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5/13/2009
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NASA: Kepler Scans Skies For Stars, Earth-Like Planets

The spacecraft will spend more than three years with its sights on more than 100,000 stars as it seeks planets that orbit sun-like stars in regions where conditions could support life.

The Kepler spacecraft has begun to search for Earthlike planets.

NASA said that its scientists have listed potential targets in the search for other planets like Earth and the data has been loaded onto Kepler.

"Now the fun begins," William Borucki, Kepler science principal investigator at NASA's Ames Research Center, said in a statement released Wednesday. "We are all really excited to start sorting through the data and discovering the planets."

Kepler launched from Cape Canaveral, Fla., on March 6. Scientists and engineers have spent the last two months calibrating Kepler. They have collected data to gauge its imaging performance and noise levels in electronics that take measurements. The spacecraft will spend more than three years with its sights on more than 100,000 stars as it seeks planets that orbit sun-like stars in regions where conditions could support life.

"If Kepler got into a staring contest, it would win," James Fanson, Kepler project manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., said in a statement released Wednesday. "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."

Kepler watches for signs of stars dimming, which happens when orbiting planets cross in front of their sun-like stars and obscure the light. It will scan areas with planets as small as Earth. Those planets are orbiting stars at distances that could create temperatures hospitable to lakes and oceans. NASA predicts that the first discoveries will be large gas planets close to the stars that they orbit.


InformationWeek will be highlighting innovative government IT organizations in an upcoming issue. Nominate your agency by submitting an essay on your most innovative IT initiative completed in the last year. Find out more, and nominate your organization -- deadline extended to May 15.

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