|Illustration of Kepler Spacecraft
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
2014 has been an exciting year for space research. Apart from the India’s Mars Orbiter Mission that is now orbiting the Red Planet to find out more about our neighbour, we are just a few days away from Philae‘s historic attempt to land on a comet and carry out investigations that will probably give us some idea about the origin of Life. While these missions are aimed to help us understand our neighbours in the solar system, however they were formed, what they are made up of, somewhere down the line, we are all looking for signs of life or at least conditions that may support life now or sometime in the future.
It was with this very aim that the Kepler Mission was launched in March 2009 with a telescope that enables it to spot planets orbiting different stars which might be able to support life. But the Milky Way consists of an estimated 100 billion stars and probably as many planets. So, how we narrow down this number where we can sit down and begin investigating these planets. Well, this is where Goldilocks comes in. Just like in the children’s tale, where Goldilocks picks something not too big or too small but just right for herself, the Kepler Mission too is looking for something not too big and not too small, something that is not too close to its star nor far away. Something just like our Earth, placed perfectly for a liquid water to exist and temperature range where life can sustain.
Initially planned for a mission lasting three and half years, the Kepler spacecraft has spent over 5 years looking for Earth like planets and confirmed that 978 such planets exist in the Milky Way. The nearest such planet is about twelve light years away. Probably, the next probe that we send out would be to know if there is some life existing on this planet.