plane, or was it a widespread belief fifty years ago?

            Nothing can now be believed which is seen in a newspaper. Truth itself becomes suspicious by being put into that polluted vehicle. Thomas Jefferson 6/11/1807

            by Patriot4peace on Sun Mar 08, 2009 at 06:47:58 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  It was a simplistic explanation (0+ / 0-)

              Earth as a gyrocompass, always pointing (well, over human lifespans) in the same direction as it revolved around the sun, has been understood since the heliocentric model was developed.

              What I think might have happened in some cases is that when this is explained, they use a model globe.  To show the different orientations of the Earth at different times of the year, it's often easier to turn the globe around (thus changing the rotational axis) then it is to change its position relative to the light source which is what really happens.  It can give people the idea the planet is flopping around.

            •  crystal spheres (0+ / 0-)

              For most practical purposes our current model has been fixed since Newton, over 300 years ago. The problem you are talking about, which is that the spinning axis of the Earth would change orientations if the Earth were attached to the Sun by a rigid connection (like the old crystal spheres) came up briefly in the Copernican model before Kepler's work did away with the crustal spheres. It's  called the problem of the 'second and third' motions, and discussed by Kuhn. It's not known whether it bothered Aristarchus, who came up with the same model as Copernicus in about 250 BC.

              I wish we could say nobody teaches such crap anymore.

              •  It really began to bother me (0+ / 0-)

                in Physics class ten years later - when I realized that a trillion tons of planet could not suddenly change direction without losing all of the inhabitants.

                Nothing can now be believed which is seen in a newspaper. Truth itself becomes suspicious by being put into that polluted vehicle. Thomas Jefferson 6/11/1807

                by Patriot4peace on Sun Mar 08, 2009 at 09:11:59 AM PDT

                [ Parent ]

          •  Didn't mean rotate, of course: 'revolve' (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            DarkSyde

            But if the planet occludes/transits the star from our perspective (which is every case except the extreme), doesn't it prove its presence equally as well? Or, is there something 'special' about the equator of the star (from our perspective) that transit at or near that 'level' produces a different profile?

            Ignorance isn't exactly bliss but some things are better known when they are unknown to start with and pieced together on the way. - WineRev

            by Clem Yeobright on Sun Mar 08, 2009 at 06:56:45 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  If (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              Clem Yeobright

              the exoplanet orbits its star outside the plane of that star's equator, no matter how far out of the plane it may be, and still crosses in front of the star, yes, Kepler would potentially be able to detect the transit just like any other. In fact, my guess is we would simply infer that's where the plane of the star's equator was, becuase I don't think there's  any other way to tell with present technology anyway, and our theories and observations of existing protoplanetary disks, are disks, precisely because they accrue in a plane at right angles to the star's spin axis. It's an interesting side question as to how much a star's obliquity can change over time afterward. Just off the top of my head, my guess would be the larger the total mass of orbiting planets, the more 'locked in' a star would be to a smaller range of obliquity, but that math sounds fiendish to work out in detail.

              Read UTI, your free thought forum

              by DarkSyde on Sun Mar 08, 2009 at 07:03:34 AM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  one can tell whether (2+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                DarkSyde, Clem Yeobright

                an exoplanet orbits in a plane that is
                inclined to the equator of the star if the exoplanet also transits the star. This is
                called the Rossiter-McLaughlin effect and Greg Laughlin explains this nicely at
                oklo.org with respect to weird exoplanet around HD 80606

                H.L. Mencken: "A nation of sheep begets a government of wolves"

                by igneous on Sun Mar 08, 2009 at 07:36:52 AM PDT

                [ Parent ]

                •  "Equator of the star" (0+ / 0-)

                  You are referring, I think, to the equator from our (Kepler's) perspective, NOT the equator defined by the rotation of the body, right?

                  I'm still disoriented (can't find that damned East - it was here a minute ago, dammit!)

                  1. Is the (apparent) brightness of a star distributed evenly across the disk or does the radiation proceed from within the star and is it therefore directional, so that an area near the (apparent) pole contributes less than does an equal area on the (apparent) equator to the light Kepler captures?
                  1. Does a planet with a particular period whose orbit is - from our perspective - offset spend less time in its (apparent) transit than one with the same period that appears to follow the equator? I have to guess yes, since a planet offset by 90 degrees from us will appear to transit not at all, in zero time, one might say, and zero is a quite different value than any other.... [Never mind, I think I've resolved this one.]
                  1. Does the effect you describe relate to the relationship of the transit time to the period?

                  Thanks!

                  Ignorance isn't exactly bliss but some things are better known when they are unknown to start with and pieced together on the way. - WineRev

                  by Clem Yeobright on Sun Mar 08, 2009 at 08:53:48 AM PDT

                  [ Parent ]

                  •  How does this work? (0+ / 0-)

                    An exoplanet (as an inner planet in our system) spends its time - from our perspective - in three states: occluding the star, occluded by the star, and neither occluding nor occluded. Mercury spends much less time in the third state than does Venus, because of Mercury's closer orbit.

                    So the key to size and mass would be to determine how much time is spent in each state, and multiple observations permit the estimate of orbit size, no?

                    Ignorance isn't exactly bliss but some things are better known when they are unknown to start with and pieced together on the way. - WineRev

                    by Clem Yeobright on Sun Mar 08, 2009 at 09:04:53 AM PDT

                    [ Parent ]

                •  If (1+ / 0-)
                  Recommended by:
                  Clem Yeobright

                  a star did indeed roll its spin axis significanty after a planet's accretion, might the tidal effects then induced account for orbital migration inferred for some hot jupiters orbting their sun well inside the relative orbit of mercury?

