The X-Planets: Exploring the consequences of another Earth

When you look up at the night sky, do you ever think you’re seeing other solar systems? Do you ever wonder if any of the stars you see have planets like Earth in orbit around them?

We have discovered that seven planets and more than a hundred moons in our solar system are simply not enough like Earth to foster the development of life or to make colonization easy. We now realize that our search for an alien Earth must occur in solar systems around other stars.

As we approach a thousand confirmed exoplanets, we are becoming better at identifying Earth-like worlds. Sensitive measurements are required to detect the small wobble in a star caused by an orbiting planet or the drop in light caused by a planet crossing in front of a star.

Explore exoplanets at the Burke Baker PlanetariumNASA’s Kepler telescope, a planet-hunting mission, has uncovered 2,740 potential alien worlds since its 2009 launch. Of these, more than 350 are about the size of Earth. Observatories on Earth’s mountaintops are also identifying planets around other worlds and confirming the discoveries of Kepler.

Now we are working on detecting more than an exoplanet’s mass, diameter, and distance from its star by developing sensors that can identify gases in the planet’s atmosphere. This way, we can look for the oxygen and water vapor that support life on Earth.

It is just a matter of time before we find a world that is truly Earth’s twin. Studies suggest small planets like Earth are probably common in the universe — easily over 10 billion in our Milky Way Galaxy. Will the discovery of an alien Earth change the way we think about the universe and our place in it? Will we then realize that our planet is not unique, and that perhaps life on Earth is not unique either? Does this change how we think of our home planet and ourselves?

Visit the Planetarium’s new show, The X-Planets: Discovering Other Earths, to explore the first exoplanet discoveries and ponder these fundamental questions. For a full film schedule, click here.

It’s Family Space Day at the George on Saturday: Take your family to the Moon!

Challenger Learning Center Want to go to space? We can take you. Say hello to the Challenger Learning Center and Family Space Day.

The Challenger Learning Center opened at HMNS in 1988 after the tragic last flight of the space shuttle Challenger. A living, teaching memorial to the crew, the Challenger Center continues to teach children about space and space flight and perpetuate all the things the crew loved.

Originally designed for schools and groups, the Challenger takes up to 40 participants to “space” as they experience real astronaut training during their missions to the Moon or Mars. Groups perform real world problem-solving as they train to become astronauts aboard the Space Station Observer. Children and adults are inspired and experience what it feels like to be an astronaut.

At Family Space Days at the George Observatory Challenger Center, individual family members are able to enjoy this memorable experience, too. Special dates are reserved for families to come down to the George Observatory and feel the adventure of space flight. Space Day missions are run by trained NASA volunteers who add to the authenticity of the event.

And guess what? One of those special dates reserved for you and your family to travel into space is this Sat., May 19!

Families are placed on a team and work together toward accomplishing mission goals. Those goals could include assembling a communication satellite, operating on-board robots, monitoring the life support systems, acting as the doctor on-board or navigating through space in order to land gently on the surface of the Moon. But the sky’s the limit.

Each position is vital to the success of the overall mission. And, of course, every good astronaut training session involves having to solve some problems. One never knows when the Sun will erupt with deadly radiation headed toward the craft or when equipment might fail or there could be random asteroid damage.

“Houston, we have a problem” continues to be the familiar report when things go wrong. Family Space Days make the solutions available to everyone.

Interested? We thought you would be. Tickets for Family Space Day are available online until Friday at 5:00 p.m. for $10 per person.

DiscoveryDome

But there’s more! When families come to Family Space Day, we also have the innovative and immersive “Discovery Dome” — a portable planetarium! — showing We Choose Space. Tickets are available at the gift shop for $3 per person. Telescope tickets are also available for $5 per person at 5:00 p.m. for viewing when it gets dark.

What’s better than a day of discovery with the family? For more information or to purchase tickets, click here!