Archive for July, 2010

“I’ve loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night”

“I’ve loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night”
Galileo Galilei

400 years ago, this same day, Galileo Galilei became the first human to observe the rings of Saturn. Today, the centuries-old quest for other worlds like our Earth has been rejuvenated by the intense excitement and popular interest surrounding the discovery of hundreds of planets orbiting other stars.

The challenge now is to find terrestrial planets (i.e., those one half to twice the size of the Earth), especially those in the habitable zone of their stars where liquid water might exist.

The Kepler Mission is proud to be part of this quest. Y-o-u are part of this quest.

Here is our suggestion, our invitation. Let us make this Friday Night, July 30, a “Galilean Night”. Let us wait for our own star to disappear on the horizon, grab a coat, and go outside.

Sit on a rock, lie on the grass, grab a chair, bring the children, call your neighbour, take your dog, your love… and go and stare. All that is required is your curiosity and wonder and your eye for beauty.

Permit yourself a look above. This is your Universe. Contemplate the dark veil of the night sky and the flickering lights of stars as they make their appearance before your eyes, like actors coming from behind a curtain, like bonfires burning in the distance. Let Venus seduce you as she lies down in the West and is replace by a rising gibbous Moon in the East.

See, dream, cogitate about the fact that orbiting those same stars are myriads of planets with such different natures that we can only try to imagine their diversity. Let the imagination flow.
Allow yourself to fantasize. Allow yourself to travel beyond our world, setting sail on your own vessel of discovery through the cosmic sea towards new shores.

Enjoy it. Share it. This is what the experience is about.
When you return from the outdoors, from your journey to the distant stars, we will be here waiting for your travel logs. Your ideas. Thoughts. Insights.
We are all part of the crew, we are all part of the journey.



If you’ve any interest in astronomy and space at all then you’re probably aware that there’s been something of a “situation” this past week, involving one of the Kepler mission’s scientists and the Kepler data. To cut a very long story short, one of the Co-Investigators of the Kepler mission, Dimitar Sasselov, gave a public lecture last week – which has been available to watch online – in which he appeared to claim, both on an illustrative slide, and in his commentary itself, that Kepler had found “hundreds of Earth-like planets”…

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Kepler Mission – Errare Humanum Est

I’ve been reflecting on the events surrounding the TED lecture by my colleague, Dimitar Sasselov.  There is disappointment in the air.  People who were misled to believe that Kepler had found many other earths out there now realize that this isn’t the case.  I understand how they must feel.  I admit that I feel a little bit disappointed too, though not for the same reason.  I and my colleagues have worked hard to understand our data and to plan out the analysis in a systematic and methodical way.  We are excited by the small, but steady stream of discoveries that we are making.  And we have full confidence that one day we will learn something profound about habitable, earth-size planets in our galaxy.  I felt a bit derailed and stunned by the announcement of 140 “earth-like” planets by my colleague.  I admit that I, like many out there, understood it to mean “earth-size” and “habitable”.  And even though I now understand that this isn’t what he meant, I admit that I still feel a bit disappointed.

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One day, from the shores of a new world,

we’ll gaze at the sea that took us there.

And its waves will be stars.

Lutetia…we are on our way!

“The Rosetta orbiter, which carries the DLR lander Philae, has completed more than two thirds of its journey to the comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko. The most comprehensive cometary investigation ever, the mission will deliver DLR’s Philae lander to the comet’s surface for in situ studies. The spacecraft and lander are due to close in on 21 Lutetia, a large Main Belt Asteroid on 10 July.”

Read full article at DLR website and follow ESA’s blog for updated information.

Picking up the staff

A long, long time ago, in an Earth’s continent, creatures that would gave origin to Mankind, descended from a tree. An event with the known consequences.

One crumbling step after the other, we’ve spread ourselves through the orb, but that tree, that tree we once called home, remained alive, following its nature, following the rhythm of the seasons, loosing leaves, earning a new foliage, sharing its fruits.

That same tree is within us, within each one of us, always present in our collective experience as a species.

We are now under the shadow of a different tree, the universal one, scanning its branches, aiming at its juicy fruitage, never tasted before.

As, in the remoteness of time, we became bipedal beings who started roaming the land in search of the proper sites where we could thrive, we are now taking that pursuance a little farer.

Nowadays, hot jupiters and other almost unclassifiable sorts of exoplanets are our new deserts, our new abysses but…somewhere there, in the distance, a new verdant valley awaits us.

What we are doing here, peering at the stars, is the equivalent to our long march along the ridges of the Earth, on a vital scouting for survival.

We are, once more, picking up the staff, we are, once more, nomads, stellar nomads.

We are clearing the way for the Homo Viator.

At the prow of the whole

It may look like that we are, each one, ultimately, alone in the vastness of the Universe.
It may look like that all its secrets and distances will remain elusive, unsurpassable for Mankind.
It may look like that we should just accomodate ourselves to this perspective and, calmly, with no questions, just resign to this fate.
The truth is that we do not agree with appearances and we do not cease wondering.
The truth is that we will strive to give a meaning to this, aparently, neverending wandering.
We are, each one of us, ultimately, not alone.
We are, each one of us, ultimately, the Universe itself.
We are, each one of us, ultimately, one.

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