                  Read UTI, your free thought forum

                  by DarkSyde on Sun Mar 08, 2009 at 08:59:16 AM PDT

                  [ Parent ]

      •  DarkSyde - isn't there some small correlation... (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        DarkSyde, maizenblue

        ...assumed between the galactic plane of the ecliptic, and that of any planetary systems within it?

        It ain't called paranoia - when they're really out to get you. 6 points.

        by Jaime Frontero on Sun Mar 08, 2009 at 08:25:47 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  That's (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          maizenblue

          a damn good quetsion. Just guessing, but I'm thinking of a Bak Globule, pocket of interstellar gas and dust. Any nearby shock wave or passing mass could, it seems to me, twist, torque, and flatten that pocket in chaotic ways producing a disk oriented away from the plane of the milky way.  

          Read UTI, your free thought forum

          by DarkSyde on Sun Mar 08, 2009 at 08:30:10 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Of the exoplanets discovered so far (0+ / 0-)

            what percentage are aligned along the galactic plane? I'd assume that if discovered as a result of their gravitational effects, that we'd be able to determine that angle to the galactic plane.

            I was drawn to the flame because of the light, but got lost in the smoke.

            by maizenblue on Sun Mar 08, 2009 at 09:18:02 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

    •  They cluster (5+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Clem Yeobright, mveit, Lujane, Lavocat, axel000

      Planet orbital planes tend to be close to the galactic plane I think.  So the odds are not as bad as that.

  •  We should set up a betting pool... (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Lavocat, NellaSelim

    About how long we think it's gonna take before we find another earth-like planet.

    I think it may take a couple years...but I have my fingers crossed that it will be by the end of the year!

    •  Won't be for a while (2+ / 0-)

      First, one can get false positives. Say you have two stars orbiting one another and their orbits are aligned so that from Earth, one star just overlaps the edge of the other. Then once each orbit, one will see  a slight drop in light
      that in depth and duration will look like an exoplanet transit.

      To check, one will then see if the star shows evidence for "wobbling" or more accurately called changes in radial velocity. see here for a good explanation
      http://www.phys.unsw.edu.au/...
      The less "wobbling" there is, the more likely one has a true transit and not a false positive because a planet would effect the motion of the star much less than another star. This means observing the star multiple times and so I doubt there will be any announcements in the first few months of operations.  

      H.L. Mencken: "A nation of sheep begets a government of wolves"

      by igneous on Sun Mar 08, 2009 at 07:55:01 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  I believe its 3 years minimum (0+ / 0-)

      as the science team is not going to certify any results until they have recorded at least 3 orbits, and they expect these orbits to be around a year long as the planets being searched for should be in a similar orbit as the Earth to be in the habitable zone.

      Government for the people, by the people

      by axel000 on Sun Mar 08, 2009 at 11:18:37 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Latin correction (4+ / 0-)

    Legend has it his dying words were "Ne frusta vixisse vidar" (May I not have lived in vain)".

    The correct Latin words are Ne frustrà vixisse videar, and they mean "May I not seem to have lived in vain." (Literally: Not vainly to-have-lived may-I-seem.)

  •  And then there's Republican science. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Lujane

    .
    Theodoric of York (sorry about the 30 second add at the beginning, unavoidable).

    bg
    _____________

    "All other pleasures are not worth its pains." Emerson

    by BenGoshi on Sun Mar 08, 2009 at 06:25:06 AM PDT

  •  I love DK (9+ / 0-)

    What a fantastic way to start my day! Thanks Mr. Syde.

  •  Kepler was the academic scandal of the 17th cent. (8+ / 0-)

    But the facts are simple. Brahe was a good researcher and good at imputting data. Kepler was good at analyzing the collected data.  They had a very Taoist relationship.  Now, it is not uncommon for researchers to look at the data collected in other studies to arrive at their conclusions without ever doing a hands on study of their own.

    Have you forgotten about jesus? Don't you think it's time that you did?

    by uc booker on Sun Mar 08, 2009 at 06:27:38 AM PDT

    •  Yeah (5+ / 0-)

      it sounds like they really didn't like each other much. Kepler the fastidious family minded church man and Tycho the slovenly drunken king of decadence and debauchery. But together, they made an unbeatable team.

      Read UTI, your free thought forum

      by DarkSyde on Sun Mar 08, 2009 at 06:38:54 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  It worked better after Tycho's death. (4+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        raboof, Jay C, DarkSyde, Demyx

        Tycho was jealous of his own treasure trove of astronomical data and would only give Kepler bits and pieces of it, up until he lay on his death bed. Tycho then turned the whole kit and caboodle over to Kepler, uttering the "May I not seem to have lived in vain," quote.

        Kepler's greatest contribution to science was probably his ultimate ability to think as a scientist. He spent years trying to fit Tycho's data of the planetary motions into a preconceived Platonian vision involving the five perfect geometrical solids of antiquity (tetrahedron, hexahedron, octahedron, dodecahedron, icosahedron). In the end, attempting to fit the orbit of Mars into this scheme drove him nearly to madness and he was forced to abandon everything he had worked on and instead allow the data to dictate his conclusions. It's this triumph in Kepler's mind of science over dogma that really helped transform physics and astronomy for future generations.

        ---

    •  the process of science (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      DarkSyde

      The relationship between Brahe and Kepler is a good illustration of how important process by which scientific discoveries are made. The scientific method is often presented in science classes in a simplistic way as a linear series of steps beginning with a question. Remember those poster boards you did for your science project? In reality however,   the scientific method is a cyclic process which can begin at any point. As in this case, it may  begin with simply observing the natural world as Brahe did, and asking questions later as Kepler did, leading him to propose a hypothesis to explain the data. As along time science teacher, I am firmly convinced we need to do less memorizing and give students more opportunities to actually experience the exciting process of science. Thank you for an excellent journal!

