I feel that most individuals, certainly most adults, wonder if anyone is out there.  Are there other planets with intelligent life and is that life humanoid or at least somewhat intelligent?  The first effort would be to define intelligent.  Don’t laugh but this does have some merit and has been considered by behavioral scientists for a significant length of time.  On Earth, human intelligence took nearly four (4) Billion years to develop. If living beings develop advanced technology, they can make their existence known to the Universe. A working definition of “intelligent” includes self-awareness, use of tools, and use of language. There are other defining traits, as follows:

  • Crude perceptive abilities: Like concept of a handshake (sending a message and acknowledging receipt of one sent by you)
  • Crude communication abilities: Some primitive language and vocabulary
  • Sentience: Should be able of original thought and motivation, some form of self -awareness
  • Retention: Ability to remember and recall information on will
  • Some form of mathematical ability like counting

Please feel free to apply your own definition to intelligence. You will probably come as close as anyone to a workable one.


NASA is looking and one manner in which the search occurs is with the new satellite TESS.

The Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) is an Explorer-class planet finder.   TESS will pick up the search for exoplanets as the Kepler Space Telescope runs out of fuel.

Kepler, which has discovered more than 4,500 potential planets and confirmed exoplanets, launched in 2009. After mechanical failure in 2013, it entered a new phase of campaigns to survey other areas of the sky for exoplanets, called the K2 mission. This enabled researchers to discover even more exoplanets, understand the evolution of stars and gain insight about supernovae and black holes.

Soon, Kepler’s mission will end, and it will be abandoned in space, orbiting the sun, therefore:  never getting closer to Earth than the moon.

The spaceborne all-sky transit survey, TESS will identify planets ranging from Earth-sized to gas giants, orbiting a wide range of stellar types and orbital distances. The principal goal of the TESS mission is to detect small planets with bright host stars in the solar neighborhood, so that detailed characterizations of the planets and their atmospheres can be performed. TESS is only one satellite used to determine if there are any “goldy-locks” planets in our solar system. TESS will survey an area four hundred (400) times larger than Kepler observed. This includes two hundred thousand (200,000) of the brightest nearby stars. Over the course of two years, the four wide-field cameras on board will stare at different sectors of the sky for days at a time.

TESS will begin by looking at the Southern Hemisphere sky for the first year and move to the Northern Hemisphere in the second year. It can accomplish this lofty goal by dividing the sky into thirteen (13) sections and looking at each one for twenty-seven (27) days before moving on to the next.

The various missions launched to discover exoplanets may be seen below.

As mentioned earlier, TESS will monitor the brightness of more than two hundred thousand (200,000) stars during a two-year mission, searching for temporary drops in brightness caused by planetary transits. Transits occur when a planet’s orbit carries it directly in front of its parent star as viewed from Earth. TESS is expected to catalog more than fifteen hundred (1,500) transiting exoplanet candidates, including a sample of approximately five hundred (500) Earth-sized and ‘Super Earth’ planets, with radii less than twice that of the Earth. TESS will detect small rock-and-ice planets orbiting a diverse range of stellar types and covering a wide span of orbital periods, including rocky worlds in the habitable zones of their host stars.  This is a major undertaking and you might suspect so joint-ventures are an absolute must.  With that being the case, the major parterners in this endeavor may be seen as follows:

The project overview is given by the next pictorial.

In summary:

TESS will tile the sky with 26 observation sectors:

  • At least 27 days staring at each 24° × 96° sector
  • Brightest 200,000 stars at 1-minute cadence
  • Full frame images with 30-minute cadence
  • Map Southern hemisphere in first year
  • Map Northern hemisphere in second year
  • Sectors overlap at ecliptic poles for sensitivity to smaller and longer period planets in JWST Continuous Viewing Zone (CVZ)

TESS observes from unique High Earth Orbit (HEO):

  • Unobstructed view for continuous light curves
  • Two 13.7-day orbits per observation sector
  • Stable 2:1 resonance with Moon’s orbit
  • Thermally stable and low-radiation

The physical hardware looks as follows:

You can’t tell much about the individual components from the digital picture above but suffice it to say that TESS is a significant improvement relative to Kepler as far as technology.  The search continues and I do not know what will happen if we ever discover ET.  Imagine the areas of life that would affect?




