As a teenager, a friend introduced me to the wonderful world of science fiction novels. From my small town, my mind could venture forth and ponder life on other worlds, civilizations within far galaxies and races that were more than human. For a while, I read about a book a day and developed a love of the genre. I have no doubt that these experiences helped push me to go to Rensselaer and pursue an engineering degree.
NASA has launched a mission which may have profound implications. The Kepler Mission has lofted a special telescope which can analyze light being emitted from interstellar objects and look for dips in light which will mean that a planet has crossed or transited the star. Kepler can also analyze data about the star itself, compute the orbital distance of the planet from the star and determine the likely temperature of the planet. Voila, we have an instrument well suited to detect planets like the one we live on. According to NASA, about 100,000 stars will fall into its field of view during the scheduled 3 .5 year period of its mission.
The implications? In 4 years, we'll have real data on just how common earthlike planets are within our galaxy. Where the conditions are like our planet, they may very well be habitable, that is, capable of supporting life. This is just one more example of why our particular time is such a fascinating time to be alive.
So, put aside the gloom and doom of the finance markets for a while and stretch your mind out toward the stars. We may be in the process of discovering a new set of neighbors.