Library space program stellar
Sincere thanks to Pendleton Public Library’s Arlene Shannon, director of special programs, for offering a fine event on Saturday, Feb. 23.
The guest speaker, Greg McCauley, a “Solar System Ambassador,” gave a lively talk about NASA’s Discover Mission 10 better known as the Kepler Mission to a full house.
Best of all, McCauley told the audience that NASA needs our help — or at least our planet-hunting eyes.
Younger members of the audience learned that the library, with McCauley’s help, plans to start a Young Astronomers Club.
McCauley, who was involved in NASA lunar missions Apollo 15 and 16 and was a member of the launch team for Apollo 17, said Kepler’s mission is to find sun-like stars outside our solar system that have planetary systems. The hope is to find a planet half to twice the size of Earth at a distance from its sun/star that puts it in the “habitable zone.”
NASA has the data and the computer programs needed for those interested in helping confirm the planets Kepler has identified as “candidates.” You won’t get to name a planet, however.
“I don’t foresee a planet Betsy,” McCauley said.
On March 5, 2009, Kepler was launched to follow Earth in its orbit around the sun and to stare continuously at single star field in the Cygnas-Lyra region watching for a planet to cross (transit) in front of its star/sun. Kepler shocked everyone.
“Kepler is finding planetary systems by the bucketsful,” said McCauley, who travels the state speaking in classrooms and libraries.
He also represents Indiana’s Link Observatory. “In its first six weeks, Kepler found six planets.”
Originally conceived as a two-year mission it has now been extended to four with the possibility of an extension to six. By December 2011, Kepler had discovered 2,326 planetary “candidates”: 207 Earth sized and 680 super Earth sized.
Here are websites for NASA planet hunters:
Shannon said youngsters do not need to be Pendleton residents to join the Young Astronomers Club. Call Shannon at 778-7527. The program is free. Members will use library computers.
She also plans to take a group down to the Link Observatory. Located between Martinsville and Mooresville, it is the nation’s largest wooden observatory. It boasts a 5,000-pound telescope. The trip is open to any interested person.