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Kepler Marks Five Years In Space


Five years ago today, on March 6, 2009, NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope rocketed into the night skies above Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida to find planets around other stars, called exoplanets, in search of potentially habitable worlds.

Since then, Kepler has unveiled a whole new side of our galaxy — one that is teeming with planets. Because of Kepler we now know that most stars have planets, Earth-sized planets are common, and planets quite unlike those in our solar system exist.

By analyzing Kepler data, scientists have identified more than 3,600 candidates believed to be planets, and verified that 961 of those candidates actually are planets, many as small as Earth. Discoveries made using Kepler now account for more than half of all the known exoplanets.

“During the last five years, Kepler has produced results needed to take the next big step forward in humankind’s search for life in our galaxy— providing information needed for future missions that will ultimately determine the atmospheric composition of Earth-sized exoplanets to discover if they could be habitable,” said William Borucki, Kepler principal investigator at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif.

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New Method Of Finding Planets Scores Its First Discovery


Detecting alien worlds presents a significant challenge since they are small, faint, and close to their stars. The two most prolific techniques for finding exoplanets are radial velocity (looking for wobbling stars) and transits (looking for dimming stars). A team at Tel Aviv University and the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA) has just discovered an exoplanet using a new method that relies on Einstein’s special theory of relativity.

“We are looking for very subtle effects. We needed high quality measurements of stellar brightnesses, accurate to a few parts per million,” said team member David Latham of the CfA.

“This was only possible because of the exquisite data NASA is collecting with the Kepler spacecraft,” added lead author Simchon Faigler of Tel Aviv University, Israel.

The new method looks for three small effects that occur simultaneously as a planet orbits the star. Einstein’s “beaming” effect causes the star to brighten as it moves toward us, tugged by the planet, and dim as it moves away. The brightening results from photons “piling up” in energy, as well as light getting focused in the direction of the star’s motion due to relativistic effects.

Full Story: http://www.cfa.harvard.edu/news/2013/pr201312.html
Also: http://english.tau.ac.il/news/discovering_new_planet

NASA’s Kepler Mission Discovers Tiny Planet System

February 21, 2013 Leave a comment

NASA’s Kepler mission scientists have discovered a new planetary system that is home to the smallest planet yet found around a star similar to our sun.

The planets are located in a system called Kepler-37, about 210 light-years from Earth in the constellation Lyra. The smallest planet, Kepler-37b, is slightly larger than our moon, measuring about one-third the size of Earth. It is smaller than Mercury, which made its detection a challenge.

The moon-size planet and its two companion planets were found by scientists with NASA’s Kepler mission to find Earth-sized planets in or near the “habitable zone,” the region in a planetary system where liquid water might exist on the surface of an orbiting planet. However, while the star in Kepler-37 may be similar to our sun, the system appears quite unlike the solar system in which we live.

Full Story: http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/kepler/news/kepler-37b.html
Also: http://www.news.iastate.edu/news/2013/02/20/kepler37b

NASA’s Kepler Completes Prime Mission, Begins Extended Mission

November 19, 2012 Leave a comment

NASA is marking two milestones in the search for planets like Earth; the successful completion of the Kepler Space Telescope’s 3 1/2- year prime mission and the beginning of an extended mission that could last as long as four years.

Scientists have used Kepler data to identify more than 2,300 planet candidates and confirm more than 100 planets. Kepler is teaching us the galaxy is teeming with planetary systems and planets are prolific, and giving us hints that nature makes small planets efficiently.

So far, hundreds of Earth-size planet candidates have been found as well as candidates that orbit in the habitable zone, the region in a planetary system where liquid water might exist on the surface of a planet. None of the candidates is exactly like Earth. With the completion of the prime mission, Kepler now has collected enough data to begin finding true sun-Earth analogs – Earth-size planets with a one-year orbit around stars similar to the sun.

Full Story: http://www.nasa.gov/centers/ames/news/releases/2012/12-85AR.html

NASA’s Kepler Announces 11 Planetary Systems Hosting 26 Planets

January 26, 2012 Leave a comment

Image credit: NASA Ames/Dan Fabrycky, University of California, Santa Cruz

Image credit: NASA Ames/Dan Fabrycky, University of California, Santa Cruz

NASA’s Kepler mission has discovered 11 new planetary systems hosting 26 confirmed planets. These discoveries nearly double the number of verified Kepler planets and triple the number of stars known to have more than one planet that transits, or passes in front of, its host star. Such systems will help astronomers better understand how planets form.

The planets orbit close to their host stars and range in size from 1.5 times the radius of Earth to larger than Jupiter. Fifteen of them are between Earth and Neptune in size, and further observations will be required to determine which are rocky like Earth and which have thick gaseous atmospheres like Neptune. The planets orbit their host star once every six to 143 days. All are closer to their host star than Venus is to our sun.

“Prior to the Kepler mission, we knew of perhaps 500 exoplanets across the whole sky,” said Doug Hudgins, Kepler program scientist at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “Now, in just two years staring at a patch of sky not much bigger than your fist, Kepler has discovered more than 60 planets and more than 2,300 planet candidates. This tells us that our galaxy is positively loaded with planets of all sizes and orbits.”

Full Story: http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/kepler/news/new-multi-systems.html