Photo via: WoodleyWonderWorks
We talk a lot about Mother Earth here on Treehugger, but we don't often travel outside of our own planet to discuss a few of the other possible earth-type planets. It has been estimated that out of the billions of possible planets in the universe, there is at least several thousand containing some form of living organisms.
Out of those thousands, most of those will only contain the very base form of life, such as bacteria, etc. But a portion of those remaining planets may very well contain more evolved intelligent lifeforms according to most research, and the Kepler spacecraft is about to set off on a mission which may one day answer the question, are we really alone?Are We, Or Are We Not Alone?
As of today, using high powered telescopes, such as the Hubble, we have identified at least 300 other planets outside of our solar system. Within most all of the sun-like stars, we have identified at least one potentially habitable earth-like planet. The Kepler will be launching this March with the mission to find evidence of what is on these planets, and will be able to gather this information within only a few short years, according to most researchers speculations.
Edinburgh University has looked at life on other planets through computer driven logic and announced that there could very well be 37, 964 planets supporting intelligent lifeforms in the galaxy. Researchers at Edinburgh classify intelligent lifeforms as having the capability to send and receive radio messages through space.
NASA Kepler Mission
The NASA Kepler Mission kicks off March 5th, 2009 at exactly 7:48 PM (Pacific Time). What Kepler finds through its telescope will decide what future missions might be necessary, as we continue to search for other planets exhibiting similar conditions as our own planet earth. The mission will only last three and a half years, yet will offer the chance to survey over 100,000 sun-like stars in the Cygnus-Lyra region of the Milky Way Galaxy.
Kepler could find dozens of habitable earth-like planets in this zone, or none. Researchers have no idea, but their expectations are naturally very high. This trip will answer the question in many researchers minds, are we really alone, once and for all.
If Kepler comes back empty handed, so to speak, with no conclusive evidence of any habitable zones, researchers will assume that this is likely the case anywhere and conclude that we just might be alone. I often wonder however, as depicted in movies, if NASA really did stumble upon some boxer-short staining evidence that there are other intelligent lifeforms, what would they actually tell us?
What Would NASA Tell Us If They Found Something?
At least one astrobiologist at NASA believes that if something was to be found, they would not hold it classified and would formulate a mission, much like the one they have initialized today, to investigate the situation further. It would probably not be until the early 2020s, as it would not be computer operated, but rather a "human-landing" mission (if at all possible, that is).
This should be a very interesting mission for those of us space fans, and I look forward to seeing some of the Kepler photographs in the not-so-distant future!