    •  I like your siggy (0+ / 0-)

      However, I don't think we should forget about Jesus. I think we should all try harder to follow in his foot steps. He spent the part of his life we have data for, helping and caring for his fellow man.

      I think his legacy has been corrupted by the various churches though. So, I agree if you change it to read, "Have you forgotten about the various religions? Don't you think it's time we did?"

      It is dangerous to be right in matters on which the established authorities are wrong. Voltaire

      by KatGirl on Sun Mar 08, 2009 at 08:36:23 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  I've heard many times... (10+ / 0-)

    That in science we stand on the shoulders of the giants that came before us.

    Nowhere, I think, is this truer then in astronomy and cosmology.  There's a very good reason that, despite being a gene jockey by trade, my first real influence toward science was the series Cosmos.

    Really looking forward to hearing about the data from this thing.  There's a reason that the alter-ego I play sometimes in RPs is a xenobiologist, and why shows such as the recent Discovery channel special hypothesizing about life on some of these newly discovered exoplanets fascinates me.

    •  If Carl Sagan (11+ / 0-)

      had not explained the gravity of a black hole to me by placing a heavy round object on a black nylon sheet making it dimple, then rolling a marble into the side of the depression representing a beam of light, I would never have understood how light "bends" when passing near the influence of the black hole.

      He was not only a creative genius, he understood how to reach those of us that could only aspire to his intellect.

      Nothing can now be believed which is seen in a newspaper. Truth itself becomes suspicious by being put into that polluted vehicle. Thomas Jefferson 6/11/1807

      by Patriot4peace on Sun Mar 08, 2009 at 06:38:06 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  What he did for me... (8+ / 0-)

        Is unify many of the sciences, from biology to astronomy to mathematical modeling, looking at how science developed through the ages, and ultimately show how they were all one of a piece.  As a kid I didn't quite understand the implications of that, but as an adult scientist I appreciate it far more.

      •  not a great example (0+ / 0-)

        That's not the best illustration, unless he showed that the path had nothing to do with whether the sheet is up or down- it's purely a function of its internal shape. Usually that demonstration is done sloppily and gets the shape effects all scrambled up with external gravity- but the idea is to explain gravity geometrically within the system itself.  

  •  Science lopes forward into the magical. (6+ / 0-)

    I remember reading about a camera lens that vibrated a bubble thousands of times a second, and took the picture at the moment when the image was in focus.  That was when I started thinking about science as leaving me behind and becoming magic.  I can intellectually grasp the specifics, but the result is astounding.  Likewise with this.  Hundreds of thousands of stars at once?  I feel like a kid watching a magic show.

    I am become Man, the destroyer of worlds

    by tle on Sun Mar 08, 2009 at 06:33:16 AM PDT

  •  Perhaps Kepler will reveal the truth (4+ / 0-)

    that it's turtles all the way down.

    When official America talks of bipartisan compromise, it usually means the people are about to get screwed. ~ William Greider

    by ActivistGuy on Sun Mar 08, 2009 at 06:38:26 AM PDT

  •  Bush was right (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Clem Yeobright, Lujane

    Scientists are against JESUS and are only trying to advance homosexual atheism agenda JOHN 12:23 what about children on purple planet and your tax $$$$!!!so wake up America before it is too late.

  •  Wonderful article, darksyde. (8+ / 0-)

    I miss astronomy (worked for the AAVSO for several years in the early 1990s). I was at the AAVSO when 51 Peg was discovered — such excitement!

    Re: Kepler and Brahe: I've always thought it a shame that there was no genuine collaboration between the two men (Brahe jealously kept his observations away from his more mathematically-able assistant, Kepler). Had this not been the case, I cannot help but think that science would have been all that more ahead even now. Quel dommage.

    PS: Seems to me I read something very recently that throws into question the story of Brahe's cause of death being a burst bladder. (Just looked it up — possible mercury poisoning.) His gold "special occasion" nose, however... well. Colorful character, to say the least; Kepler was nowhere near as interesting on a personal level, seems like.

    Book excerpts: nonlynnear; other writings: mofembot.

    by mofembot on Sun Mar 08, 2009 at 06:43:40 AM PDT

  •  Small - or not so small - quibble? (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    DarkSyde

    The instrument should be able to detect the transit of smaller, more earthlike worlds along with their larger siblings, and hopefully produce a fair estimate on their size and mass.

    Isn't it a fact that Kepler will produce estimates of size and mass?

    I take 'fair' to mean 'fine', or do you intend 'fair' to mean 'acccurate' and 'ultimately to be confirmed by successive observations'?

    I raise this because one can expect the next 25 years of this exciting area of science to be dominated by the data returned by Kepler and the estimates of size and mass that will be forthcoming.

    Ignorance isn't exactly bliss but some things are better known when they are unknown to start with and pieced together on the way. - WineRev

    by Clem Yeobright on Sun Mar 08, 2009 at 06:44:38 AM PDT

  •  Get out the bong and put on the Pink Floyd (8+ / 0-)
    - here comes Dark Syde!

    Seriously, though, I ALWAYS appreciate your posts.  You ALWAYS inform and entertain, simultaneously.

    I have Kagro X for terrestrial enlightenment and DarkSyde for extraterrestrial enlightenment. Who could ask for more?

