Attempts to explore the possibility of extraterrestrial life

 

Introduction

            For centuries now, humankind has attempted to demystify the mystery underpinning the possibility of human life beyond the Earth; this has resulted in numerous space explorations. Recently, the recent discoveries of several planets that are orbiting stars have resulted in intense excited and renewed the interest in the quest to discover other planets that could support human life (Gene, 2010). At present, there is substantial evidence confirming the existence of three main categories of exoplanets, which include the ice giants, hot-super-earth going round in short period orbits, and gas giants. However, the main challenge involves finding terrestrial planets whose size is half of the earth, particularly those that are located within the habitable zone of their orbital stars wherein there is the possibility of existence of liquid water (Lemonick, 2012). There is a mounting controversy surrounding the issue of whether extraterrestrial life is a possibility.

Attempts to explore the possibility of extraterrestrial life can be classified broadly into three categories: searches on the earth’s solar system; explorations for the possibility of life in other solar systems; and the search for life adventure. With regard to explorations on our solar system, scientists have explored the solar system using probes targeting land or an orbit on the target planets. A case in point is the ongoing attempts by scientists to explore the possibility of life in Mars. With regard to explorations on other solar systems, ground-based and space-based telescopes (particularly the Keller observatory) have been used to discover the existence of several extrasolar planets with a specific interest on exoplanets that are situated within the habitable zone of their main or parental star (Kasting, 2010). The thinking underpinning the exploration of other solar systems is that the existence of a potent solvent is capable for bring forth life by enabling molecules to interact with one another, which in turn, can create long chains that constitute the building blocks that make up life. The search-for-life adventure has been adopted by a number of astronomers such as the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI); this method of explorations rely on the use of radio telescopes to identify any radio signals that are likely to be broadcasted by an intelligent civilization in space. At present, these astronomers have not detected any form of extraterrestrial activity in their explorations (Miller, Vandome, & McBrewster, 2010).

In the quest to discover the possibility of extraterrestrial life, the Kepler Mission was designed with the primary objective of exploring our region in our galaxy (the Milky Way) in order to unveil a number of earth-size planets that are within the habitable zone. In addition, the Kepler Mission has the objective of determining how many stars in the Milky Way have planets that can sustain life. So far, the Kepler Mission has managed to trace the position of our solar system within the larger continuum of the planetary systems found in the Milky Way (National Aeronautics and Space Administration, 2013). The primary objective of this paper is to explore both the scientific and political aspects of the Kepler Mission.

Kepler Mission’s Scientific Goals and Objectives

            The primary scientific objective of the Kepler Mission entails the exploration of the diversity and structure of the planetary systems found in our galaxy. In order to achieve this objective, Kepler Mission has outlined a number of goals to facilitate the mission. They include (National Aeronautics and Space Administration, 2013):

  1. i.                    Goal 1: Determining the abundance and frequency of larger and terrestrial planets found within or adjacent to the habitable zones of their parent stars. With regard to this goal, the frequency of planets can be computed from the size and number of planets detected and from the spectral type and the number of stars that are being surveyed. In such a case, a null outcome will still be extremely significant because of the relatively large number of stars being surveyed and the relatively low rate of false alarm.
  2. ii.                  Goal 2: Determining how the shapes, orbital semi-major axes and sizes of these extrasolar planets are distributed. With respect to this goal, the planet’s area can be computed using the stellar area and the decrease in fractional brightness. The semi-major axis of a planet can be computed using the stellar mass and the measured period by utilizing Kepler’s third law.
  3. iii.                Goal 3: Estimating the orbital distribution and frequency of the extrasolar planets found in the multiple-stellar systems. This goal can be attained through a comparison of the number of planetary systems found in multi-stellar and in single systems. Ground-based spectroscopic measurements having high angular resolutions can be used in the identification of multiple stellar systems.
  4. iv.                Goal 4: Determining the distributions of density, mass, size, albedo and semi-major axis of short period giant planets. The detection of short-period giant planets can be done by assessing the variations emerging from their reflected light. Similarly, the semi-major axis can be computed using the stellar mass and the orbital period. Transits are likely to be observed in approximately 10 percent of the cases, after which the planet’s size can be calculated. After determining the planet size, the amplitude of the reflected light modulation and the semi-major axis can be used in the computation of the albedo. The density of the planet can be computer after observing the planet in transit (to derive its size) and using the Doppler spectroscopy (in determining the mass of the planet for stars having mv >13 and a temperature that is cooler than F5.
  5. v.                  Goal 5: Identifying the extra members of the revealed planetary systems that have been discovered photometrically by use of complimentary techniques: Surveying to extra massive companions that do transit can be done through observations facilitated by ground-based Doppler spectroscopy and the Space Interferometry Mission (SIM), which helps in the observation of greater details of the planetary systems that have been discovered by the mission.
  6. vi.                Goal 6: Determining the properties of the stars that host the planetary systems that have been discovered. With regard to this goal, ground-based observations can be used to determine the metalicity, luminosity class and the spectral type of the stars in transit. In addition, stellar activity, surface brightness inhomogeneities, and rotation rates can be computed directly using photometric data. Asteroseismology (Kepler p-mode measurements) can be used to compute the stellar mass and age.

