NASA today released the first images taken by the Kepler spacecraft. The mission of the Kepler spacecraft is to search for Earth size planets orbiting other stars. The method being utilized to discover such exoplanets is often called the transit method. That’s because the exoplanet appears to travel across the line of sight of the distant star, which is called a transit, and causes a diminishing in the light we see from that star, by a very small amount. Read more about the Kepler image released, as well as the mission itself, online now here.
The exact mechanism by which planets generate their magnetic fields, leading to what most call a planet’s magnetosphere, is still a bit of a mystery. In 2007, a chapter in an edited volume on planets and moons, reviewed the latest understanding of how each planet has developed its own planetary magnetic field. This particular chapter is now available online here. The authors do an excellent job of explaining the mathematics and science behind the generation of planetary magnetic fields. Although there are differential vector calculus equations utilized throughout, if you read through the mathematics, you will find a very readable explanation and history of the scientific understanding of planetary magnetic fields for all planets, terrestrial and jovian. One of my favorite portions deals with a laboratory experiment from the 1970s, where a thin-shelled rotating metal was spun and cooled to low temperatures, what is called the narrow-gap experiment. Today, most scientists rely on the computer models of such experiments. I think it’s more spectacular seeing the actual laboratory experiment.
Most are familiar with the acronym SETI, which stands for the search for extraterrestrial intelligence. Most SETI research has focused on attempts to detect radio frequency signals from other civilizations. Optical SETI (OSETI) is the search for extraterrestrial signals in the optical wavelengths. It’s based upon the premise that a civilization using a high powered laser could more efficiently send out a message via such a focused laser beam in the direction of another civilization. In a concerted effort to detect such a signal from 187 nearby candidate stars, a team of astronomers has reported that they could not detect any such signal. The instrument used for this search was the Solar Tower Atmospheric Cherenkov Effect Experiment or STACEE for short. Located in New Mexico near Albuquerque, the instrument consists of 224 steerable mirrors, originally designed for solar energy research. Learn more about this OSETI effort online now here.