    " ... or a baby's arm holding an apple!"

    by Lavocat on Sun Mar 08, 2009 at 06:44:52 AM PDT

  •  This Is Why I'm A Fan Of Space Science (0+ / 0-)

    And why I was such an avid reader of SF growing up. The sense of wonder (or "sensawunda") I feel hearing and reading about these things exhilarates me. I know that traveling to these yet-to-be discovered planets will probably be impossible, unless the rules of physics are bendable, but one can dream.

    The Road to 2010: More Democrats. Better Democrats.

    by Splicer on Sun Mar 08, 2009 at 07:02:06 AM PDT

  •  Convert or Die (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    dzog

    Finding life outside this solar system might kick our assets into gear to develop generation ships or Bussard Ramjets so we can go visit.

    It might also give the theocons a boost.  We must convert the Tau Cetians!

    One might hope that the whoozits would be more advanced than we are.  

    "Is there a God?"

    Umm... Hell yes, that's us, puny human scum!

    Dana - Ad Astra per Aspera! http://www.angrytoyrobot.blogspot.com The enemy is not man, the enemy is stupidity.

    by angrytoyrobot on Sun Mar 08, 2009 at 07:02:09 AM PDT

    •  This is very kewl by the way. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Loose Fur

      I'm glad this one didn't fall into the ocean or blow up...

      Dana - Ad Astra per Aspera! http://www.angrytoyrobot.blogspot.com The enemy is not man, the enemy is stupidity.

      by angrytoyrobot on Sun Mar 08, 2009 at 07:03:37 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  I think you are underestimating ... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      axel000

      ... what a bunch of isolationist "America First"-ers the Bible thumpers are. You think Muslim terrorists are scary and foreign? Show them a Tau Cetian and they'll nuke it to kingdom-come and declare the rapture to be upon us. These are not enlightened people we are talking about here.

      ---

  •  questions for Darksyde (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    DarkSyde

    Obama inherited a somewhat dysfunctional NASA.  Projects are overrun, budgets are toast, and failures occur more frequently than in the past (or maybe there are just more projects around to suffer failures and those failures are more noticeable?

    I had thought that rather than go ahead with projects like Keppler Obama might have been better off doing one of his thorough reviews.  And it could have blown up like that global warming satellite (was that ambushed by Bush?) But Keppler does keep those of us who yearn for more knowledge and lust to see the stars straight on happy.  But a review is definitely in order.  Our shuttles are due to be grounded and we have no back up.  To me that is unacceptable.  We have a role in space and we should not give it up completely to the rest of the world.

    What role do you see NASA?  What does its budget look like in that new 10 year plan of Obamas?  

    •  Good (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      glitterscale, dzog, axel000, Loose Fur

      question, probably worth a diary down the road when the picture for some of the elements you bring up becomes clearer.

      Read UTI, your free thought forum

      by DarkSyde on Sun Mar 08, 2009 at 07:10:58 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  A few bints at answers (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      glitterscale, dzog, Loose Fur
      1.  Nasa in the stimulus

      Science: $400 million, intended to "accelerate the development of the tier 1 set of Earth science climate research missions recommended by the National Academies Decadal Survey and to increase the agency’s supercomputing capabilities".

      Aeronautics: $150 million for "system-level research, development and demonstration activities related to aviation safety, environmental impact mitigation and the Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen)."

      Exploration: $400 million, with no description of how the money is to be spent.

      Cross Agency Support: $50 million, primarily intended to "restore NASA-owned facilities damaged from hurricanes and other natural disasters occurring during calendar year 2008."

      The NASA budget for 2010 includes a 2 billion increase, endorses back to the moon in 2020, shuttle retirement in 2010.  However, it does not comment on the method to get back to the moon, so that is very much subject to change.  

      1.  Current names being "discussed" for NASA admin

      Lester Lyles
      Scott Gration
      Charles Bolden
      Steve Isakowitz
      possibly Lennard Fisk (don't hold your breath on this one) - many of these people have great space cred.

      1.  There has been some discussions already about the National Aeronautics and Space Council, although its been quite limited.  

      And thats where we stand

  •  Cool. (0+ / 0-)

    I would've added more, but I thought that summed it up quite nicely.

  •  I read a bio of Kepler when I was a teenager (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    DarkSyde, dzog

    and even though I am not of a scientific bent, I found it fascinating.  So's this piece.  Thank you!

    "It's not getting any smarter out there. You have to come to terms with stupidity, and make it work for you." (Frank Zappa)

    by cinnamondog on Sun Mar 08, 2009 at 07:21:21 AM PDT

  •  Tycho Brahe (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Jay C, DarkSyde, dzog

    I'd loved to know that guy. Not only did he lose his nose in a rapier duel and replaced it with with one fashioned out of gold and silver, but he apparently also owned a tame elk (moose) that got so drunk from too much beer that it fell down the stairs and died. Sigh, my parties are outright boring.

  •  I remember not too long ago . . . . (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    DarkSyde, Loose Fur

    . . . .when all the fundamentalist nutjobs were braying that there WERE no other planets in the universe because they are too improbable to form by natural means etc etc etc.

    Now, they are all braying that . . . well, OK, maybe there are other planets . . . but there is no other LIFE in the universe because it's too improbable to form by natural means etc etc etc . . . .

    (snicker)  (giggle)

    Every time that the fundie nutters have declared "science will NEVER EVER find X, Y or Z", they have been wrong.  Every single time.

    Editor, Red and Black Publishers http://www.RedandBlackPublishers.com

    by Lenny Flank on Sun Mar 08, 2009 at 07:31:37 AM PDT

    •  Someone (0+ / 0-)

      threw out the old 'isn't too coincidental that the earth has just the right temperature and air for us to survive in?' Seriously .. cause without a benevolent creator ... we might find ourselvesd choking to death on a 300 degree surface broiling under an amtosphere of chlorine compounds.

