SAN JOSE (Ivanhoe Newswire) –How much do you know about space? There are eight planets in our solar system, but the counting doesn’t stop there. Astronomers have confirmed detection of over 500 others outside our solar system and the count continues! We talked to one woman whose mission is to find other planets and other answers.
Natalie Batalha doesn’t have any ordinary job. Her job is to find answers to some of life’s most daunting questions.
Batalha is an astronomer in charge of NASA’s Kepler mission- to find exoplanets or planets outside the solar system.
“We want to find planets about the size of the earth that could potentially harbor life—planets that are habitable,” Natalie Batalha, Deputy Science director of NASA’s Kepler mission, told Ivanhoe.
Batalha and her team are keeping a close watch on over 700 stars using a photometer, which measures a star’s brightness. These stars are the best and brightest candidates for revealing more exoplanets, so scientists watch to see if any of them get brighter or dimmer.
“If you have 10,000 light bulbs and you take away just one, that is the change in brightness that you are trying to measure,” Batalha said.
A telescope counts photons every 30 minutes for each one of those 150,000 stars. After they track down a new planet, scientists will then figure out if it contains oxygen and water, and the size and temperature, which are all keys for life.
“If I had to share my guess I think that they are going to turn out to be common, but who knows, we don’t know yet,” Batalha said.
But we may be closer to knowing than ever before.
“This project excites me because we are discovering new worlds, right? But more importantly, it motivates me and inspires me because we are trying to answer a very fundamental question that human beings have been trying to answer for a very long time, and that is ‘are we alone in our galaxy’,” Batalha added.
What do you think? Whatever the answer, it’s sure to be one that’s out of this world.
This type of research could not be done before the Kepler mission. Even the Hubble space telescope did not look at a big enough view of space to get a good glimpse of possible planets. Just last year, a team of planet hunters at the University of California, Santa Cruz discovered a planet three times the size of earth, and there is the possibility that there is water on it. If confirmed, this would be the most earth-like exoplanet yet discovered.