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Hunt For Earth-Like Planets Delayed

Soulskill posted more than 4 years ago | from the death-star-needs-new-brake-pads dept.

NASA 56

An anonymous reader sends along this excerpt from Nature News: "Kepler, NASA's mission to search for planets around other stars, will not be able to spot an Earth-sized planet until 2011, according to the mission's team. The delays are caused by noisy amplifiers in the telescope's electronics. ... The problem is caused by amplifiers that boost the signals from the charge-coupled devices that form the heart of the 0.95-metre telescope's 95-million-pixel photometer, which detects the light emitted from the distant stars. Three of the amplifiers are creating noise that compromises Kepler's view. The noise affects only a small portion of the data, Borucki says, but the team has to fix the software — it would be 'too cumbersome' to remove the bad data manually — so that it accounts for the noise automatically. He says that the fix should be in place by 2011." Mindful of Halloween's approach, NASA has put up a piece looking at some of the already-known exoplanets that wouldn't be very friendly to human life.

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head scratch... (4, Insightful)

girlintraining (1395911) | more than 4 years ago | (#29928699)

but the team has to fix the software

Why can't we just develop software on the ground to post-process the data?

Re:head scratch... (1)

2.7182 (819680) | more than 4 years ago | (#29928763)

God dammit! Why can't we just settle on the algae planet?

Re:head scratch... (3, Insightful)

Cedric Tsui (890887) | more than 4 years ago | (#29928905)

Dunno. Maybe there's too much data to transmit, so they do much of the data processing on the satellite.

Re:head scratch... (5, Informative)

cheesybagel (670288) | more than 4 years ago | (#29929067)

Yep, the issue is bandwidth. The downlink does not have enough capacity to send the daily produced photographs for ground processing, so the satellite does on-board image processing on the photographs and just sends the results back to Earth. Consider the SuperWASP [wikipedia.org] system generates 100 GB per night and you will get an idea of the amount of data being processed for this kind of application.

Re:head scratch... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29932263)

Incorrect.

Each target star has an aperture; subimage around that target of interest. Every exposure for each pixel in this aperture is coadded in 30 minute long cadence chunks or 1 minute short cadence chunks.

See

http://keplergo.arc.nasa.gov/ProposalPreparationApertures.shtml

and

http://www.ias.u-psud.fr/kepler/KASC-29-October/Morning/KASC_SOC_Pipeline_JMJ.pdf

I

Re:head scratch... (1)

beelsebob (529313) | more than 4 years ago | (#29929741)

Perhaps because introducing incorrect data to your data stream destroys some of your bandwidth. Each incorrect byte is a byte that isn't carrying useful information, whether it's post-processed to be almost-right or not.

Re:head scratch... (4, Informative)

bughunter (10093) | more than 4 years ago | (#29930527)

I used to design these kinds of cameras, and there are at least two potential reasons why this can't be done on the ground:

Firstly, and most likely, there's an essential step that needs to be done in the camera hardware. Perhaps something related to Correlated Double Sampling [ccd.com] or Pixel Binning [ccd.com] needs to be adjusted. In the first case, the signal and reset measurements need to be done as close together as possible to reduce 1/f noise, which can quickly dominate the noise side of the SNR expression, and it may be the timing of these measurements that is at fault. In the latter case, there would be a sqrt(N) penalty for measuring the charge on each pixel and then adding the N pixels together. Conversely, reading each pixel multiple times may be necessary to overcome an unexpected noise source - a sqrt(N) improvement in readout noise can be had by measuring the pixel N times and calculating the average of the measurements. All of these adjustments can only be made at the camera; there's no way to accomplish this after the data has been digitized and radioed to Earth.

2 - Bandwidth. There's just no bandwidth available to ship down the raw data so it can be processed on Earth. The spacecraft must send down reduced data and derivative results. Therefore, these corrections need to be made onboard.

These reasons aren't necessarily exclusive, either... both could be true.

Re:head scratch... (1)

Tablizer (95088) | more than 4 years ago | (#29931373)

Why can't we just develop software on the ground to post-process the data?

You mean they're sending the developers to the probe? Now that's outsourcing!
     

Re:head scratch... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29932187)

but the team has to fix the software

Why can't we just develop software on the ground to post-process the data?

