Admit it. You, as have I, have waited years and decades to know that we are not alone in the vast reaches of astronomical space. Today the ESA (European Space Agency) reminded me of the changes that have taken place in the past years since the great race to the Moon.
The ESA recently launched COROT, a new space-based, orbiting telescope. Primarily it is programmed to investigate the interior of stars and to look for planetary bodies around other star systems. They are there, and we are adding to their number all the time. But the launch of this 30 cm telescope not only reminds us that they are being found — not just by Hubble — but that other countries have other space programs and, like the proliferation of nuclear facilities, the heavens are being examined and explored. This effort by the European Space Agency shows off that while reminding us that NASA is not Captain Kirk's Space Command nor Princess Leah's father's bid to rule the united galaxies. There is competition here among friends let alone Klingons or Chinese satellite killers.
The launch of Corot was atop a Soyuz workhorse rocket of the once Evil Empire and lifted off from Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on 27 December 2006. This week the space observatory opened its eye on the area near Orion we see in our picture-book heaven as "the constellation of The Unicorn".
On the 18th of January the craft had finished powering up and calibrating itself and was oriented with its lens pointed toward the Unicorn. This week the cover came off for the first time. The first photos were shot. There is celebration this week by the partner-nations: Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Germany and Spain.
After a few months of working that section of the universe the craft , a Proteus mini satellite system of the French CES, will turn 180 degrees to avoid direct sunlight and will begin a period studying space from the opposite face. Scientists are undoubtedly rushing madly (mad scientists that they are) to gather all the knowledge that computer-sensing light collectors can accumulate in one direction so that they can make careers from one part of the sky or another.
Way back in ought-two in an interview by Michel Meyor with Didier Queloz, planet-finder extraordinaire, Meyor noted, "Didier Queloz and his colleagues at the Observatoire de Genève, Switzerland have found many of these new planets, and their discoveries include the most tantalizing one yet: a planet that closely resembles Jupiter in our own Solar System. These findings bring astronomers another step closer to detecting an Earth-like world."
The good doctor Planet-Finder is in ESA's Scientific Advisory Group for its Darwin planet-search mission. Answering a the question about finding a Jupiter-like planet, he said, "We have found 12 new planets. Among them, a new multiple system and most excitingly, a planet very similar to Jupiter (the biggest planet in our Solar System) in the sense that it is about the mass of Jupiter and has a similar orbit. Such planets are called Jupiter analogues by planet hunters and have long been a goal of such searches."
The U.S. has also found another Jupiter-like planet. Queloz answers his interviewer with an agreement that planet-hunting has entered a new era when full planetary systems will be detected. The ESA is continuing with an Earth-based observatory in Chile that will work with the space-based projects. It will be ESO, the European Space Observatory in La Silla, Chile. A device he called HARPS will be put on the 3.6 meter telescope at La Silla.
But the amazing part this search for information knocked out this aging mind when the JPL (Jet Propulsion Lab) site, "Planet Quest" showed a mind-boggling counter that there are now 197 planets discovered in 97 planetary systems! Holy science fiction, Batman. Can this be true? No Roswell Park, this one. The die is cast. We are not alone and it isn't just the Europeans, Russians and Chinese who are clogging the space-ways. If you think the Muslims are bad, just envision aliens who are not city-eating, 1950-B-movie bad, but really bad. Past inter-galactic by-pass bad. Or maybe little, green dinosaurs who are really nice but think we are the evening meal provided as a diversion before the diplomacy begins. Who knows what the future will bring, or, in the case of Hubble and COROT, what the past has yet to show us.
We come to the crux of this space news break. It is not the successful opening salvo of images from COROT nor even Hubble's phenomenal production of knowledge. The planets are mainly big and gassy because they, like Jupiter, have been studied as embryo-stars that failed ignition. They are big and big things show better some trillions of miles and years away. But where there are big, gassy ones there will be smaller ones with oceans of and winds, atmospheres and…
The Europeans got an "A" this time. America needs a good space race instead of a suicide mission and a lot of Planet-Hunters rather than investment bankers. We have to settle the evil Muslim problem and get back to astronomical exploration. We need to look at the stars before all we can see are the bogey men and the land-mines.