Is Anyone Out There?

Artist's concept of mini planetary system. Credit: NASA

Artist's concept of mini planetary system found by Kepler. Credit: NASA
Artist's concept of mini planetary system. Credit: NASA

NASA’s planet-hunting Kepler space telescope has been given more time to look for life-supporting planets outside our own solar system. The project, which has found more than 2,000 planets since it was launched in 2009, recently edged out several popular space programs to secure an extension in funding. Geoff Marcy is one of the world’s most prolific planet hunters. He’s an astronomer at UC Berkeley and works on the Kepler project. KQED’s Andrea Kissack asked him for an update and his thoughts on the odds that the project may help find life somewhere else in the universe.

I met with Marcy in his office in the astronomy building on the south side of UC Berkeley. If anyone is going to find alien life, it will be Marcy. He has spotted more extra solar planets than most astronomers and he now has taken on yet another project as the new chair of the SETI program at UC Berkeley. Marcy sees his work with Kepler, and the ground based radio receivers of SETI, dovetailing nicely. As the Kepler project continues to find earth like planets, the next step, he says, will be to see if there are intelligent civilizations out there. The way to do that, Marcy says, is to use Kepler to narrow down the choices and then use SETI to point radio receivers at those specific planets, rather than just listening to broad swaths of the sky.

More on the search for exoplanets