Saturday, December 12, 2009
The timing here is just about what I hoped it would be - late 2009 to early 2010. Kepler's team has been pretty silent since the beginning of the mission besides the announcement of a "discovery" it made of an already known exoplanet in order to calibrate the telescope, but it turns out that they found 200 "targets of interest" in the first 45 days alone and will announce at least a few dozen new planets next month. The article mentions that the first discoveries will be the strangest planets since those in weird and extra close orbits around their planets are always the easiest to discover (hot Jupiters), but hopefully there will be one or more Earth-like planets around a red dwarf star as well, one about our size and within the habitability zone of its stellar companion. A planet orbiting a red dwarf star in the area needed to sustain life would only have a year of a few weeks in length, so one could have easily made three passes (the minimum needed to be observed before announcing a discovery) during this time. Also remember that three passes doesn't necessarily mean three complete orbits around a planet's star - a planet with an orbital period of 20 days could be observed three times in a period of just 41 days or so if it happened to be just on the verge of making a pass right when Kepler began its mission.