Finally! An update! & Science News!

Greetings all!

Apologies for going a month without updating this blog.  There's no real excuse for that, but in way of making one anyway I'll say it's been a busy, tiring, but fruitful August.

I finally finished editing my novel, and got started on its sequel (the story just won't leave my mind so I gotta tell it all, even if it's just to my hard drive and my fiance).  I'm currently in the "finding an agent" phase and trying to do my research on this.  I've expanded my author pool for sci-fi, discovered Peter Hamilton, who rocks by the way, and I'll be picking up a copy of the new writer's market asap.

Wish me luck!

In science related news, some exciting things are afoot!  Two new planets have been discovered in the Kepler 9 system!  Below is an artist's conception of what it might look like (courtesy NASA).

Kepler-9 System (courtesy NASA)

The Kepler spacecraft, named after the German astronomer Johannes Kepler who laid the foundation for Newton's laws of gravitation, is a space based telescope that can measure dips in star luminosity to a very high degree.  When a star's brightness dips, it indicates a large object, like a planet, is passing in front of the light reaching the telescope.  Based on the type of dip and the frequency we can calculate how large a planet is causing it and what the planet's orbital period (length of its year) is.

The Kepler Spacecraft (courtesy NASA)

The Keplar spacecraft has a 0.95 meter diameter (just shy of 3 feet) and a 105 square degree field of vision -quite large for a telescope.  It was built this way so that it could survey a large number of stars simultaneously in its search for planets, and specifically, Earth-type planets in the habitable zone (the area around a star that would yield planets capable of sustaining Earth type life) of their stars.

Keplar's field of view (courtesy NASA)
 The Keplar spacecraft is looking at a specific region of our galaxy for these Earth type planets.  As you can see here in this depiction, Keplar is looking down the arm of the galaxy, the Orion Spur, that we occupy.  Although not specifically stated in the documentation I read, I would imagine the selection of stars was at least partially based on the liklihood of finding neighbors we might someday visit, or who might someday visit us.  Hopefully they don't mind us pointing our massive telescopes at them.  I imagine Having angry, space-faring neighbors wouldn't end well.

There are many methods for detecting extra-solar planets (exoplanets).  Sometimes, one method is used to verify another.  Below are two such methods.  For a full list see this article on wikipedia.

Transit Method, used by Keplar (courtesy NASA)

Astrometry Method (Wikipedia Commons)

Astrometry uses the measurement of a star's precise location in the night sky combined with Newton's laws of gravitation, which state that every piece of matter pulls on every other piece of matter, to tell if a given star has a planetary object in orbit around it.

The idea is that as a planet, or planets, orbit around a star they "tug" on each other, shifting the star's position slightly (the corresponding shift in the planet's motion is what we call its orbital path, so you can see the star's much higher mass is the dominant "tug" in the relationship).   By measuring the minute shifts in a star's position, we can tell what's around it, or at least how much mass is in orbit.

To date we've found over 464 exoplanets around other stars using various methods. 

Keplar's mission is special, and one I hope is wildly successful in the coming years, because it may finally answer the question of how common Earth type worlds are in our neighborhood of the galaxy.

That's all for this week!  Be well!


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