01/21/2009 - Roundup at the Kepler Corral: the Race to Detect the First Earth-sized Planet in the Habitable Zone of a Sunlike Star


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Dr. Jeffrey Van Cleve, Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp

The Kepler Mission http://www.kepler.arc.nasa.gov is designed to detect transits of Earth-size planets orbiting in the "habitable zone" (HZ) around main-sequence stars of apparent visual magnitude 9 through 14, of F through M spectral type, by means of differential photometry of ~100,000 stars in the constellation Cygnus. Jeff will discuss the box in temperature-diameter space ("The Corral") that Kepler was designed to search, and show the population of extrasolar planets known from ground-based radial velocity and gravitational lensing observations. He will present a calculation of the distance between Earth and the nearest transiting planet likely to be discovered by Kepler, and compare it to results of an all-sky planetary transit survey mission similar to TESS (The TESS PI has commented that "...when starships transporting colonists first depart the solar system, they may well be headed toward a TESS-discovered planet as their new home"). He will end with some speculation on why the end of the nominal Kepler mission coincides with the end of the Mayan calendar (and possibly the end of the world as we know it) on Dec. 21, 2012.

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