Carnival of Space #93: From our own planet, to exoplanets
Welcome to the 93rd Carnival of Space! Today's a day worth celebrating at a carnival. NASA's Kepler spacecraft is scheduled to launch tonight on its mission to discover Earth-sized worlds orbiting other stars, adding to the list of hundreds of exoplanets that have been discovered in the past couple of decades. On this special occasion, we here at The Planetary Society have launched a new Catalog of Exoplanets that tells you all the essential information about each of the more than 300 known exoplanets; we look forward to the successful launch of Kepler, and hope it'll add hundreds more, including many that remind us of our home world.
Kepler awaits launch
On March 6, 2009, the Kepler exoplanet-hunting spacecraft awaits its evening launch, perched on the tip of a Boeing Delta II 7925 rocket.
So, on the occasion of Kepler's launch, I thought it would be appropriate to walk through the sideshows at this week's Carnival beginning with those that focus on the space close to home, and wind up with the ones that consider the planets, stars, and possible life far away.
At last we leave Earth orbit and head for the most Earth-like planet in our own solar system, Mars. Understanding whether Mars ever could have harbored life (much less whether it did) will be critical to the interpretation of Kepler's results, and the likelihood of any of the Earth-like planets it discovers being inhabited. It would help a lot to bring Mars rock samples back to Earth for study; Robot Explorers reviews an early Mars sample return mission concept from Northrop Grumman. Until we return samples, the best we can do is trek across Mars with the robotic geologists Spirit and Opportunity; Cumbrian Sky documents the first sighting of the rim of Endeavour crater, a destination still more a year in the future for Opportunity.
Now we travel beyond the habitable zone, into the outer solar system. Earth-like worlds are compelling targets, but the Gish Bar Times reminds us of the strange and fascinating sights of Io's volcanic paterae.
Figuring out what life might look like in other star systems requires a certain amount of imagination -- and I'd hazard a guess that the creative minds pondering these questions derive some inspiration (or, at least, amusement) from the world of science fiction. A Babe in the Universe met the cast of the new Star Trek movie and hopes it honors real space exploration as much as the original did. And Astroengine writes about a truly "creative" experiment: the Artificially Expanded Genetic Information System, possibly the first steps toward artificial life.
Thanks for dropping by the Carnival! For those of you who haven't visited The Planetary Society Blog before, I post every day, mostly about the exploration of our own solar system, both past and present, in stories and in pictures. I hope you'll come back and read again soon.