Kepler space telescope jettisons dust cover, just about ready to begin mission

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Kepler-teleskopet ble skutt ut i verdensrommet fra Cape Canaveral-basen i Florida den 6. mars2009.


"The cover released and flew away exactly as we designed it to do," said Kepler Project Manager James Fanson of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. "This is a critical step toward answering a question that has come down to us across 100 generations of human history -- are there other planets like Earth, or are we alone in the galaxy?"

The telescope's oval-shaped dust cover, measuring 1.7 meters by 1.3 meters, protected the photometer from contamination before and after launch. The dust cover also blocked stray light from entering the telescope during launch -- light that could have damaged its sensitive detectors. In addition, the cover was important for calibrating the photometer. Images taken in the dark helped characterize noise coming from the instrument's electronics, and this noise will later be removed from the actual science data.

"Now the photometer can see the stars and will soon start the task of detecting the planets," said Kepler's Science Principal Investigator William Borucki at NASA's Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif. "We have thoroughly measured the background noise so that our photometer can detect minute changes in a star's brightness caused by planets."


With the cover off, starlight is entering the photometer and being imaged onto its focal plane. Engineers will continue calibrating the instrument using images of stars for another several weeks, after which science observations will begin.

We still have a long way to go before Kepler starts actually finding planets around other stars since it won't announce the discovery of another planet until it has seen three transits in front of its star (just to make sure that it wasn't a glitch or something else). That means that we're probably going to start out once again with hot Jupiters in front of red dwarf stars, because they have extremely short orbits and are quite large compared to the stars they orbit. After that will probably be other planets announced around red dwarf stars that are a bit farther out (and there could be earthlike planets there), and then about two to three years later finally we'll start to see some more typical earthlike planets around stars like our own Sun.


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