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Monday, January 31, 2011


My Chapter 4 on Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence from SIMPLE SOLUTIONS for Humanity details the subject, and was serialized in this blog beginning 17November2009.  I've had a special fascination for SETI from my days at the Ames Research Center more than a third of a century ago when I was acquainted with the leaders of The Next Billion Years (Project Cyclops) and was selected to participate on Project Orion.

In those days, the key question was:  Are we the only solar system in the Universe?  Our illustrious group was asked by NASA to design a telescope to detect planets revolving around other stars.

Since then, scientists have found more than 500 exoplanets, but all of them were surmised from wobbles or lucky transit hits.  There is yet no systematic means of directly detecting planets beyond our solar system.  In fact, since the mid-70's, we have been plutoed, as there are now only eight planets around our Sun.

The newest popular space project is Kepler  (left) to search for Earth-like planets, an effort that was shot into orbit last year.  Kepler will measure diminution of star light on the chance of a transiting planet.

However, in 2006, the European Union launched CoRot (right, for Convection Rotation and Planetary Transit) to do exactly the same thing.  COROPT sounded corrupt.  So why did the USA copy them, especially when Kepler cost $660 million (about the annual budget of all Department of Energy solar energy research/year during both the Clinton and younger Bush administrations)?  Well, something like this takes a long time to succeed, and Kepler took more than a quarter century of planning.  Appreciate, also, that politicians are not as swift as astrophysicists in wordsmithing and as akamai to give the appearance of general harmony.  Try to find one serious article asking why the world needed both CoRoT and Kepler.  Well, on the other hand, better than spending $3 trillion on Middle East wars.

Godspeed, Kepler.  Now on to NASA's Curiosity (left), a space robot to be sent to Mars this Fall at a cost of $2.5 billion.  Hate to say it, but the European Union also has ExoMars (right), once scheduled for this year, but now delayed until 2018.   Oh, NASA is cooperating with the European Union on this parallel project.  Why?  Again, why this redundancy, especially as we won't go to Mars until way past 2100, if then, or ever?

If anything, splurge on MY idea.  What is MY idea?  You need to go to my 24November2009 blog for those details.  In short, both Kepler and CoRoT measure star dimming, while the PAT (for Planetary Abstracting Trinterferometer) terrestrial system is  based on lasing atmospheres so that you can not only track exoplanets, but also determine the composition.  In these days of tight budgets, PAT will cost a tenth of ExoMars.  To express your astonishment and simplify your inquiry, e-mail me at PatKenTak@Hotmail.Com.

You got to wonder if all these space expenses are warranted, and the answer is no, but don't kill the entire effort.  Forget about another Apollo to the Moon or certainly a Man on Mars effort.  And enough for the Space Shuttle, for each shot cost more than a billion dollars.  If they want to, let the private sector take over...although they will still need to lobby Congress for funding.  That is SpaceX's Falcon launch of last month.

As William Borucki, lead scientist for the Kepler Project has waxed, the quest for other worlds is the equivalent of building the great cathedrals.  Yes, but not really, for the grand churches were built and we see them.  If we don't find anything, as is seeming to be evident, then the effort could well attain ghost story status.  But we got to try!

The greatest problem could well be the astronomical distances of potential other Earths.  Voyager 1 (below), traveling at 39,000 miles per hour, will take another 300,000 years just to reach what looks like the most

promising current exo-option, Gliese 581, "only" 20 light-years away (one light year is 6 trillion miles).  The fastest pistol bullet travels less than 1000 miles/hour.  Kepler will look for exoplanets 500 to 3,000 light years away, but in only a certain portion of the sky (see right above).  How relatively insignificant is this?  The distance from one end of just our Milky Way Galaxy to the other is 100,000 light years.

The Dow Jones Industrials jumped up 68 to 11,892, while world markets were mixed.  Keep in mind that this present economic turmoil probably means U.S. stocks are the the most trustworthy of all, so look for 12,000 soon.  Gold fell $3/toz to $1333 and petroleum is at $92/barrel, although the Brent Spot price is a shade under $100/barrel.

Queensland, watch out for Tropical Cyclone Yasi, already at 105 MPH, and will strengthen into a Category 4 for expected landfall within 48 hours:


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