Kepler Set to Launch Tonight on Planet Finding Mission

March 6, 2009
Workers attach the two-part payload fairing over the Kepler spacecraft in preparation for launch. The cover, designed to jettison shortly after launch, protects the spacecraft from the friction and turbulence as it speeds through the atmosphere during launch. Image credit: NASA/Jack Pfaller

( -- The Kepler spacecraft and its Delta II rocket are "go" for a launch tonight that is expected to light up the sky along Florida's Space Coast at 10:49 p.m. EST as the rocket lifts off from Launch Complex 17-B at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. Weather predictions remain good, with a 95 percent chance of favorable conditions at launch time and a temperature of 64 degrees.

The Kepler spacecraft will watch a patch of space for 3.5 years or more for signs of Earth-sized planets moving around stars similar to the sun. The patch that Kepler will watch contains about 100,000 stars like the sun. Using special detectors similar to those used in digital cameras, Kepler will look for slight dimming in the stars as planets pass between the star and Kepler. The Kepler's place in space will allow it to watch the same stars constantly throughout its mission, something observatories like Hubble cannot do.

Here are some quick facts about the Kepler mission:

-- Kepler is the world's first mission with the ability to find true Earth analogs -- planets that orbit stars like our sun in the "habitable zone." The habitable zone is the region around a star where the temperature is just right for water -- an essential ingredient for life as we know it -- to pool on a planet's surface.

-- By the end of Kepler's three-and-one-half-year mission, it will give us a good idea of how common or rare other Earths are in our Milky Way galaxy. This will be an important step in answering the age-old question: Are we alone?

-- Kepler detects planets by looking for periodic dips in the brightness of stars. Some planets pass in front of their stars as seen from our point of view on Earth; when they do, they cause their stars to dim slightly, an event Kepler can see.

-- Kepler has the largest camera ever launched into space, a 95-megapixel array of charge-coupled devices, or CCDs, like those in everyday digital cameras.

-- Kepler's telescope is so powerful that, from its view up in space, it could detect one person in a small town turning off a porch light at night.

Provided by NASA

Explore further: It's not rocket science—we need a better way to get to space

Related Stories

Looking for deliberate radio signals from KIC 8462852

November 6, 2015

Could there be intelligent life in the star system KIC 8462852? A recent analysis of data collected by the Kepler space telescope has shown that this star, informally known as Tabby's Star, evidences aperiodic dimming of ...

Unlocking the mysteries of 'little starlets'

November 6, 2015

For the first time a powerful laser has been used to further our understanding of some of the most mysterious celestial objects just beyond the solar system - brown dwarfs.

Saturn's moon Dione

November 2, 2015

Thanks to the Cassini mission, a great deal has been learned about Saturn's system of moons (aka. the Cronian system) in the past decade. Thanks to the presence of an orbiter in the system, astronomers and space exploration ...

Recommended for you

Earth might have hairy dark matter

November 23, 2015

The solar system might be a lot hairier than we thought. A new study publishing this week in the Astrophysical Journal by Gary Prézeau of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, proposes the existence of ...

Scientists detect stellar streams around Magellanic Clouds

November 23, 2015

(—Astronomers from the University of Cambridge, U.K., have detected a number of narrow streams and diffuse debris clouds around two nearby irregular dwarf galaxies called the Magellanic Clouds. The research also ...

The hottest white dwarf in the Galaxy

November 25, 2015

Astronomers at the Universities of Tübingen and Potsdam have identified the hottest white dwarf ever discovered in our Galaxy. With a temperature of 250,000 degrees Celsius, this dying star at the outskirts of the Milky ...


Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

1 / 5 (1) Mar 06, 2009
We're soon going to have a very good number to plug into the old Drake equation...
not rated yet Mar 06, 2009
"-- Kepler's telescope is so powerful that, from its view up in space, it could detect one person in a small town turning off a porch light at night."

Maybe it's time to look for the flag on the moon!?
not rated yet Mar 07, 2009
I wonder how big an area it's looking at and how close those stars are.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.