On August 31, 2004, astronomers announced the discovery of a new class of extrasolar planets — planets beyond our solar system — far smaller than any previously detected. As director of NASA’s Astronomy and Physics Division, and in charge of the Terrestrial Planet Finder (TPF) mission, Anne Kinney took special interest in this landmark discovery of Neptune-size planets. Within the next decade, TPF will commence its search for earthlike planets floating in deep space. The discovery of Neptune-size planets provides hope to those involved in TPF’s mission that earthlike planets — and life — exists beyond our solar system.
According to Kinney, “It is one of the biggest questions we face: Are there other planets out there like our own — and do they host life? The current result is important because all the early planet discoveries were of massive planets — Jupiter mass, very close in — so not earthlike and also not solar-system like.
“Our goal is to build a terrestrial-planet finding telescope by 2014 — to detect earthlike planets and to look for signatures of life. This is at the edge of our capability, but I believe [it is] doable.”
The press conference announcing the Neptune-size exoplanets’ discovery featured three lead astronomers of exoplanet searches: Paul Butler (far left) from the Carnegie Institute of Washington; Geoff Marcy (left) of University of California, Berkeley; and Barbara MacArthur (right) of the University of Texas, Austin. James Garvin (far right) is the Project Scientist for NASA’s Earth System Science Pathfinder mission.
Anne Kinney led the press conference and is seated in the middle.
Here is a short clip from the August 31, 2004, press conference.