Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The Planet Hunt

The search has begun for a planet just like earth-from lush green fields to mountains to cold deep rivers and waterfalls.

Of course, other earths would have to be made up of elements similar to our own, and orbit at a special distance required for liquid water to exist on its surface, called the habitable zone.

Astronomers are using new technology to scan other star systems for clues to unexplored earths. They are now capable of viewing faint wobbles in a star's motion, that are caused by the gravitational pull of an orbiting planet.

Advanced telescopes also let researchers watch for a dimming of light in stars that occurs as an orbiting planet passes in front of it. Thousands of stars can be monitored simultaneously.

In the winter of 2009 NASA will launch its Kepler mission, designed to seek out planets orbiting massive stars, like how our earth orbits the sun. Kepler will keep an eye out for starlight dimming in 100,000 stars.

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