It is imperative to note that the mission, goals and objectives of the Kepler Mission are consistent with NASA’s objectives of the Space Interferometry Mission, the Terrestrial Planet Finder and the Original theme missions. This is because Kepler Mission will play an instrumental in the identification of the common stellar attributes for the host stars for planet explorations in the future; help in defining the space volume required to survey; and offering a target list for SIM wherein systems have already affirmed the existence of terrestrial planets (Space.com, 2011).

can be classified broadly into three categories: searches on the earth’s solar system; explorations for the possibility of life in other solar systems; and the search for life adventure. With regard to explorations on our solar system, scientists have explored the solar system using probes targeting land or an orbit on the target planets. A case in point is the ongoing attempts by scientists to explore the possibility of life in Mars. With regard to explorations on other solar systems, ground-based and space-based telescopes (particularly the Keller observatory) have been used to discover the existence of several extrasolar planets with a specific interest on exoplanets that are situated within the habitable zone of their main or parental star (Kasting, 2010). The thinking underpinning the exploration of other solar systems is that the existence of a potent solvent is capable for bring forth life by enabling molecules to interact with one another, which in turn, can create long chains that constitute the building blocks that make up life. The search-for-life adventure has been adopted by a number of astronomers such as the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI); this method of explorations rely on the use of radio telescopes to identify any radio signals that are likely to be broadcasted by an intelligent civilization in space. At present, these astronomers have not detected any form of extraterrestrial activity in their explorations (Miller, Vandome, & McBrewster, 2010).

In the quest to discover the possibility of extraterrestrial life, the Kepler Mission was designed with the primary objective of exploring our region in our galaxy (the Milky Way) in order to unveil a number of earth-size planets that are within the habitable zone. In addition, the Kepler Mission has the objective of determining how many stars in the Milky Way have planets that can sustain life. So far, the Kepler Mission has managed to trace the position of our solar system within the larger continuum of the planetary systems found in the Milky Way (National Aeronautics and Space Administration, 2013). The primary objective of this paper is to explore both the scientific and political aspects of the Kepler Mission.

Kepler Mission’s Scientific Goals and Objectives

            The primary scientific objective of the Kepler Mission entails the exploration of the diversity and structure of the planetary systems found in our galaxy. In order to achieve this objective, Kepler Mission has outlined a number of goals to facilitate the mission. They include (National Aeronautics and Space Administration, 2013):

  1. i.                    Goal 1: Determining the abundance and frequency of larger and terrestrial planets found within or adjacent to the habitable zones of their parent stars. With regard to this goal, the frequency of planets can be computed from the size and number of planets detected and from the spectral type and the number of stars that are being surveyed. In such a case, a null outcome will still be extremely significant because of the relatively large number of stars being surveyed and the relatively low rate of false alarm.
  2. ii.                  Goal 2: Determining how the shapes, orbital semi-major axes and sizes of these extrasolar planets are distributed. With respect to this goal, the planet’s area can be computed using the stellar area and the decrease in fractional brightness. The semi-major axis of a planet can be computed using the stellar mass and the measured period by utilizing Kepler’s third law.
  3. iii.                Goal 3: Estimating the orbital distribution and frequency of the extrasolar planets found in the multiple-stellar systems. This goal can be attained through a comparison of the number of planetary systems found in multi-stellar and in single systems. Ground-based spectroscopic measurements having high angular resolutions can be used in the identification of multiple stellar systems.
  4. iv.                Goal 4: Determining the distributions of density, mass, size, albedo and semi-major axis of short period giant planets. The detection of short-period giant planets can be done by assessing the variations emerging from their reflected light. Similarly, the semi-major axis can be computed using the stellar mass and the orbital period. Transits are likely to be observed in approximately 10 percent of the cases, after which the planet’s size can be calculated. After determining the planet size, the amplitude of the reflected light modulation and the semi-major axis can be used in the computation of the albedo. The density of the planet can be computer after observing the planet in transit (to derive its size) and using the Doppler spectroscopy (in determining the mass of the planet for stars having mv >13 and a temperature that is cooler than F5.
  5. v.                  Goal 5: Identifying the extra members of the revealed planetary systems that have been discovered photometrically by use of complimentary techniques: Surveying to extra massive companions that do transit can be done through observations facilitated by ground-based Doppler spectroscopy and the Space Interferometry Mission (SIM), which helps in the observation of greater details of the planetary systems that have been discovered by the mission.
  6. vi.                Goal 6: Determining the properties of the stars that host the planetary systems that have been discovered. With regard to this goal, ground-based observations can be used to determine the metalicity, luminosity class and the spectral type of the stars in transit. In addition, stellar activity, surface brightness inhomogeneities, and rotation rates can be computed directly using photometric data. Asteroseismology (Kepler p-mode measurements) can be used to compute the stellar mass and age.

It is imperative to note that the mission, goals and objectives of the Kepler Mission are consistent with NASA’s objectives of the Space Interferometry Mission, the Terrestrial Planet Finder and the Original theme missions. This is because Kepler Mission will play an instrumental in the identification of the common stellar attributes for the host stars for planet explorations in the future; help in defining the space volume required to survey; and offering a target list for SIM wherein systems have already affirmed the existence of terrestrial planets (Space.com, 2011).

 

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