      Read UTI, your free thought forum

      by DarkSyde on Sun Mar 08, 2009 at 07:43:01 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  probability of life per planet (0+ / 0-)

      I'd be a little careful about picking a fight with the fundies on this one. We have no idea, and by no idea I mean uncertain to maybe a factor of 10^100, of what is the probability is of life getting started on an Earth-like planet. Its existence here is an example of the ultimate in observation bias- nobody is observing where there's no life.

      That doesn't mean there's a problem with naturalistic origins of life, just that the denominator in the probability expression is enormous if not infinite. Even if life is very, very sparse, it'll show up somewhere.

    •  Of course ... (0+ / 0-)

      ... they'd be very poor conservative reactionaries if they ever immediately embraced any of these new ideas. So, in the same way I'd expect a dog to bark rather than to deliver a dissertation on quantum mechanical theory, I'd expect any fundie presented with something intellectually new to attempt to deny it for as long as was humanly possible. In fact, I'd be shocked if they did otherwise.

      ---

  •  One thing a bit out of date in that story (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    DarkSyde, Loose Fur

    We can't see the planets, yet, but we can see the wobbling stars!

    Actually, we can.  We have, in fact, directly imaged extrasolar planets.  Just as points of light, mind you, but we have seen them optically.  Fomalhaut b, for instance, was discovered through Hubble images.

  •  Long time ago (7+ / 0-)

    My rabbi taught me to plant a fruit tree when I got old--so that the fruit would be eaten not by me, but by future generations.  This space mission is that tree.  

  •  I have no doubt there are other planets like (0+ / 0-)

    earth. With the billions and billions of stars, there is possibly even another solar system like ours.
    and it's exciting.
    What's funny to me is that if "UFOs" exist (and I believe they do) that means there are other life forms more advanced than ours. Our puny little probe is, in comparison to their achievements, almost medieval. Don't get me wrong, it's still damn exciting.
    I've loved this stuff since I was a little kid - even before we sent men up in space. My mom had a Time-Life book (hug in size) all about other planets and space. of course, never having been up there, the only pictures were of how we imagined things looked.
    Fascinating stuff. Always love your diaries!

    Electing conservatives is like hiring a carpenter who thinks hammers are evil.

    by MA Liberal on Sun Mar 08, 2009 at 07:46:09 AM PDT

  •  The meaning of "all" (5+ / 0-)

    I've said it before.

    Every poem, every song, every play, novel and film.  Every painting and sculpture.  Every opera, symphony and ballet.  Everything we are, everything that means the human race, we roll into a nose cone or shuttle now and then and hurl it at the heavens, telling the rest of the universe:  "We are here.  We are part of you.  We matter."

    The meaning of "all" is the universe, of which we are a most infinitesimal part. You can stare at the sky on a clear night in a rural place and not be able to fathom in the least meaningful way how truly big that "all" is.  It's just beyond the scope of anyone who spends his or her days buying groceries, driving the kids to school, mowing the lawn.    But someday there will be a signal -- a faint but unmistakable signal.  And we will for the first time understand that we have not been writing all those plays, songs, and poems merely for our own amusement.  

  •  This lovely essay deserves a companion (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    hamletta, Loose Fur

    essay exploring the biological/moral/psychological implications of the Kepler mission.  Presumably the reason it is of interest to find other Earth-like planets is the possibility it raises of life elsewhere in the Universe.  (If there is another reason for this research, what is it?)

    And what are the implications of life elsewhere in the Universe?  

    One risk is that we humans will be inclined to think that we can afford to continue to trash Earth, because eventually we'll be able to find our way to another habitable place elsewhere.  

    Such vain hopes are founded on a failure to appreciate the vast distances involved.  The fact that the Kepler satellite can "see" something makes that something seem almost within reach.  But few among us can really grasp the extraordinary magnitude of millions upon millions of light years.

  •  Wait, a photometer married to a telescope? (7+ / 0-)

    Kepler is basically a horrendously accurate photometer married to a powerful wide view telescope

    Subverting the definition of traditional marriage in deep space, huh? And financed with tax payer dollars, no less!

    An Ceiling Cat rode invisible bike over teh waterz (cskendrick)

    by brainwave on Sun Mar 08, 2009 at 08:01:00 AM PDT

  •  Just want to add some (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    DarkSyde

    about Stephen Baxter for those not familiar with his books. I picked up 'Ring' once a few years back, never hearing of him. What a pleasant surprise, he has become my all time favorite science fiction writer. He writes on all subjects -- Evolution being another one of my favorites. I turned my brother onto him and he has now surpassed me in the number he has read. Baxter is incredibly prolific and the science in his books does not stray from the physics as we now know it.

    I also was reading DarkSyde's excellent post Kepler Rises which references Dyson swarms. I started reading the wikipedia reference and was reminded of Baxter's book "The Time Ships", which takes the end of the The Time Machine and extrapolates the time traveler going back to the future to find the Eloi woman that he fell in love with. In short, he misses the correct year and ends up in a time where the morlocks have constructed a dyson sphere. His description of the details of being outside and inside that sphere and the subsequent time travels are sheer delight.

    The imagination of Stephen Baxter, is in my estimation, without parallel.

    Dubya has done for America what Scar did for the Pridelands.

    by rsie on Sun Mar 08, 2009 at 08:20:00 AM PDT

  •  A possible side benefit (0+ / 0-)

    of this machine Might be another way of finding those "stray" rocks that might bang into earth, in time to maybe do something about them.

