Posted by: mrpeatie | March 5, 2009

Kepler Mission Set to Launch This Friday

Kepler Mission: A search for habitable planets.

Kepler Mission: A search for habitable planets.

This Friday, NASA will launch the $605 million Kepler mission. The main goal of the Kepler mission will be to scan approximately 100,000 stars looking for earth-like planets that orbit those stars that are located in a region where conditions could be favorable for life. Kepler will eventually settle into a heliocentric orbit that trails the Earth. This will keep it away from some of the light from the Sun and Moon and give it a better view of the 100,000 or so stars that were pre-selected because of their likelihood of having planets orbiting them. Kepler should be scanning for well over 3 years.

While we have discovered hundreds of planets outside our solar system already, most of them are big gas giants that probably wouldn’t be capable of sustaining life. From Earth, it is almost impossible to locate smaller earth-like planets and scientists are hoping Kepler will be able to do that because of its unique perch and its very specific optics that make it much better for this type of scanning then Hubble.

We can’t physically see any of these planets as stars are just too bright. Scientists actually look at the star directly and can tell when a planet’s orbit passes in front of the star. Another method is to measure the tiny wobble a planet’s gravity would have on a star.

You can follow Kepler on Twitter at Hopefully it will be as interesting as the Mars Phoenix mission tweets. You can view the main mission page here or check out other NASA missions that you can follow on Twitter.

Time lapse photo of the Delta II rocket carrying the Kepler spacecraft. From Astonomy Picture of the Day.



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