Planet Kepler 22-b Discovery: U.S. Military Funds SETI's Search for Aliens

on December 07 2011 5:44 AM

The recent discovery of a potentially habitable blue planet, Kepler 22-b, orbiting a star similar to the sun, by NASA's Kepler Mission, has persuaded the Search for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence to advance its activities to verify the probabilities of spotting alien life forms on its surface.

The planet, which lies in the Goldilocks Zone of its planetary system, has a surface temperature of about 22 C (72 F), which is comparable to that of Earth. According to NASA astronomers, the probability of spotting water on the newly discovered planet is high, which has sparked speculation regarding the existence of aliens and the possibility of humanity being able to migrate to the new planet.

NASA's promising discovery has prompted the U.S. Air Force Space Command to provide additional funds for observatory re-activation and operations at SETI, as part of a formal assessment of the instrument's utility for Space Situational Awareness.

This is a superb opportunity for SETI observations, Jill Tarter, director of the Center for SETI Research at the SETI Institute, said Tuesday.  For the first time, we can point our telescopes at stars, and know that those stars actually host planetary systems - including at least one that begins to approximate an Earth analog in the habitable zone around its host star. That's the type of world that might be home to a civilization capable of building radio transmitters.

The Space Command is one of the few organizations responsible for obtaining and maintaining the awareness needed for successful and safe space operations.

However, SETI, which is on its way back from a period of hibernation that began last April, after the withdrawal of its former partner, the University of California, Berkeley, due to budgetary shortfalls, will not limit itself to examining Kepler 22-b. 

Tarter said SETI's Allen Telescope Array will examine all planetary systems found by the Kepler mission: In SETI, as with all research, preconceived notions such as habitable zones could be barriers to discovery. So, with sufficient future funding from our donors, it's our intention to examine all of the planetary systems found by Kepler.

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