May 13, 2009 | 4
The Kepler spacecraft, launched by NASA in March to look for cousins of Earth—those planets around other stars that have the right conditions for life—is now on the job. The spacecraft is in position, trailing Earth in an orbit around the sun, and has completed a tune-up of its instruments.
"Now the fun begins," Kepler principal investigator Bill Borucki of the NASA Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif., said in a statement. "We are all really excited to start sorting through the data and discovering the planets."
Apr 8, 2009 | 5
Mission controllers last night sent a command to the Kepler spacecraft, NASA's unprecedented planet hunter launched last month, to eject its dust cover, effectively opening the telescope to the heavens.
Kepler, now some two million miles (three million kilometers) from Earth, will trail our planet in an orbit around the sun, observing a patch of sky for three-plus years in search of possible companion planets around a group of 100,000 stars. The spacecraft bears the largest space-borne camera ever, a photometer composed of 42 charge-coupled devices (CCDs), to monitor those stars for periodic dips in stellar brightness that occur as orbiting planets block a portion of the stars' light from Kepler's view.
Mar 5, 2009
Late tomorrow night, NASA's Kepler spacecraft will—conditions permitting—lift off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on its unprecedented mission to find habitable, Earth-like planets around distant stars.
The $600-million venture will train Kepler's photometer on a group of 100,000 stars several hundred to a few thousand light-years away and track them for more than three years. As the planets believed to reside there pass between their stars and Kepler's detector, the spacecraft will register a slight dip in stellar brightness. Over time these dips can be used to compile a profile of the planetary systems in Kepler's view, which, according to prevailing models of planetary formation, should include several Earth-like planets. Once astronomers know how common Earths are and where in the galaxy they can be found, follow-up missions will be able to refine their searches for extraterrestrial life.
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