I learned* that the Kepler craft (NASA artist sketch on right – this is the device that will look for “other earths” – see below) is all go to try for launch later today! Extract from an announcement that went around:
On 6 March (EST, 7 March in UTC) there are two opportunities for a launch into the Earth trailing orbit. The first window is at 6 March, 10:49:57 p.m. EST (UTC: 7 March, 03:49:57) and the second window is at 11:17:44 p.m. EST (UTC: 7 March, 04:17:44). If Kepler is not launched tonight there is a another possibility at approximately the same time tomorrow night.
Countdown will begin 3 hours before launch and Kepler separation into Earth trailing solar orbit will take place 3709 sec into flight. First contact after separation is expected 4640 sec into flight.
I noticed that Amy Mainzer is over at the Kennedy Space Center to see the launch. She begins to talk about it here on her (excellent) blog. You might want to check back there in case she does a nice report on it. Check out Phil’s Bad Astronomy blog for more on this too. He says he’ll be tweeting and all. (Yes. Tweeting. There, I have used that word in its recent new context/meaning in a sentence for the first time. I feel a bit silly.)
What is this all about? It is very exciting. Here are some sources of information for you. Look at Kepler’s mission pages for more about the search for other planets, and what it is designed to do. To tempt you, I’ll start reading for you:
The Kepler Mission, NASA Discovery mission #10, is specifically designed to survey our region of the Milky Way galaxy to discover hundreds of Earth-size and smaller planets in or near the habitable zone? and determine the fraction of the hundreds of billions of stars in our galaxy that might have such planets. [...]
Now, for an excellent TV programme all about the search for planets beyond our solar system, including discussions of Kepler and interviews with some of the team, you’re in luck. My friend the filmmaker Bob Melisso made a show on the topic recently for the History Channel series “The Universe”, and I’ve learned that the entire episode is on YouTube, in five nice bite-sized chunks (Kepler is in the fifth). Have a look. I have prepared the comfy chair for you to watch the whole show – grab the popcorn and watch:
Enjoy! (…and fingers crossed for luck!)
*Thanks Werner and Bob!