It is the software on the ground that needs fixing.

http://www.ias.u-psud.fr/kepler/KASC-29-October/Morning/KASC_SOC_Pipeline_JMJ.pdf

Hunt? Delayed? (5, Funny)

Jeremiah Cornelius (137) | more than 4 years ago | (#29928735)

That's alright. I'll have another glass of this sherry, and warm me arse by the fire with the hounds.

By the time day is out, we'll have roused to the horns and have the skin of these planets stretched for the drying, before the groom is done brushing nettles from the tail of the ol' horse.

Now, where'd I lay that toothpick? I could use another one of those delightful sandwiches!

Re:Hunt? Delayed? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29929769)

They need to figure out why the second stage fish tailed after separation.

Everybody knows you never go full retard! Simple NASA!

Re:Hunt? Delayed? (1)

Jeremiah Cornelius (137) | more than 4 years ago | (#29929927)

Fishing? Different sport all together, man!

Monster Cables & Tube Amplifiers (0)

PolygamousRanchKid (1290638) | more than 4 years ago | (#29928767)

That ought to fix the problem.

At least, that's what they claim.

Noise? (1)

LitelySalted (1348425) | more than 4 years ago | (#29928855)

I was thinking more along the lines of ear plugs...

Re:Monster Cables & Tube Amplifiers (1)

oldspewey (1303305) | more than 4 years ago | (#29928907)

They just need to find out which of the lab technicians has been running around cranking up all the knobs and saying "this one goes to eleven!"

Re:Monster Cables & Tube Amplifiers (0, Redundant)

Daimanta (1140543) | more than 4 years ago | (#29929081)

That or invert the polarity of the quantum-modulator. Then the only thing they will have to worry about is local tachyon-fields that are hard to nullify even with Sierpinski-singularities. But I'm sure they will find an elegant solution for that.

Re:Monster Cables & Tube Amplifiers (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29929233)

Yes, and maybe if everyone at NASA wore shirts with three wolves on them they'd get more done.

That's OK (1)

tverbeek (457094) | more than 4 years ago | (#29928895)

I think we can wait another couple years.

What's wrong with this planet? (2)

PocariSweat1991 (1651929) | more than 4 years ago | (#29928921)

I'm from Tahiti so I might have missed something in the translation, but what is wrong with this planet?

Re:What's wrong with this planet? (4, Funny)

fiannaFailMan (702447) | more than 4 years ago | (#29928985)

I'm from Tahiti so I might have missed something in the translation, but what is wrong with this planet?

You're absolutely right. You have missed something. We already know where this planet is and hence don't have to go looking for it.

Re:What's wrong with this planet? (4, Funny)

bakawolf (1362361) | more than 4 years ago | (#29929259)

It seems to have a nasty infestation of Homo Sapiens [wikipedia.org] . Known for causing all sorts of problems, and terribly hard to get rid of.

Re:What's wrong with this planet? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29929323)

I'm from Tahiti so I might have missed something in the translation, but what is wrong with this planet?

People like Hitler [wikipedia.org] and Chris Boswell [wordpress.com] are the problem with this planet.

Re:What's wrong with this planet? (3, Insightful)

Monkeedude1212 (1560403) | more than 4 years ago | (#29929593)

Nothing. But just because Canada is okay doesn't mean I don't want to visit Europe.

The Earth is a DEATH TRAP! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29934325)

The Earth is a DEATH TRAP!

At some point, human life on Earth WILL be wiped out. To continue the species, we need to get off this rock. Further, our solar system is a death trap.

Eventually, a gamma ray producing star will focus on our entire solar system gamma rays that will destroy all life. If we get lucky, that won't happen and just our Sun will turn into a Red Giant and expand into Mars' orbit. The Earth will be burned up.

We need to get as far from here as possible. Like any trip, the journey begins with the first step.

Being from Tahiti, I would have thought you'd be planning ahead. The whole rising oceans thing should be important to lots of Tahitians about now.

Your Satellite Is The New World Order (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29928925)

"according to the mission's team. "

owned by Space Nazis [youtube.com] .

Go Energia !

Yours In Petrograd,
Kilgore Trout

Re:Your Satellite Is The New World Order (1)

Tablizer (95088) | more than 4 years ago | (#29931359)

main character looks like Bush in drag.

Thats a long time for a bug fix (1)

dragonxtc (1344101) | more than 4 years ago | (#29928955)

I wish my project time lines gave me 3 years to fix a bug!