March 14, 2012


Evidence for Planets Around the Star Vega

Before we discuss the possibilities of any planet or planets existing around the star system Vega, let’s take a look at the star itself.  The following bullets will give some perspective as to position, size, mass, temperature, luminosity, etc relative to this celestial body.

  • Vega is also know as Alpha Lyrae and is the brightest star in the Constellation Lyra.  The name itself is derived from “Wega” and is Arabic for “Swooping Eagle” (Al Nasr al Waki).  It is the lower right member of the Summer Triangle and is actually visible with the naked eye from the Northern Hemisphere.  The photograph below will show the position relative to other constellation
  • Vega is the fifth (5th) brightest star visible from Earth and the third (3rd) brightest visible from mid-northern latitudes, after Sirius and Arcturus.
  • It is 25.3 light-years from Earth and is the sixth (6th) closest of the bright start if you exclude Alpha Centauri, which is not easily visible from most of the Northern Hemispheres.
  • It has a very distinct blue color with an estimated surface temperature of 17,000 degrees F, making it about 7,000 degrees F hotter than our own Sun.
  • Vega has a diameter roughly 2.5 times greater than our Sun and is slightly less in mass.  The internal pressures and temperature make it burn much faster, thus producing thirty-five to forty times the energy of the Sun.
  • Around 500 million years old, it is already middle-age and will run out of fuel in another one-half billion years. 
  • Vega radiates between thirty-seven (37 %) and fifty-eight (58 %) percent more ultraviolet light than our Sun, demonstrating a sixty-three (63%) greater abundance of elements heavier than hydrogen.

On January 10, 2005, astronomers using the infrared Spitzer Space Telescope announced that the dust ring around Vega was much larger than previously estimated.  The disk appears to be mostly composed of very fine dust particles that were probably created from collisions of protoplanetary bodies around 90 AUs (astronomical units) from the star but blown away by its intense radiation.  On the other hand, the mass and short lifetime of these small particles indicate the disk detected was created by a large and relatively recent collision that may have involved objects as big as the planet Pluto.   The irregular shape of the disk is the clue that it likely contains planets, maybe habitable planets.  Modeling suggests that a Neptune-like planet actually formed much closer to the star than its current position.  As it moved out to its current wide orbit over 56 million years, many comets were swept out with it, causing the dust ring to become “clumpy”.  This is exactly the same process that occurred during the formation of our own solar system.  The model estimates that the “clumps” in the disk will rotate around Vega once every three hundred years.  A rendition of this ring is given as follows:

It is very conceivable that this Neptune-like planet harbors some form of life.  Intelligent life, probably not as we define the term here on Earth, but life.   The irregular shape of the disk is the clue that it is likely to contain planets explains astronomer Mark Wyatt.   Although we can’t directly observe the planets, they have created clumps in the disk of dust around the star.  Another rendition of those “bumps” may be seen below.   This is an infrared photograph of the system with the position of the suggested planet being very prominent. 

Let us now take another look.  In March 2009, NASA launched the Kepler space telescope and as a result, astronomers have spotted two small, Earth-like planets orbiting, one called Kepler-20e and the other Kepler-20f.  Kepler 20-e is 1,000 light years away and in the constellation Lyra.  The very same constellation as Vega.   A graphic of the Kepler telescope is given below:

   Planet Kepler-20e is 1.03 times the diameter of Earth and three (3%) percent larger.   Researchers believe Kepler 20e orbits its sun every six days and is a blend of silicates and iron.  Kepler 20f, which orbits its sun every 20 days, is bigger and very well could have developed an atmosphere of water vapor.     Could it be possible that the star-system Vega is rightly positioned to support some form of life—intelligent or otherwise?   It would be a significant history-making event if life could be found on another planet.  The thought that we are really not alone in the universe would be shattering to some people—maybe most people.  I do think it is imperative that we continue looking with marvelous instruments like Hubble, Kepler and deep-space probes.  I also think SETI offers some aid although the Cosmos is expansive and one has to wonder where to look.  The age-old question of “why are we here”—“where did we come from” has yet to be answered.  Maybe Dr. Sagan was correct when he stated, “We are all made from star-stuff”. 


%d bloggers like this: