Engineering Innovation Podcast and Radio Series

Planet Hunters

PostedAugust 12, 2012

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Anchor Lede: While the Mars rover Curiosity searches for life on Mars, engineers are working on new spacecraft – small enough to fit in your backpack – to help find planets with life outside of our solar system.

Randy Atkins: Powerful imaging technologies have allowed us to spot planets orbiting distant stars. But they can only be seen from Earth for about a few hours a year.

Seamus Tuohy: You wouldn’t want to take a billion-dollar asset, like one of our grand observatories, and dedicate that to staring at a particular star.

Randy Atkins: So Seamus Tuohy, of Draper Lab, is working with MIT students on a spacecraft the size of a large shoebox that’s engineered to hold a steady stare, from Earth orbit, on stars likely to have planets. It can’t do a close examination, but can figure out when a planet will be visible from here.

Seamus Tuohy: And then the grand observatories can look at those planets at the opportune time to tell us more information about the planet.

Randy Atkins: Such as whether it may be hospitable to life. With the National Academy of Engineering, Randy Atkins, WTOP News.