Drake Deming on the hunt for Earth-like planets

Drake Deming: We’re on the hunt for Earth-like planets around other stars.

That’s astronomer Drake Deming of the Goddard Space Flight Center. Deming is a lead scientist on NASA’s EPOXI mission.

Drake Deming: Well, EPOXI is a mission with a funny name, but it’s doing two different things. The first thing that it’s doing is that it’s going to go to Comet Hartley 2 and make images of the comet. Meanwhile, the second thing that it’s doing is to look at bright, nearby stars that have planets that transit them, that pass in front of them. And it’s searching those systems to find other planets that may transit – planets down to the size of Earth.

Using a detector similar to what’s typically on a digital camera, attached to a telescope, EPOXI will image the total brightness of stars along its path likely to have planets.

Drake Deming: And when a planet transits, or passes in front of a star, that total brightness drops by a small amount. We can make very precise measurements, and thereby detect those objects.

One star that might have an Earth-sized planet is the red dwarf star Gliese 436. This star is already known to have a Neptune-sized planet in orbit.

Drake Deming: But what will be new and exciting is that we know from other indications that there is another planet in this system, and everyone is trying to find it.

If found, Deming said the planet could be our nearest Earth-sized neighbor in space – about 33 light years away.

Our thanks to:
Drake Deming
Goddard Space Flight Center
Greenbelt, MD

November 7, 2008

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