Kepler v. LHC — which is the better BIG science?

NASA’s Kepler Telescope asks a question: Can we identify Earth-like planets with atmospheres suitable for life?

The LHC (Large Hadron Collider) asks: Can we find remnants of a particle we think existed milliseconds after the creation of our universe that forced an imbalance of matter over anti-matter that is responsible for the universe existing as we know it.

Kepler cost $500M financec by one government (US-NASA); The LHC cost Billions split by multiple governments of the European Space Agency

In its first trial run, the LHC blew a fuse and was shut down for 6 months.

On August 6 of this year, 2 months after launch, NASA’s Kepler telescope proved itself to be the best scientific experiment since the Hubble Space Telescope was launched. It was conceived in the late 80s as a wild shot in the dark. Could we design an instrument so sensitive that it could detect the atmosphere of an Earth-sized exoplanet light years away. The head honchos at NASA immediately laughed it off as so impossible that it wasnt worthy of their ridicule. Within one month of being turned on, Kepler detected the atmosphere of a large exoplanet 1000 light years away. Will we see this planet in our lifetimes? Don’t hold your breath. But even that detection was never even imagined. Suddenly, the impossible became intriguing. Equally important was that it proved that not only was it the most light-sensitive instrument ever designed and built, but also that BIG science can be done on a relatively tiny budget (500M compared to the Bs spent on the LHC by multiple countries or the Space Station), and still produce high value results. All without putting anyone at risk.

Beyond all this, when one reads the background of the mission founder, this little experiment shows that the moral of never quitting when you know you’re right is as true today as it ever was.

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