This Day in Tech History

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40 Billion Possibilities

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March 7, 2009: Kepler Space Observatory Launched

NASA launches Kepler space observatory to discover Earth-like planets orbiting other stars. Designed to survey a portion of our region of the Milky Way and estimate how many of the billions of stars in our galaxy have such planets.

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Initially the planned mission lifetime was 3.5 years but has been extended to 2016. As of 2012 Kepler has found 961 confirmed exoplanets. In November 2013 astronomers reported that there could be as many as 40 billion earth-sized planets orbiting habitable zones of sun like stars within the Milky Way Galaxy. That’s a lot of possibilities.

A size comparison of the exoplanets Kepler-20e and Kepler-20f with Venus and Earth

A size comparison of the exoplanets Kepler-20e and Kepler-20f with Venus and Earth

List of Exoplanets discovered using Kepler: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_planets_discovered_using_the_Kepler_spacecraft

Detail of Kepler's image of the investigated area showing open star cluster NGC 6791 & TrES-2. Celestial north is towards the lower left corner.

Detail of Kepler’s image of the investigated area showing open star cluster NGC 6791 & TrES-2. Celestial north is towards the lower left corner.

Detail of Kepler's image of the investigated area. The location of TrES-2b within this image is shown. Celestial north is towards the lower left corner.

Detail of Kepler’s image of the investigated area. The location of TrES-2b within this image is shown. Celestial north is towards the lower left corner.

The 2291 pound spacecraft has a camera made up of 42 CCD’s (a device able to convert incoming photons to electrical charge to allow light detection). That is 2200×1024 pixels making it the largest camera launched into space at the time.

Kepler's image sensor array. The array is curved to account for Petzval field curvature

Kepler’s image sensor array. The array is curved to account for Petzval field curvature

The interior of the Kepler observatory

The interior of the Kepler observatory

For more information, Kepler’s Home Page: http://kepler.nasa.gov/

Artist's concept of Kepler-22b.

Artist’s concept of Kepler-22b.

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