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Monday, December 5, 2011

Into the dark

Two notable press releases from NASA today. The first, which got most of the coverage in the commercial media, is that the Kepler mission has confirmed the presence of a large rocky world within the habitable zone of a star some 600 light-years away. In and of itself, this announcement is actually only mildly interesting. What is more interesting is that in the year Kepler has been operational, it has already discovered 2,326 planet candidates, of which 28 have already been confirmed. Even more interesting is the fact that all of these were discovered in this very small section of the sky:

Statistically, this may bode very well for habitable worlds around stars within 10 light-years of our sun.

The more interesting story out of NASA today is that the two Voyager probes are reaching the outer limits of our sun's influence, and will very soon enter interstellar space. This will be our first direct observation of the Interstellar Medium, and will afford a great deal of insight into the realities of travel to the nearest stars.

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