Re:Thats a long time for a bug fix (1)

oldspewey (1303305) | more than 4 years ago | (#29929103)

You're just working for the wrong organization [apple.com]

Home planet... (3, Funny)

stakovahflow (1660677) | more than 4 years ago | (#29928969)

Whew! I almost thought my home planet would soon be discovered! Silly humans...

Higgs (2, Funny)

mooingyak (720677) | more than 4 years ago | (#29928989)

Sounds like the project might have inadvertently discovered the higgs boson at some point in the future.

Damn! (1)

Locke2005 (849178) | more than 4 years ago | (#29928999)

That pushes back the date I'll actually be able to visit those planets by at least two years!

What? You say we weren't planning on doing anything useful with the data anyway? Well in that case... who cares?!?

Re:Damn! (2, Funny)

belthize (990217) | more than 4 years ago | (#29929185)

That's not how project management works. The visit date is still the same, you just have two less years to implement.

Oh we'll need to cut your implementation budget by 20% as well to account for some unexpected metal price fluctuations and fully fund the HR and Fiscal department re-baselining.

Re:Damn! (1)

Grishnakh (216268) | more than 4 years ago | (#29930279)

We're still waiting on someone to develop FTL drive so we can visit these planets and exploit and plunder them without having to spend several lifetimes getting there. In the meantime, this search will help us know where to go when we develop the FTL drive.

Re:Damn! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29931399)

We're still waiting on someone to develop FTL drive

What are you talking about? Dr. Alcubierre achieved FTL when he finished up his work at the Waxahachie supercollider back in '98. In fact, I'm starting an experimental run right now that should get us up to warp 3 if I can stabilize this Higgs field generator...

Re:Damn! (1)

Tablizer (95088) | more than 4 years ago | (#29931301)

That pushes back the date I'll actually be able to visit those planets by at least two years!

Dude, give up on your 3-breasted green babe fantasy already.
     

Re:Damn! (1)

Kjella (173770) | more than 4 years ago | (#29932007)

I wonder how humanity would be if it was full of people like you, I'm thinking they'd still be in the same cave in the same valley using stone age technology, because there's nothing obviously useful about ever going outside that box and start to melt bronze to get to the bronze age. We want to know because we want to know, whether it's astrophysics or social sciences (try putting a ROI on most of that stuff) or whatever. Of course this we can guess at but that's only because you can guess at what's just a little bit out. When I was a kid they didn't know of a single exoplanet, they just had some models of it. In another 50-100 years we might be looking at earth size planets, moon-sized satellites, spectral atmospheric analysis trying to figure out if there are habitable planets and sooner or later they might even get going.

Why does everything have to have a ROI right now? A lot of people wouldn't see money their children inherit as "wasted" even if they didn't get to spend it themselves, why would you think so with knowledge? If we've started them off on research they will complete that's as good an investment in the future as any. They're still working on fusion for power. They're still working on nanotechnology. Things take decades to go from idea to reality and that's actually fast - in the older days it could take centuries. There's plenty denial going around in religious circles because science has always been a thorn in their side suggesting that earth isn't the center of the universe nor that we're all that unique. Copycat earths would be another indicator of that, and I think that'd do humanity far more good in the long run. Of course unless they said "God is just playing tricks on us and the dinosaur bones is a test or not real or from a young earth or whatever.", but those people are pretty much lost anyway.

Re:Damn! (1)

Locke2005 (849178) | more than 4 years ago | (#29932591)

My point was, if we can't even begin to travel to or explore exoplanets for another 50 years, what does it matter if the search for them is delayed for a few years now? We will still have found plenty of them before we have the technology to do anything about them! I didn't say exploration wasn't a worthwhile goal in and of itself, I said knowing where those planets are right now doesn't do us a bit of good. It's like my philosophy of going to the doctor; if what he tells me doesn't change anything about the way I live my life, then what is the point of going in the first place?

