Kepler Set to Launch Tonight on Planet Finding Mission

Mar 06, 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

(PhysOrg.com) -- 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: Planetary Society hopes tiny satellite sets sail above Earth

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Evidence of a local hot bubble carved by a supernova

12 hours ago

I spent this past weekend backpacking in Rocky Mountain National Park, where although the snow-swept peaks and the dangerously close wildlife were staggering, the night sky stood in triumph. Without a fire, ...

Titan offers clues to atmospheres of hazy planets

Jul 28, 2014

When hazy planets pass across the face of their star, a curious thing happens. Astronomers are not able to see any changes in the range of light coming from the star and planet system.

The most precise measurement of an alien world's size

Jul 24, 2014

Thanks to NASA's Kepler and Spitzer Space Telescopes, scientists have made the most precise measurement ever of the radius of a planet outside our solar system. The size of the exoplanet, dubbed Kepler-93b, ...

Recommended for you

Exploring Mars in low Earth orbit

8 hours ago

In their quest to understand life's potential beyond Earth, astrobiologists study how organisms might survive in numerous environments, from the surface of Mars to the ice-covered oceans of Jupiter's moon, ...

Lifetime of gravity measurements heralds new beginning

10 hours ago

Although ESA's GOCE satellite is no more, all of the measurements it gathered during its life skirting the fringes our atmosphere, including the very last as it drifted slowly back to Earth, have been drawn ...

NASA's IceCube no longer on ice

14 hours ago

NASA's Science Mission Directorate (SMD) has chosen a team at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, to build its first Earth science-related CubeSat mission.

User comments : 3

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Modernmystic
1 / 5 (1) Mar 06, 2009
We're soon going to have a very good number to plug into the old Drake equation...
Titans
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!?
Ashibayai
not rated yet Mar 07, 2009
I wonder how big an area it's looking at and how close those stars are.