UC Berkeley’s Lawrence Hall of Science, along with many educational institutions, researchers, and astronomers, has earned special congressional recognition for its role as a partner for NASA’s Kepler mission. The tribute was read into the official Congressional Record by U.S. Rep. Anna G. Eshoo of California’s 18th District on November 2, 2018.
The Kepler Space Telescope launched in March 2009 with the goal of searching for planets orbiting distant stars. Kepler searched for these exoplanets by observing stars and measuring the brightness of the light they emit. Dips in that brightness indicate an object, potentially an exoplanet, blocking a portion of the light from reaching us as it orbits the star. To date, Kepler has discovered over 2,000 confirmed exoplanets, with thousands more candidates awaiting confirmation.
“I think Kepler was the most exciting mission of the last decade,” said Dr. Gibor Basri, UC Berkeley Professor Emeritus of Astronomy, a co-investigator and one of the mission’s original proponents. “It answered fundamental questions of astronomy: Are there other worlds out there, how many are there, and are they like ours?”
The Hall and the SETI Institute were recognized by Representative Eshoo as co-investigators for education and public outreach (EPO). The Hall worked with SETI and other educational institutions to disseminate information on the mission. Together they created activities, exhibits, and other programs to teach students, educators, and the general public about Kepler’s remarkable achievements.
“Without education and public outreach, we would miss a core part of the science,” said UC Berkeley astronomy professor Dr. Courtney Dressing, who worked on Kepler as a grad student. “This isn’t just about scientists in their offices, it’s about humanity as a whole trying to understand the universe. These efforts inspire children and adults to study science and spark their intellectual curiosity about life on other planets.”
Alan Gould headed those inspiring efforts at the Hall as co-investigator, in collaboration with Dr. Basri, SETI’s Edna DeVore, and other Kepler scientists. A series of interactive planetarium shows were developed, and an exploration of the satellite’s planetary detection methods was included in several of the Hall’s K–12 science curricula. Alien Earths, a traveling museum exhibition, was also created in collaboration with the Space Sciences Institute in Boulder, Colorado. The exhibit traveled the country, teaching visitors about the formation of stars and planets and explaining the methods Kepler used to detect them.
“Without a coordinated EPO effort, not nearly as many people would understand the significance of these discoveries,” Gould said. “The classroom activities we developed reached tens of thousands of students. And the exhibit reached thousands more here at the Hall and across the country.”
In the tribute read by Representative Eshoo, she stated that Kepler is a shining example of America at its best. When asked about this statement, Dr. Dressing went even further:
“My favorite part of Kepler was the opportunity it presented to work with scientists from around the world. It’s an important reminder that we are all in this together.”