    It is dangerous to be right in matters on which the established authorities are wrong. Voltaire

    by KatGirl on Sun Mar 08, 2009 at 08:28:19 AM PDT

    •  Not Kepler (0+ / 0-)
      It's not really designed for it.  Pan-STARRS, a four-telescope array, is being built now (PS1 went online in December, the last one is scheduled to be done by 2012) specifically for that mission.  The US Air Force is funding the construction, with operations being the responsibility of an international group.

      While it's primary role is detecting NEO rocks, astronomical observation being what it is, it's also going to be used for research into the asteroid belt, comets, Kuiper Belt Objects, variable stars, and the like.  Basically, Pan-STARRS is meant to identify something that's changing, either in position or in brightness.

  •  I think this is appropriate to post here: (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    hamletta, DarkSyde

    We're getting there Carl. Slow but surely, we're getting there.

    Sponge Bob, Mandrake, Cartoons. That's how your hard-core islamahomocommienazis work.

    by Benito on Sun Mar 08, 2009 at 09:00:00 AM PDT

    •  Benito:thanks;knew it would be good;Like Sagan, (0+ / 0-)

      I'm from Brooklyn.  (I'm an atheist Jew, so the God? question in the video doesn't "speak" to me, but it was a great video.)  

      When I heard about the Kepler, and then read about it yesterday (with scientist spouse) on the Guardian's video page  http://www.guardian.co.uk

      I kept saying, "everybody out there, hide!".  I also saw the video about "man-made space" debris floating all over space. A lot of crap left out there by humans.

      The video you link to reminded me of the science fiction books based on people from Earth moving on to other planets.  Isaac Asimov Science Fiction magazine had a story, possibly last summer, about the genetically modified descendants of humans not able to keep pace with the planet they were on.   It's all chilling.

      The end of the video you link to, made me cheer.  (But it was so sad to see the Vietnamese girl, running on the road, burning with napalm, US napalm.  I first saw it "real time" on the front page of the NYTimes and I can never erase the image from my artist brain.  She is an adult now, with two children, always in physical pain, but she was traveling, speaking our for peace within the last decade.}

      I'd like to end with Michael Franti of Spearhead's line in his song, "You can bomb the world to pieces, but you can't bomb the world to peace.".  Again, thanks.

  •  New Worlds Observer (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    maizenblue

    Thank you for this great article on the Kepler mission.  I've had the pleasure of doing some video editing for the folks who are putting together the New Worlds Observer.  This is another planet finder mission currently in development.  It uses a starshade thousands of miles from an observing satellite to block out a target star's light, leaving only the light from its orbiting planets.  From this light scientists will be able to go so far as to not only identify earth-like planets but also atmospheric composition and the existence of water.  

  •  If only (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    floundericiousMI

    If only we weren't in this bad recession.  We could do so much more in the way of space exploration.

    •  We could greatly expand our space effort (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      hamletta, DarkSyde

      We could double our space exploration/technology effort at a cost of just $15B more per year.  If we could wrangle some of the money away from Air Force efforts to weaponize space, we'd be even better off.

      Right now we're doing space science and exploration on the dirt-cheap.  NASA has to go before congress year after year and grovel for a few shillings.  The money they do get routinely has galling earmarks and proscriptions put on it.  Example: they might get an extra $20 million dollars for school outreach...and be directed to ONLY spend that money on a space and science museum in someone's district.  Now, that's great for the people and (particularly) the kids of that small town.  It's bad, though, for the overall effort.  

      They'll also get continuing funding to plan missions or design specs for hardware...but then be barred from pursuing some of the most promising hardware, not because it's too risky or speculative, but because it's ideologically opposed or because a certain type of solution excludes a big donor to a congressperson.  

      The TransHAB inflatable module is a good example from back in the late 90's.  A great innovation, killed because Dana Rohrabacher didn't like the thought of a publicly funded (NASA) mission to Mars.  He personally put that in there and killed it.  That technology is now being used by Bigelow Aerospace in their plans...but it's an amazing concept that could have already been in service and (duh) sold on license to people like Bigelow for their efforts.

      A left-of-center blow-harded member of the goose-stepping blog-stapo since 2004.

      by floundericiousMI on Sun Mar 08, 2009 at 10:07:24 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Forgive me for nitpicking (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    DarkSyde

    But I think you have misplaced the role of Copernicus in all this. It was Copernicus, not Kepler, who first "derived an elegant solution that unified the apparent motion of all planets -- including earth! -- under a heliocentric framework, and made testable predictions about the future position of a planet at any time." His work, published in, what, 1545, analyzed reams of data from previous observations to establish that the heliocentric model was in fact a better fit than then the geocentric model.

    Kepler built on Copernicus' success: he discovered three basic laws that governed the motions of planets around the sun. Newton later used Kepler's discoveries to formulate his own, even greater synthesis.

    So the order of development was:

    Copernicus proved the heliocentric model.
    Kepler established the empirical laws of planetary motion.
    Newton determined the theoretical laws underlying that motion.

    •  That's (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      hamletta

      a fair nitpick. But as I've learned over the years, the Ptolemic system, after being tweaked and refined, was similarly as predictive as Copernicus' proposal in explaining precise planetary position. It really was a better model than we now give it credit for being, with our modern benefit of hinsight. More so in some cases.