Re:Damn! (1)

smoker2 (750216) | more than 4 years ago | (#29934529)

You are looking at the problem from entirely the wrong perspective. The point is not to discover where they are for travelling purposes, but if they are there at all. Do you think it is of no consequence whether the earth is unique in the universe ? Until astronomy proved that other planets existed and that they revolved around the sun, most people thought the sun went around the earth. Should we just have accepted that view ? Would satellites even exist providing TV communications etc if we didn't understand gravity and orbits ?
Maybe you can just sit back and accept the existence of life as a given, but to understand more about it we must try to establish why it exists and where else it may be found. So far we have 1 example, and statistically that is insignificant given the size of the universe. The telescope wasn't seen as very useful when it was first invented, in fact it was sold as a benefit to land based traders, because they could see ships heading for port and thereby set their prices accordingly. A far cry from hubble, and yet under your world view it was a waste of time. What is true on a macroscopic scale is sometimes relevant on a microscopic scale. Energy distribution, radiation, particle physics, anti-matter, fusion, gravity, magnetism, the list is endless. It's all part of nature, and we are part of nature so ignoring the wider picture would be stupid.

As for your doctor, if you choose to ignore him, then more fool you. But you can't complain later that you didn't know. We are seeking knowledge, you are choosing to ignore it. Are you religious ?

Re:Damn! (1)

smoker2 (750216) | more than 4 years ago | (#29934309)

You don't know what bronze is do you ? I know what you're trying to say but making stupid comments doesn't help. There was an obvious benefit to using bronze over say copper or tin individually - that is it is harder. It is hard to see an obvious benefit to finding exoplanets. That doesn't mean there isn't one, but you have to dig a bit deeper for the reason. And contrary to popular belief it isn't to have somewhere to go. The more we know about the universe, and in particular other planets, the more we can know about the earth, which I'm sure you'll agree is relevant. A sample size of one does not a good model make.

So in the meantime (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29929073)

Thety will just have to hunt for Pluto-like planets?

riskier to fix on the ground? (1)

BigHungryJoe (737554) | more than 4 years ago | (#29929171)

But in the end, he says, the team thought it was riskier to pry apart the telescope's electronic guts than to deal with the problem after launch.

Can someone explain to me why this was the case?

Re:riskier to fix on the ground? (3, Insightful)

ObsessiveMathsFreak (773371) | more than 4 years ago | (#29929409)

Basically, while the telecope was still on the ground, any delays could mean invoking the budget cutting ire of funding agencies, and the lauch could have been scrapped. Now that it's up there, they don't really have to worry about that sort of thing anymore.

Re:riskier to fix on the ground? (1)

Tablizer (95088) | more than 4 years ago | (#29931291)

while the telecope was still on the ground, any delays could mean invoking the budget cutting ire of funding agencies, and the lauch could have been scrapped. Now that it's up there, they don't really have to worry about that sort of thing anymore.

GM is moving to Mars to avoid paying back the gov't loans. That's why the Pontiac Aztek looks so ugly (by human standards).
   

The assumption being, of course... (1)

ibsteve2u (1184603) | more than 4 years ago | (#29929179)

...that no planet's signature will approximate a noisy amplifier.

Urgency? (1)

gmuslera (3436) | more than 4 years ago | (#29929261)

2 years delay to analize that data... for?

Communicate? Will take a lot of years to do a "conversation" if there happens to be intelligent life there

Getting there? Still a lot to develop to be able to do such trip for human beings, just doing the technology to make us able to live for years or generations to get there is something potentially more important than finding a "good enough" planet out there. For machines the technology could be ready or close enough, but still, would be a version of the communicate option, once the ship its there.

Re:Urgency? (1)

BobMcD (601576) | more than 4 years ago | (#29929477)

Allow me to introduce you to TFA:

Borucki points out that the team was probably going to have to wait at least three years to find an extrasolar Earth orbiting in the habitable zone anyway. Astronomers typically wait for at least three transits before they confirm a planet's existence; for an Earth-sized planet orbiting at a distance similar to that between the Earth and the Sun, three transits would take three years.

So no real urgency, per se.

On the other hand, there is likely more we could do in the short term if we knew for certain that an Earth-like planet existed. We could shoot probes at it, point Hubbles at it, focus our efforts on detecting communication signals at it, and so on.

We'll just have to wait even longer now to see if the project pans out.

Re:Urgency? (1)

Grishnakh (216268) | more than 4 years ago | (#29930383)

On the other hand, there is likely more we could do in the short term if we knew for certain that an Earth-like planet existed. We could shoot probes at it, point Hubbles at it, focus our efforts on detecting communication signals at it, and so on.

