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Spacedom: Unmanned Missions May Find Other Planets Like Earth in the Universe

Updated on March 24, 2011

Are There Other Planets Like Earth?

Wouldn’t it be interesting to know if life exists in outer space?  In this vast universe, could we possibly be the only creatures that exist? Could we ever meet and have interplanetary associations with beings from a distance place in space?    NASA is searching the cosmos, through unmanned missions in space for other planets that may be similar to earth.  Before the year 2020, NASA expects to know if other universes have planets similar to earth.  The Kepler Spacecraft Science Team is an unmanned mission, and is studying 170,000 of the stars that burn the brightest.  This team sent a high powered telescope into space, that allows astronomers to see other solar systems. There have been many recent discoveries of many planets near stars.  Since 2009, they have been observing the galaxy for a pattern of 3 small stars that may indicate they are orbiting another planet. If another planet like Earth is discovered, scientists would look for free oxygen in atmospheric conditions and other signs of biological life.  You can read more about this at According to NASA, “Kepler has found over 700 planet candidates.”

Unmanned Missions Are Finding Other Planets

Where Water Exists, Life May Exist

In the darkness of space and through the vastness of the universe there is one star in particular that has caught the attention of astronomers. This star, known as Gliese 581 is about 20 and a half light years away from Earth. It is imperceptible to the human eye, but through the Kepler Telescope, it is a shining hope that this unmanned mission may have found a sun that has at least 6 planets circling it. This particular sun has the most planets circling it found outside our own solar system. Within Gliese 581 solar system, one planet has the potential to be similar to Earth. It is postulated this planet may have a solid surface because of its size, being 3-4 times the size of Earth. It appears to sit just the right distance from its sun, so that water on the planet wouldn’t freeze or boil. Astronomists believe where water exists, some sort of life exists. The planet is known as 581g (not an original name, but it is better these scientists spend their energy on discovering things, than creatively naming things.)

We won’t know for a long time, the potential of this planet, but the astronomy field has made tremendous inroads in the discovery. It is an amazing accomplishment that this planet was found. The idea that a celestial body this small was even discovered, is well … astronomical.

There is So Much for Scientists to Learn

Unmanned missions in space are a safer way to explore the universe.
The equipment and tools used to detect the minute motions in a star need to be extremely sensitive to this movement.  Gravitational pulls from the the orbiting planet cause the back and forth movements, called doppler shifts.  Astronomers look at the light from a star and try to pick up subtle cues of dimming or changing  lights in a pattern over months or years, this could indicate that the planet is orbiting a star. Scientists will analyze what they see to determine if more exploration is necessary.  Astronomers have discovered planets that have an atomosphere filled with carbon. Scientists wonder if diamonds could exist on this planet.

There is so much for scientists to learn. A new telescope is being developed by NASA called the James Webb Space Telescope, that is 100 times as powerful as the Hubble Space telescope.  The telescope, also an unmanned mission, is expected to make its debut approximately 2013, although it is already one and a half billion dollars over budget.(What else is new with the government?) Astronomers are hoping through the power of this telescope, they will be able to detect life on planets.

New Planet Confirmed

Astronomers can only guess for now if a planet this far away has water and perhaps life. They also theorize that planets with rocky surfaces can sustain life better than planets that are made up more of gas.    

As of January 11, 2011, Nasa confirmed through extensive testing that a planet they found in 2009,through Kepler’s unmanned mission, that it is in fact, the first rocky planet discovered. They named the planet Kepler-10b. It is 1.4 times bigger than Earth, yet it is a small planet, the littlest ever found outside our solar system. It orbits a star, like Earth orbits the sun. It was a major discovery in the first place and confirms a milestone in space knowledge. It took nearly 8 months to collect all the data that the space craft gathered and sent back to Nasa scientists.  The planet is called an exoplanet.

The French Have Also Sent Up an Unmanned Mission

The current discoveries have happened in large part due to the Kepler Space Telescope, although the French have sent unmanned missions into space too. The Kepler telescope uses very exact photometer measurements to notice slight decreases in the star’s brightness. (called photometry). They are able to figure out the size of the planet by watching patterned dips in the spectrum of brightness of the planet. Scientists measure the waves of light inside the star. The orbital tug of the planet noticed by astronomers is called Doppler shifts and gives more information for scientists to understand this planet. The more accurate they can put this information together, the more accurately they can describe the properties of the planet.

