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Other planets are there; we should have found more by now page 2


Date published: 11/9/2012

continued

As of today, however, SIM has been canceled; the smaller, less powerful Webb will launch by 2018 perhaps; and the TPF has been put on the back burner, maybe permanently. These disappointments have partly to do with NASA's ever-shrinking science budget, but SIM and TPF were also torpedoed by internal squabbling among scientists who disagreed about the best designs and about whether SIM was vital or unnecessary.

Yet even without the scopes they hoped for, astronomers are finding planets by the carload, using the Kepler space telescope, launched in 2009, and even small, ground-based instruments. Rather than wait for NASA to come through with expensive new toys, innovators like Harvard University's David Charbonneau; William J. Borucki of the NASA Ames Research Center in the Bay Area; and Michel Mayor at the Geneva Observatory in Switzerland kept pushing existing the science to its limits, and then pushing again.

Borucki, for example, lobbied for more than a decade to have NASA approve his Kepler mission, which is designed to look for the faint dip in light that occurs when an exoplanet passes in front of its star. It was a simpler and cheaper planet discovery method than SIM and the rest, but the agency kept finding fault with his proposal, so he answered their objections and re-proposed it five times. Since its launch, Kepler has found more than 2,000 probable planets.


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