While the latter two make sense, the first one is dubious at this point. We've only created two spacecraft that have even left the Solar System (V'ger 1 & 2), and they're nowhere near reaching another star system, and they've been traveling for 30+ years now. We still don't really know the issues involved in getting out of the solar system, and we don't really have a way of communicating that far (the radiothermal generators used for deep-space craft don't generate enough power after several decades to communicate over such a distance). If we can't even talk to our probes that have gone just beyond Pluto, how are we going to talk to a probe on a journey of 10 or more lightyears? I suppose we could use some really big RTGs for the journey and then use solar power once the probe gets to the next system, but this project would cost a fortune, would definitely require a bunch of parallel probes in case something goes wrong over such a long journey, and would take centuries just to get there and tell us what it sees. Long before that time, we'll probably have developed much more powerful nuclear propulsion systems which could power probes (or even manned missions) at much higher speeds, passing up these earlier probes and rendering the efforts in making them useless.

This is just stupid. (1)

NotBorg (829820) | more than 4 years ago | (#29929307)

Why are we wasting so much money trying to find planets we can't get to? We should be looking for the Stargate instead. Sure we might get targeted by the snake heads but you'd be amazed what you can do with a little C4, a P90, and the occasional nuke. Throw in a language nerd and a hot chick... This at least is doable.

Re:This is just stupid. (1)

maxume (22995) | more than 4 years ago | (#29930107)

Ah, but after defeating three increasingly powerful super-enemies, you still have to face the fact that a plodding remake of a bizarro 1970s remake of some show about a trip across the country is getting better ratings.

Re:This is just stupid. (1)

Boronx (228853) | more than 4 years ago | (#29932807)

We need to know which direction to look for the invasion fleet.

Is this the real answer or? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29929387)

Are we making a public excuse so that the images of Planet Nirubu or Planet X are not presented to the public?

missing the point (2, Insightful)

confused one (671304) | more than 4 years ago | (#29929499)

I thing there's a bit of misunderstanding here... Point of fact, it will take several years worth of data to identify a rocky planet in the habitable zone anyway. Why? Because your looking for a planet which you must identify as it makes several passes in front of it's star, a planet whose orbital period is going to be on the order of... a year. (depending on the star's output, of course). So, perhaps they're saying that the earliest they would be able to identify an Earth like planet would be 2011. Yes, I read the article but I think the author may have misunderstood. And let us not forget that this only affects some of the channels.

Re:missing the point (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29932687)

Yes, you are correct confused one ;)

Kepler will continue to search for planets as planned. The data will not stop being collected because of this issue. Instead, the fix will be implemented in the ground post processing of the data.

The fact that it will take the team until 2011 to have this noise removal software perfected is really not a big deal. The way that Kepler works is that it must get at least 3 transits of an earth like planet before you can adequately determine that what you are seeing is in fact, an earth like planet. Since 3 transits is roughly equal to 3 years (for earth like planets, such as ours) then they would likely not begin to even announce any findings until 2011 or 2012 at the earliest regardless. This is necessary to remove false positives from the data. The science team has always been very clear that the public needs to be very patient.

The way the article is written is misleading, and makes it seem as if the the photometer will be shut off while we scurry like ants on the ground and try to fix it. Even worse, it almost sounds like they are going up to fix it :o

Of course, this is not so. In fact, as long as they are actually able to find a good fix for it, the rest is just money and politics and has no bearing on the bottom like that the taxpayer will get out of the mission.

Nothing to get your earth like panties in a bunch.

Well, sure: take your time... (1)

WheelDweller (108946) | more than 4 years ago | (#29929515)

If you need:

"amplifiers that boost the signals from the charge-coupled devices that form the heart of the 0.95-metre telescope's 95-million-pixel photometer, which detects the light emitted from the distant stars."

We're not going to them any time soon, anyway. Still sublight, guys. If they're not less than a generation away, we can't even send an 'Adam and Eve" to hope for another planet in an emergency.

Thankfully, that won't be necessary.

Cylons (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29932269)

We should build Cylons first, then go exploring for habitable planets.

Kepler Mission is doing well; finding planets (1)

KeplerMission (1668493) | more than 4 years ago | (#29938841)

The Kepler Mission is actually doing very well, producing planetary discoveries that will be announced early next year, and expects to meet all its science goals. Data from the low level noise in a few of the 84 channels will be corrected prior to the time that an Earth twin could be found. William Borucki, Kepler Science Principal Investigator
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