Stars Don't Twinkle in Space Like They Do from Earth

In space, stars don’t twinkle, and the telescopes that are focused on these stars can keep a watch on these celestial bodies for long periods of time.  The telescopes are not affected by daylight and nighttime and so it becomes easier to measure  a kind  of flickering that occurs as planets orbit the star.  An unmanned mission like the Kepler telescope sits in space, and can observe 100,000 stars at the same time and notice the ever so slight changes in light that occurs.

Telescopes that observe space from Earth are looking more at red dwarf stars because they tend to be easier to spot.  Gileses 876 was spotted with this type of telescope.

Here is a little bit of trivia about the Kepler Telescope unmanned mission. Mounted on the telescope before it went into space is an engraved  plaque that has the names of each of the  2,000 people who were involved in making this mission come to fruition. It includes the  engineers, scientists, and managers who coordinated this space effort. The mission will continue through the year  2012. Kepler is on a 53-week orbit that goes around the sun, and will be drifting behind our planet Earth. By scientists calculations Kepler loses a week every year, and will return to Earth 53 years from the time it was first launched into space.

Keppler Telescope Brings Great Promise for Life in Outer Space

New Discoveries Await Us Earthlings

Astronomers are able to figure the distance between the star and Kepler 10-b planet by estimating the time between successive dips that happen as the Kepler 10-b orbits its star.  This unmanned mission being conducted by NASA is the first of its kind to seek out planets similar in size to Earth. It also looks for planets that have a similar proximity to its star. A planet that is the correct distance from its star, in theory, will have liquid on its planet  Where there is liquid, life may exist. This planet is more than 20x closer to the star it orbits than Mercury to the sun. Kepler 10-b orbits its star in a very short cycle and is not considered to be the correct distance, so they don’t expect to find life on this planet.  

Astronomers are hopeful that this discovery will pave the way for more sightings of other planets.  Unmanned missions allow us to do space exploration in ways we couldn’t do before. Keep your eye on the sky. There are lots of new discoveries coming our way. Space is proving to be an unending source of excitement and exhilaration for astronomers and all us Earthlings, as we await to learn about the newest planetary discoveries.   

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    • glitterboy83 profile image


      7 years ago

      I just hope its not the Borg

    • TheWorldNow profile image


      7 years ago from Washington DC

      Wow, this is great! Awesome Article! Voted Up, Awesome, and Useful!

    • PETER LUMETTA profile image


      7 years ago from KENAI, ALAKSA

      A real Star Trek, I hope I'm still around when they find some life forms out there. What a life, thanks for the news Peter

    • toknowinfo profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago

      Hi Tom,

      Space exploration is an interesting topic. I think there is life somewhere in this huge universe. And if we do find life, things will change for sure.

    • kashmir56 profile image

      Thomas Silvia 

      8 years ago from Massachusetts

      Hi toknowinfo thanks for this interesting and informative hub, i enjoyed reading it ! Maybe someday we will find life somewhere out there in space .

      Awesome hub !!!

    • toknowinfo profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago

      Space exploration is very interesting and it is exciting to see what astronomers will discover next.

    • meteoboy profile image


      8 years ago from GREECE

      Useful, awesome and beautiful!!! Unmanned missions give us informations that many times changing our theories until that certain time. Thank you for your article.

    • stars439 profile image


      8 years ago from Louisiana, The Magnolia and Pelican State.

      Wonderful interesting hub. God Bless You.

    • quicksand profile image


      8 years ago

      A well written article on an interesting topic. Thanks and cheers!

    • pan1974 profile image


      8 years ago from Columbus,Ga

      This is an interesting read.

    • Betty Johansen profile image

      Betty Johansen 

      8 years ago

      Wow! Thinking about an infinite universe is a good way to get one's mind off her little problems on this little planet. It will be exciting to learn whether there are any planets out there with water. Or oxygen-rich atmospheres. Or diamonds!

      Thanks for this informative hub.

    • GusTheRedneck profile image

      Gustave Kilthau 

      8 years ago from USA

      Hi toknowinfo - This is a very interesting subject, and your article brings that out nicely. Thanks.

      As I have looked at man's seeking of extraterrestrial life, I got the impression that man is looking for life much like himself. With the universe being as infinite as it seems to be, the chances are good that "man" exists elesewhere, but so, too, do forms of life we might not recognize or understand.

      Gus :-)))


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