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Kepler Spacecraft begins its Planet Hunt

NASA's Kepler spacecraft. Credit: NASA photo

CAPE CARNAVERAL (BNS): NASA's Kepler spacecraft which was launched on March 6 has begun its search for other Earth-like worlds. This mission will spend next three-and-a-half years staring at more than 100,000 stars for telltale signs of planets.

Kepler is a NASA Discovery mission has the unique ability to find planets as small as Earth that orbit sun-like stars at distances where temperatures are right for possible lakes and oceans.

"Now the fun begins, we are all really excited to start sorting through the data and discovering the planets." said William Borucki, Kepler science principal investigator at NASA's Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif, according to a science press release.

From last two months the spacecraft is regularly calibrated and checked by the scientist and engineers. Data have been collected to characterize the imaging performance as well as the noise level in the measurement electronics. Scientist have constructed list of target regarding planet search on the spacecraft.

According to the release "If Kepler got into a staring contest, it would win,The spacecraft is ready to stare intently at the same stars for several years so that it can precisely measure the slightest changes in their brightness caused by planets." said James Fanson, Kepler project manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
Kepler will hunt for planets by looking for periodic dips in the brightness of stars -- events that occur when orbiting planets cross in front of their stars and partially block the light.

The mission's first finds are expected to be large, gas planets situated close to their stars. Such discoveries could be announced as early as next year.

NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif., is responsible for the ground system development, mission operations and science data analysis. JPL manages the Kepler mission development. Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp. of Boulder, Colo., is responsible for developing the Kepler flight system and supporting mission operations.

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