The Kepler Telescope Discovers 1284 More Planets: What's Next?

May 13, 2016

This week, NASA announced that the Kepler spacecraft mission has discovered 1,284 more planets in addition to what it's already discovered. This brings Kepler's total to more than 2,000 planets discovered in a narrow patch of the sky that's "about the size of your fist, if you hold your fist up to the sky," says Iowa State University astronomer Steve Kawaler.

In this River to River interview, Ben Kieffer sits down with Kawaler to talk about the implications of the discovery, as well as the next steps towards finding planets in the “Goldilocks zone,” where planets are a good distance from their star, and where liquid water and life could exist. 

"Not just find ET's home, but find ET's home in places that we can actually study," says Kawaler, of his hopes for the TESS mission.

Kawaler has worked on the Kepler mission in the past, and he is now involved in the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) mission, a kind of follow-up to Kepler. The hope with the TESS mission is to discover thousands of exoplanets in orbit around the brightest stars in the sky. 

"If we're successful in doing that, and we should be - there's about a half a million stars in the catalog that we'll be looking at - then we'll be able to use ground-based telescopes and the next generation of space-based telescopes to look at the atmospheres of those newly discovered planets and look for signs of life in the atmospheres."

Other segments in this news buzz edition of River to River include: the ins and outs of Iowa's "Safe Haven" law that could have prevented Davenport mother, Ashley Hautzenrader, from abandoning her baby in a UIHC bathroom this week, a look at the lack of regulation of Iowa's faith-based drug treatment programs, a preview of This Is My Brave, and an interview with Bruce Curtis, a Newton resident profiled by Newsweek magazine 50 years ago.