      It was Kepler's analysis of Brahe's data that allowed Kepler to detemine the elliptical nature of planets' orbits and other characteristics, and soon to follow subsequent use of the first telescopes that confirmed Keplerian heliocentrism as being so much more consistent with observation. At least, that's how some historians write about it. And of course, this piece is about Kepler :)

      Read UTI, your free thought forum

      by DarkSyde on Sun Mar 08, 2009 at 09:55:23 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  false history (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      hamletta, DarkSyde, sneakers563

      People say things like that but almost all that history is incorrect. The Ptolemaic fit to the data was as good as the Copernican fit. The number of inelegant epicycles, equants, etc. was about the same in both models. Highly precise data were irrelevant to the origin of Copernicus' ideas, which were fully expressed by Aristarchus in some 250 BC. And of course, Copernicus 'proved' nothing. The advantage of the Aristarchan/Copernican system is that it gets the qualitative features (timing of retrograde motions, proximity of Venus and Mercury to the Sun) correct in a simple way, and only requires Ptolemaic-like patches to get the finer details.

      Also, you left out the last 100 years of history, in which we find that Newton wasn't quite right, and that the same fundamental laws of physics work in any of these reference frames. Of course the geocentric frame is a nuisance because it has larger pseudoforces than the heliocentric frame.

      •  De Revolutionibus (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        DarkSyde

        You might want to read Copernicus' work sometime. I just dug through it a few months ago and it's quite a slog. It's also quite amazing in its mathematical sophistication. Copernicus was using a system that was computationally equivalent to trigonometry, although nowhere near as theoretically clear. His geometric analyses of planetary motions were astoundingly detailed -- although extremely difficult for a modern mind to make sense of. I recall one analysis of a diagram of planetary motion that involved some two dozen different segments, each calculated rigorously.

        The big difference between Copernicus and Aristarchus et al was his access to far more data. This guy had access not only to the Greek data, but also some Islamic data and even some data from a 12th Century Christian, plus a lot of detailed data of his own. He was able to put that data together in a way that was far more complete than anything that Aristarchus or Ptolemy could do.

        As to the equivalence of the results of the Copernican system and the Ptolomaic system, there are still two major differences. First the highly epicycled version of the Ptolomaic system was still based on a smaller database consisting mostly of the old classical data. Copernicus' model fit the classical data no better than the Ptolomaic model. However, when you throw in all the additional data that Copernicus used, the superiority of the Copernican model becomes evident. After all, why do you think the intelligentsia were convinced of the Copernican model so quickly? The second big difference is that the Copernican system, for all its complexity, was still comprehensible. If you dug through his diagrams and calculations -- quite a big job -- you could see for yourself that it all hung together, and it all made sense. The Ptolomaic stuff that was being touted at that time was a total mess. I slogged through some of it about 20 years ago, and it was a huge mishmosh of inconsistent schemes, oddball geometry, and I'm sure that there were some miscalculations in there somewhere, although I could never pinpoint them. I doubt anybody could.  Whereas the Copernican stuff really could be tracked through, step by step, and shown to be solid (although there were a number of errors in his calculations, too.)

        •  Copernicus (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          hamletta

          Don't get me wrong- Copernicus did a great job.  However, he still insisted on circular motion and still ended up needing the grab-bag of Ptolemaic gimmicks. If he fit updated data, so could any Ptolemaicist, who would use exactly the same tools.

          The question of why Copernicus 'took' and Aristarchus didn't is really interesting, but has no demonstrated relation to the logically irrelevant accumulation of standard data. The more obvious things that locked-in a Copernican view were:

          1. Kepler's great mathematical simplifications, which sounded awkward in a heliocentric (Tychonean) framework.
          1. Galileo's finishing off Ptolemy by seeing the phases of Venus and providing a good orbital model by seeing the moons of Jupiter.
          1. Newton completing the system with a coherent universal framework.

          The reason this point is worth making is that people underestimate the diversity of scientific paths. In this case, radically unexpected data (telescopic) and mathematical structures (Newton) were crucial. Hammering away at accuracy mattered, but only via Kepler, not for any circle-based theory.

          •  Some years back (0+ / 0-)

            I read an interesting book by a Harvard astronomer-turned-historian-of-science who noted with some skepticism that modern historians were referring to De Revolutionibus as "the book nobody read". It would be understandable if nobody read it -- the damn thing is almost incomprehensible unless you're willing to go through every damn proof in all its tedium. However, this guy didn't believe the conventional wisdom, so he set out to examine every single copy of De Revolutionibus still extant. It took him 20 years, but he eventually got to see almost every one. He went through them page by page, looking for marginal notations. What he established was that the book was in fact read very closely by people in his time, and it generated little dissent. For the most part, the marginal notations were expansions, computational details, and positive reactions. His conclusion was that De Revolutionibus was quickly accepted by the scientist-mathematicians of that day. The problem was solely the PR problem arising from religious beliefs. In Protestant Europe, there was no problem; people accepted it and that was all there was to say. In Catholic Europe, the Church didn't buy it, and that retarded progress.

            The main reason why there wasn't much hubbub over De Revolutionibus was that it conclusively settled the matter, as far as the intelligentsia were concerned. AFAIK, there were no scholarly publications disputing the book, even in those intellectually fractious times (at least, none that gained any prominence). If you know of any, I'd love to hear about them, and the reception they received.

            But De Revolutionibus took the matter as far as it could be taken without more extensive and more accurate observations. That's where Tycho came in. He provided the data that permitted Kepler to take the next step.

            •  seriously? (0+ / 0-)

              You've never heard of the Tychonean theory?

              •  Yes, but (0+ / 0-)

                I was under the impression that it never gained any adherents. Tycho was certainly an odd fish. Do you have any contrary information on how much of a dent it made?

