Kepler launches to find new planets

March 6, 2009 12:00:00 AM PST
Ever wonder if there's life elsewhere in space or if Earth is the only habitable planet out there? Finding answers to those questions and more is the new mission launched by NASA Friday night. There were many proud Bay Area scientists helping make it happen.

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It was a NASA launch that meant more to those here in the Bay Area than other mission.

"I'm excited, it is important," said Stephan Demmer, from Los Altos.

The Kepler spacecraft's journey is a first for NASA. It's essentially a search for another planet like Earth.

"It's been one of our goals for a long time now to try to find conditions and planets and stars that might harbor life out there," said Tom Roellig, a NASA Ames astrophysicist.

Kepler will follow the Earth's orbit, while monitoring 100,000 stars. Kepler will record every time an object, like a planet passes in front of it and blocks the light. Scientists would then try to figure out if that object were in fact a planet and if it's the size of the Earth.

NASA Ames researchers would then measure the distance between the planet and a star. If it's too far, the planet would be freezing and uninhabitable. If it's too close, it would be too hot and nothing would survive.

"It'll be good to know if there are life forms in other places," said Manoj Puri, from Fremont.

That age-old question is what's drawn so many to NASA Ames on Friday night. It's as if being closer to the action will bring them closer to the answer of whether we are really alone in the galaxy.

"If I had to guess, I would think not," said Jennifer Cote, from Pinole.

"I'm sure there are similar plants to Earth out there and probably also with intelligent life, I'm sure about that," said Stephan Demmer, from Los Altos.

Scientists won't be absolutely sure for another three and a half years. That is the duration of the mission.

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