Space Tech of the Week: Kepler

What is it?: "A NASA space telescope designed to search for Earth-like planets orbiting other stars." It is NASA's first mission with this capability.

Kepler is a mission under NASA's Discovery Program of low-cost, focused science missions. The Kepler Spacecraft lifted off from Cape Canaveral, FL on March 6, 2009, at 10:49 PM Eastern Time.

"There is now clear evidence for substantial numbers of three types of exoplanets; gas giants, hot-super-Earths in short period orbits, and ice giants... The challenge now is to find terrestrial planets (i.e., those one half to twice the size of the Earth), especially those in the habitable zone of their stars where liquid water and possibly life might exist."

"The Kepler Mission, NASA Discovery mission #10, is specifically designed to survey our region of the Milky Way galaxy to discover hundreds of Earth-size and smaller planets in or near the habitable zone and determine how many of the billions of stars in our galaxy have such planets."

"The scientific objective of the Kepler Mission is to explore the structure and diversity of planetary systems. This is achieved by surveying a large sample of stars to:

  1. Determine the percentage of terrestrial and larger planets there are in or near the habitable zone of a wide variety of stars;
  2. Determine the distribution of sizes and shapes of the orbits of these planets;
  3. Estimate how many planets there are in multiple-star systems;
  4. Determine the variety of orbit sizes and planet reflectivities, sizes, masses and densities of short-period giant planets;
  5. Identify additional members of each discovered planetary system using other techniques; and
  6. Determine the properties of those stars that harbor planetary systems. "

IMAGE: Kepler's Search Area

"Using a space photometer developed by NASA, it will observe the brightness of over 100,000 stars over 3.5 years to detect periodic transits of a star by its planets (the transit method of detecting planets). The mission is named in honor of German astronomer Johannes Kepler."

Official Website: http://kepler.nasa.gov/
Follow it on Twitter: http://twitter.com/nasakepler
Wikipedia Page: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kepler_mission

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