Astronomers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory have recently concluded that the upcoming planet-finding mission, SIM PlanetQuest, would be sensitive enough to determine whether there is an Earth-like planet around the star 40 Eridani, a planet familiar to "Star Trek" fans as "Vulcan."
On Wednesday, Nov. 8, the planet Mercury will pass between Earth and the sun, covering part of the sun's disc and demonstrating the method that NASA's Kepler mission will use to find planets around other stars.
Where are other Earths? Answering that question is just the first step in NASA's long-range quest to look for life around stars beyond our solar system, according to Dr. Wes Traub. And to answer it, he says, we have to go into space.
This gravitational lens effect, predicted by Albert Einstein, will be used by NASA's SIM PlanetQuest space telescope to make the first real "sightings" of dark matter and other mysterious stuff in the galaxy.
How big is our galaxy? Where, exactly, are we located? Astronomers using a future, ultra-precise space telescope hope to answer these and other fundamental questions, laying the foundation for a real-life guide to the galaxy.