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NASA Facts Kepler NASA's First Mission Capable of Finding Earth-Size and Smaller Planets 2009

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National Aeronautics and Space Administration Kepler: NASA’s First Mission Capable of Finding Earth-Size Planets Kepler is the first space mission to search for Earthsize planets in the habitable zone of other stars in our neighborhood of the galaxy. Kepler is a specialpurpose spacecraft that precisely measures the light variations from thousands of distant stars, looking for sequences of planetary transits. When a planet passes in front of its parent star, as seen from our solar system, it blo
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   Kepler   : NASA’s First Mission Capable ofFinding Earth-Size Planets Kepler  is the rst space mission to search or Earth-size planets in the habitable zone o other stars inour neighborhood o the galaxy. Kepler  is a special-purpose spacecrat that precisely measures the lightvariations rom thousands o distant stars, lookingor sequences o planetary transits. When a planetpasses in ront o its parent star, as seen rom oursolar system, it blocks a small raction o the lightrom that star—this is known as a transit. Searchingor transits o distant “Earths” is like looking orthe drop in brightness when a gnat ies across aheadlight seen rom many miles away. Measuringrepeated transits, with a regular period, durationand change in brightness, enables the detection o planets and their orbits. Kepler  seeks planets the sizeo Earth in the habitable zone around other starssimilar to our Sun.Te centuries-old quest or other worlds like ourEarth has been rejuvenated in the past decade by the intense excitement andpopular interest surroundingthe discovery o more than400 giant planets orbitingstars beyond our solarsystem. With the exceptiono the pulsar planets, mosto the extrasolar planetsdetected to date are gasgiants like Jupiter. Techallenge is to nd Earth-like planets, which are 30-600 times less massive than Jupiter. Kepler  is specically designed to search orEarths in the habitablezone o solar-like stars outto distances o about threethousand light years. Expected Results Kepler  is monitoring over100,000 stars similar to ourSun or brightness changesproduced by planetary transits. At the beginningo the mission, planets o all sizes orbiting very closeto their stars will be ound. Ater three years, the Kepler   scientists will be able todiscover planets with orbitso one year, that is, those inthe habitable zone o starslike the Sun. I Earth-sizeplanets in the habitable zone       N      A      S      A       f     a     c      t     s National Aeronautics and Space Administration    N   A   S   A   P   h  o   t  o FS-2009-12-01-ARC1209-2000 NASA’s Kepler Mission launches, March 6, 2009.         b     r       i     g       h      t     n     e     s     s planetstarlight curvetime are common, then lie may be ubiquitous in our galaxy. On theother hand, i no terrestrial planets are ound, then “Earths” may be rare.Tree or more transits o a given star—all with a consistentperiod, brightness change and duration—provide a rigorousmethod o detection and conrmation. Te data reveal theplanet’s:Size rom the brightness change and size o the star; ã Orbital period rom the time between transits; ã Orbital size rom the mass o the star, the period, and ã using Kepler’s third law;emperature rom the planet’s orbit and the temperature ã o the star.From these data, scientists can calculate the raction o stars thathave planets, and the distributions o planetary sizes and orbitsor many diferent types o stars.Te results will tell us how oten planets occur in the habitablezone o other stars. I common, then hundreds o Earth-sizeplanets in the habitable zone and thousands outside the habitablezone will be detected. The Spacecraft Te Kepler  spacecrat contains a single instrument called aphotometer, that is, a light meter, which can simultaneously measure the brightness variations o over 100,000 stars with aprecision o about 20 parts per million (ppm). Tis precisionallows detection o Earth-like transits, which cause a change inbrightness o 84 ppm o solar-like stars. Te transits last or aew hours to about hal o a day. Te photometer is so sensitivethat planets as small as Mars can be detected when they occurin short-period orbits, like those o many o the giant planetsalready discovered. So as not to miss any transits, Kepler  is staringat the same star eld in the Cygnus-Lyra region or the entiremission. With an aperture o nearly one meter in diameter, Kepler  is thelargest Schmidt-type telescope ever launched. Schmidt opticshave an unusually large eld o view. Te amount o sky viewedis equivalent to an open hand held at arm’s length. Te detectorsused are charged coupled devices (CCDs) similar to those oundin consumer digital cameras. However, unlike an ordinary digitalcamera with a ew megapixels, Kepler’s  detector array has95 megapixels. Scientifc Community Involvement Tere are three ways or the broader scientic community toparticipate in the mission via NASA Research Opportunities.Scientists have been invited to propose to:Conduct complementary investigations that support the ã planetary detection science o  Kepler  ;Use ã Kepler  to observe other types o astrophysically interesting objects in its eld o view, such as variable stars,quasars and galaxies; and Analyze the unique ã Kepler  data archive or phenomenarelating to stellar activity.Te archive will contain many years o continuous observations o stars with unprecedented photometric precision. For example, suchdata are useul or estimating how oten stars like our Sun couldcause a climate change like that which brought on the mini-ice agein the 17th century. Education and Public Outreach Program Te EPO program leverages pre-existing collaborations, networks,and team experience to maximize the development and impact o EPO products and activities. It includes:Formal Programs– ã Hands On Universe  or grades 9-12; and Great Explorations in Math and Science  (GEMS) SpaceScience Sequence or grades 3-5 and 6-8. GEMS reachesthousands o teachers through over 80 GEMS sites/centersnationwide and worldwide;Inormal Programs–Exhibits and programs or science and ã technology museums and planetaria; andPublic Outreach Programs–Kits or amateur astronomers ã via the Night Sky Network  ; nationally broadcast sciencedocumentaries; and StarDate  radio programs. Mission Organization and Status Te Kepler Mission was competitively selected in December 2001 asNASA’s tenth Discovery mission. NASA Ames Research Center isresponsible or the data analysis and scientic interpretation o thedata, the development o the ground system and management o theoperations phase. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory managed thedevelopment phase. Ball Aerospace and echnologies Corporationdeveloped the photometer and spacecrat and supports missionoperations.  Kepler  Discovery Mission Science Principal Investigator Project Manager   William Borucki Roger HunterNASA Ames Research Center NASA Ames Research CenterKepler will fnd planets by looking or tiny dips in the brightness o a star caused by planetary transits. National Aeronautics and Space Administration  Ames Research Center Moffett Field, California 94035 - 1000 www.nasa.gov 2 Kepler  : Finding Earth-Size Planets NASA Facts Learn more at the Kepler  web site: http://kepler.nasa.gov
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