                •  Tycho (0+ / 0-)

                  We've probably wandered farther out into this esoteric argument than either of us intended, and past the point where I know the history well. At least according to Wikipedia, by the time of Galileo's trial most of the Church astronomers were Tychonians. At any rate, odd or not, Tycho was a very big fish.
                  BTW, Googling around to check this history turned up things that would probably amuse you. One was a lengthy criticism of geocentrism by a creationist astronomer. It was amazingly erudite and closely reasoned, within his crazed context. He got many subtle technical issues right, until screwing up General Relativity.

      •  Love your writing (0+ / 0-)

        By the way, I just want to take the opportunity to tell you how much I admire your writing. Time and again I find myself mentally slapping my forehead and thinking, "I wish I had thought of that way to express that idea!" I'm not a professional science writer, but I've done a goodly amount of teaching, and I really admire a thought well expressed.

  •  Thanks for Kepler diary (0+ / 0-)

    I never realized that the great discoveries in astronomy were driven by the needs of TRADE and EXPLORATION.

    You do wonderful work. Many Thanks.

    Media Reform Action Link http://stopbigmedia.com/

    by LNK on Sun Mar 08, 2009 at 09:53:52 AM PDT

  •  Carbon Planet (0+ / 0-)

    The first confirmed carbon planet will undoubtedly be explored by an expedition funded by de Beers.  If they can slap a stake on it and purchase it outright, they will.

    A left-of-center blow-harded member of the goose-stepping blog-stapo since 2004.

    by floundericiousMI on Sun Mar 08, 2009 at 09:58:47 AM PDT

  •  Now for an ftl drive (0+ / 0-)

    So we can go visit.

    I wonder, say a race, one a million more years out from the center, would they have ftl travel perfected by now?

    And if so would they be friendly, or just dismissive?

    Would they have come and gone already, writing poor humanity off as too greedy and shortsighted to advance far enough, before depleting the limited resources of the world, to attain the necessary advances that could enable us to join the galactic community?

  •  Spaceweather.com (0+ / 0-)

    One of my favorite websites. Everyone commenting here probably already has it bookmarked, but just in case...

    Click on the satellite flyby link, put in your zipcode and it tells you what satellites can be seen in your neck of the woods. The ISS comes around fairly often, as does the ISS Toolbag (my personal favorite).

    It does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are 20 gods or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg. -- Thomas Jefferson

    by AtlantaJan on Sun Mar 08, 2009 at 10:57:11 AM PDT

  •  Appreciate the mind-expansion. If only we also (0+ / 0-)

    would pay a little more attention to planet earth and the science of ecology.

    •  Do you think they're mutually exclusive? (0+ / 0-)

      I don't.

      Everything we learn about the universe in general can help us serve our little blue marble.

      •  Not necessarily. However (0+ / 0-)

        a great deal of fossil fuel and extraction resources are used in the space program.  And billions that could perhaps be spent on other priorities.

        Space fascinates me and I wish we could do it all.  But looking around these days in my older age, I see there has been much neglected right here at good old home.

      •  Generally, I agree (0+ / 0-)

        but there's been a real reduction in the money that NASA spends looking "down" vs. looking "up".  I talk to remote sensing people all the time who complain that the new focus on Mars, the moon and other planets has had a negative impact on the pace of our knowledge about the Earth.  The Landsat program, for instance, has become a joke.

        I'm not anti-environmentalism, I'm anti-colonialism.

        by sneakers563 on Mon Mar 09, 2009 at 09:43:16 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  Proud (but not too proud) (0+ / 0-)

    that Kepler was also a Lutheran clergyman. From what I've read, he considered his exploration of the heavens as drawing closer to God.

    I'm with him. When I stand up every Sunday and say, "I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth," I mean it. And I thank every scientist, believer or not, for helping us mortals unlock the mysteries of her creation.

    I might have to blog on my parish site about this launch. We have quite a few scientists in our congregation, including a physicist who's a PK (preacher's kid).

    He was an invited observer of the super-collider that would vaporize us all! last September, and at a choir party, his wife was explaining it in the layman's terms he'd explained it to her, because he couldn't be there. It was really cool to get a semi-inside scoop.

    Please don't muck up DarkSyde's lovely diary with a pie fight about the existence of God, or lack thereof. I just wanted to point out that faith and science are not mutually exclusive.

    And that Kepler was a Lutheran. Also.

  •  Hope like Hell... (0+ / 0-)

    I hope like Hell that Kepler finds Earth-like planets and that we somehow figure out how to get there. At the rate things are going, we may need to.

    Where's Zephram Cochrane when you need him? ;-)

    "...Reality must take precedence over public relations, for Nature cannot be fooled." Richard Feynman

    by QuestionAuthority on Sun Mar 08, 2009 at 03:40:00 PM PDT

  •  Love the wobbling star graphic (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    DarkSyde
    It is a huge improvement over the days of the
    ...spreadsheet with thousands of rows and columns, and no auto sorting!

    Given the choice between dealing with that and

    ...throwing lavish legendary drunken bashes and slapping nubile servent girls on the arse...

    One can potentially understand why there isn't a Brahenian Law of Planetary Motion. . .

    If civilization is to survive we must cultivate the science of human relationships : FDR

    by Kepler on Sun Mar 08, 2009 at 06:18:16 PM PDT

  •  Excellent and timely (0+ / 0-)

    and broad view of this subject.

    I think it ties in to a deadline for social development that we must make as a species.

    Kepler is looking for a home we could use in the very far away future.

    We need to stay alive and keep the planet alive long enough to develop the technical skills or else.

Subscribe or Donate to support Daily Kos.

Click here for the mobile view of the site