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Countdown To NASA's Kepler Mission 27

Adam Korbitz writes "NASA's planet-hunting Kepler mission is set to launch late on the evening of March 6th. A few days ago, the space telescope arrived in Florida for final launch preparations. According to the NASA/JPL Planet Quest website: 'Kepler will hunt for planets using a specialized one-meter diameter telescope called a photometer to measure the small changes in brightness caused by the transits. Over a four-year period, Kepler will continuously view an amount of sky about equal to the size of a human hand held at arm's length or about equal in area to two "scoops" of the sky made with the Big Dipper constellation.' A map of the area Kepler will search is shown superimposed on a picture of the constellation Cygnus, The Swan. NASA has posted a countdown clock for Kepler, as well as animations of the spacecraft mission and the science objectives."
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Countdown To NASA's Kepler Mission

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  • by pines225 ( 1413303 ) * on Sunday January 11, 2009 @10:15AM (#26407075)
    The statistic about "an amount of sky about equal to the size of a human hand held at arm's length" didn't stir me one way or t'other. But the article then says that Hubble can view the amount of sky equal to a grain of sand held at arms length. Makes you realise just how good the resolution Hubble's resolution is - all those amazing pictures of galaxies and nebulae are details that would be covered by such a tiny angular field.
  • CCD Arrangment (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Neuropol ( 665537 ) * on Sunday January 11, 2009 @10:22AM (#26407101) Homepage
    How cool. They matched the CCD arrangment in order to macth the most effective pattern of target stars for corevage and efficientcy:

    from the article: "The squares show the FOV of each of the 21 CCD modules. Each is 5 sq deg. Note that the gaps between the CCD modules are aligned so that about half of the 15 stars in the FOV brighter than mv=6 fall in these gaps."
  • Just out of curiosity, aren't there better things to look for than planets transiting the stars they orbit? I mean, obviously, since we have already observed it (right?), then it does happen, but how common can that be? I mean, what are the chances that the plane of the elliptic of a given star system will be edge on towards us? Just curious...

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      180 degrees to choose from, say it has to be within .18 degrees from planer with the earth, and you get a 0.1% chance of a random star having the orbital plane of planets coplanar with us.

      Now multiply by the number of stars in the field of view (\infty), and you get an infinite number of stars will potentially show this effect.

    • by thasmudyan ( 460603 ) <> on Sunday January 11, 2009 @12:21PM (#26407617)

      The usual method for finding planets is looking for the "wobble" they cause as they displace their parent star through gravitational interaction while orbiting them. However, this is only suitable for really big planets.

      Now, the observation of the transition moment offers a chance to see earth-sized planets, and quite possibly some additional data about their atmospheric composition can be gathered through spectroscopy.

      This mission will give us some important data on the properties of the smaller extrasolar planets. The only problem is that by far not every system that has planets will have them cross directly in front of the star from our perspective. So we can't use that to have a thorough look at the really interesting systems close to our own, for example.

    • I mean, what are the chances that the plane of the elliptic of a given star system will be edge on towards us?

      From the article,

      Kepler must monitor many thousands of stars simultaneously, since the chance of any one planet being aligned along the line-of-sight is only about 1/2 of a percent.

      Since it can monitor thousands at a time, it is very likely that there are several likely suspects in its field of view at any one time.

    • by Shag ( 3737 )

      I mean, obviously, since we have already observed it (right?)

      Yep; in fact there was a thread last month [] about a guy where I work doing this - but with a terrestrial telescope.

  • MOST (Score:4, Informative)

    by XNormal ( 8617 ) on Sunday January 11, 2009 @01:52PM (#26408141) Homepage

    This concept was pioneered in the canadian MOST [](Microvariability and Oscillations of STars) mission. MOST is a suitcase-sized satellite build on a modest budget but still achieved some significant scientific results []. Kepler follows in its footsteps with a larger and more powerful implementation.

    The software architect for MOST is Henry Spencer []

    • by spaceyhackerlady ( 462530 ) on Sunday January 11, 2009 @04:08PM (#26409219)

      I attended a talk by Jaymie Matthews last night on MOST and some of the very cool things they've found out with it.

      He argued that historians 400 years from now will look back on our time as a time of great scientific progress, just as we look back on Galileo's time 400 years ago. In 30 years we have gone from a general relativity universe made of matter and energy to an accelerating universe made of mostly dark matter and dark energy. While we have our suspicions on dark matter, we don't have a clue (yet) on dark energy.

      We are studying the universe in unprecedented detail and learning new things about it, but we are finding new mysteries too. Almost makes me want to go back to school and be a part of it.


  • ...amount of sky ... about equal in area to two "scoops" of the sky made with the Big Dipper constellation.'

    I don't remember that metric in my Astronomy textbook. Didn't Kellogg's Raisin Bran invent that metric?

  • Okay, but what is that in real units of measurement, like Libraries of Congress?

    • Oh goodness me!

      This is three knotty ropes, which is the same as a quarter mule's kicked bucket, which is the same as a spilled beer's smell range, which is of course a tenth of the range of ten small children's screams which in turn are around half a busy intersection in the morning - which everyone knows is around a quarter of a Library of Congress.

      Really, did it need to be drawn out in that much detail?
    • by 4D6963 ( 933028 )
      That's 0.82 Libraries of Congress seen from the top of the Capitol. Or 0.0073 Libraries of Congress held at arm's length if you prefer.
      • FYI, the site in your sig is currently flagged by Firefox as a "reported attack site".
        • by 4D6963 ( 933028 )
          Damnit, it keeps getting hacked, no idea what's wrong with's hosting...
        • by 4D6963 ( 933028 )
          Probably my fault for using plain old FTP to upload.. I'm a noob with web stuff, hopefully changing the password and sticking to SFTP now will do the trick. Thanks for warning me btw :)
          • No problem. I just thought the software sounded interesting and went for a look. When I got the warning, I thought I'd been duped, till I googled it and found it was for real.

            Good luck sorting the site!

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