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Kepler Space Telescope logging major finds on four-year mission

(NASA Ames/JPL-Caltech/T Pyle Photo)

After nearly four years, the Kepler Space Telescope has competed a major portion of its mission: discovering exoplanet candidates around stars.

The mission has added many new objects to the last and final mission catalog.

Kepler was launched by NASA back on March 7, 2009 in an Earth-trailing, heliocentric orbit. The spacecraft was developed by Ball Aerospace & Technologies.

The large three-foot primary mirror is large enough for Kepler’s cameras to capture images of distant stars in search of any elusive exoplanets that may be nearby.

The main sensor on Kepler searches the light curves of these stars using a sophisticated photometer. The device monitors even the slightest change in the light of the stars and can detect the presence of any smaller body that may come in front of the sensor and reduce the light.

Many exoplanets are found while transiting a star.

The most important exoplanets to scientists are those that are discovered in a region around stars, known as the habitable zone. These areas may sustain life — or at least be capable of it — similar to what we know on Earth.

To date, Kepler has found the following:

  • More than 4,000 planet candidates, of which 2,335 are thought to be real exoplanets
  • Fifty Earth-sized habitable zone planetary candidates, 30 of which have been verified

You can listen to my exclusive interview with Dr. William Borucki, the principal investigator on the Kepler Space Telescope, here.

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