The eXoplanetary Research Institute (XRI)


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Welcome to XRI

The eXoplanetary Research Institute (XRI)

XRI will soon be accepting applications for our rover driver program.

The eXoplanetary Research Institute (XRI) was founded in 1998 with a mission to explore terrestrial bodies and seek out life beyond the confines of our own solar system. Thanks to the generous anonymous contributions from a private benefactor, XRI has since become a world leader in communications and propulsion technologies and now stands at the threshold of one of the greatest scientific expeditions of all time.

When we launched our flagship probe Interstellar I more than a decade ago, we were bound for Epsilon Eridani b, which was the closest known extrasolar planet at the time. Today, based on data we've gathered with our approaching probe, we know that the Epsilon Eridani solar system contains at least 6 planets. One of these planets lies in the "Goldilocks zone"—the region in which the planet's temperature will likely be just above the freezing point of water, making it a good candidate for supporting Earth-like life.

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The Extrasolar Project

Relative scale of Extrasolar hardware.

When NASA began its unmanned mission to Mars in 2003, they wisely chose to send two rovers—Spirit and Opportunity—so that if one broke down, the mission could still be successful. Here at the eXoplanetary Research Institute (XRI) we call that "redundancy lite." For the Extrasolar project, we've packed so many rovers aboard Interstellar I, that there's no way we could control them all without bringing in assistance from volunteers like you.

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An Introduction to Exobiology

An artist's concept of what extraterrestrial life might look like.

By Jane Van Susteren, XRI Lead Exobiologist

Exploring a different biosphere means reevaluating many of the things biology takes for granted. Confining our searches to relatively Earth-similar planets means that potential organisms will very likely have some similarities—but if there is life, we expect it to be totally unlike what we are familiar with.

A series of accidents and quirks of geology, climate, and geography made Earth's organisms what they are today. Without the high carbon dioxide levels during the Devonian (probably caused by volcanoes), land plants would not have become gloriously diverse. The Permian-Triassic extinction event (and probable asteroid impact) allowed seed-bearing plants and mammals to proliferate and the first endosymbiotic events seem to be pure fortuitous accidents.

We are assuming that there will be some constants in life on a foreign planet. First and foremost, life will need to obtain and consume some sort of energy. Whether the source of the energy is heat from the planet's core, chemical reactions from the rocks, nutrients gained from consuming other life forms, or good old-fashioned photosynthesis, organisms must somehow harvest energy to grow and reproduce. We expect amazing discoveries in how life finds a way—life forms could even potentially have tiny windmills to harvest energy from the air itself!

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In the News: Kepler

NASA's Kepler satellite

When we launched Interstellar I from earth more than a decade ago, there were very few confirmed planets outside of our solar system. Today, scientists have confirmed the existence of more than 500 exoplanets and thanks to NASA's Kepler satellite, we're finding new candidates almost every day.

Even though it can only survey a small portion of the sky, Kepler's findings are helping to answer some of civilization's oldest questions: Are we alone in the universe?. Based on the data that scientists have observed so far, they estimate that there are 50 million planets in our galaxy with the potential for sustaining life. With numbers like that, it seems that extraterrestrial life somewhere in the universe is inevitable.