Kepler: NASA's first mission capable of finding Earth-size and smaller planets around other stars
Image above: Artist's rendering of Kepler's target region in the Milky Way. Credit: Jon Lomberg The centuries-old quest for other worlds like our Earth has been rejuvenated by the intense excitement and popular interest surrounding the discovery of hundreds of planets orbiting other stars. 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 might exist on the surface of the planet.
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 the fraction of the hundreds of billions of stars in our galaxy that might have such planets.
Animation: Kepler-11 and Six Orbiting Planets
NASA's Kepler space telescope watches a star, Kepler-11. The star appears to blink in a pattern. It dims like clockwork as six "hands" of differing size orbit around it at different rates. Kepler-11 dims when its six orbiting planets cross between it and the Kepler spacecraft. Calculations show the planets are nested in circular orbits that lie in almost the same plane. Animation credit: NASA/Tim Pyle
For more information visit: http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/kepler/main/index.html
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