After Hours

First Kepler Spacecraft images

Kepler ejects its dust cover

The Kepler spacecraft is in the initial stages of its mission to examine our region of the Milky Way in order to discover potentially habitable, Earth-like planets.

This artist's animation illustrates how the dust cover on NASA's Kepler telescope was ejected. Engineers sent a command up to the space telescope to pass an electrical current through a "burn wire" on April 7, 2009. The cover, an oval measuring 1.7 meters by 1.3 meters (67 inches by 52 inches), ejected as it was designed to do, uncovering the photometer, photometer, which is the largest camera ever flown in space. It has 42 charge-coupled devices (CCDs) that will "detect slight dips in starlight, which occur when planets passing in front of their stars partially block the light from Kepler's view."

View the animated video.

Image credit: NASA/Ames/JPL-Caltech

*All information and images courtesy of NASA. Follow links to full captions and multimedia pages on the official Kepler mission Web site.

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Selena has been at TechRepublic since 2002. She is currently a Senior Editor with a background in technical writing, editing, and research. She edits Data Center, Linux and Open Source, Apple in the Enterprise, The Enterprise Cloud, Web Designer, and...

18 comments
AndesEbla
AndesEbla

An Earth-mass planet was right now found in the GJ 581 Planetary System by the European Southern Observatory of La Silla in Chile using the spectrograph HARPS attached to the 3,6 m telescope. Great news is that such planet is located very near: only 20,5 light years in the Constellation of Libra. It is rocky and has only twice the mass of Earth (but honestly, it orbits its star in only 3,15 Earth days; a little mad, is not it?). Orbiting the system GK 581 have been found already other three planets. The find will be published in the review Astronomy & Astrophysics under the title: "The HARPS search for southern extra-solar planets. An Earth-mass planet in the GJ 581 planetary system". Thus, the Kepler Telescope by its side will not be just wishful thinking! EblaChile, AndesEbla, Raul Hernandez Olea.

skhemithat
skhemithat

Wow! Is this spaceship unmanned? I wanted to see what the ship looks like. I'm going to search on google for images. Sentisah 4/19/09

hforman
hforman

So, let me get this straight. The stars that are going to be looked at are 13,000 light years away. That means, if we had a spaceship that could do warp drive, it would take 13,000 years to get there. Considering what earth was like 13,000 years ago, even if we were to detect planets, how would we know if they are currently earth-like when we are getting photographs of how they looked 13,000 years ago? If it would take us 13,000 years traveling at the speed of light and we left tomorrow based on something we saw, that planet would be 26,000 years old by the time we got there, assuming that the planet is still there now and hasn't been obliterated in the past 13,000 years. I don't think a lot of scientists really understand this. I heard a scientist on television say that there was a supernova in 1994. Do they really mean, 30,000 years before 1994 or do they mean that they are guessing and we would actually see the supernover 30,000 years after 1994? It boggles the mind.

grosserr
grosserr

So we'll have search for Kepler's dust cover in the next twenty years looking for ...signs of microwave exposure? ;-)

reflecting on history
reflecting on history

HELP. I don't understand how a cluster of stars 8 billion years old can exist 13,000 light years from earth. Thought the red shift used for age determination was based on the distance light had to travel to arrive here. As a result we could determine age by the shift in the light. 13K light years does not seem to fit in with this model. What am I missing?

mmiller
mmiller

Thank you - these kinds of stories are my Friday treats.

mSn mSN
mSn mSN

I hope this project reveals something that we have all been looking for. I am sorry to hear that this will only last for 3 and 1/2years .

Jimbo Jones
Jimbo Jones

In the zoomed image there are a couple of stars with horizontal streaks through them: one at top left center, and one at bottom right. Streaks indicate objects moving relative to the background. So what are those? Binary stars? Cosmic debris?

wgriffin
wgriffin

This is SO cool! Whodda thunk we'd see something like this in TechRepublic!

AndesEbla
AndesEbla

[Astronomy.com] Well-known exoplanet researcher Michel Mayor today (April 21) announced the discovery of the lightest exoplanet found so far. The planet "e" in the famous system Gliese 581 is only about twice the mass of Earth. The team also refined the orbit of the planet Gliese 581 d, first discovered in 2007, placing it well within the habitable zone, where liquid water oceans could exist. These amazing discoveries are the outcome of more than 4 years of observations using the most successful low-mass-exoplanet hunter in the world, the High Accuracy Radial Velocity Planet Searcher (HARPS) spectrograph attached to the 3.6-meter European Southern Observatory (ESO) telescope at La Silla, Chile. EblaChile, AndesEbla, Raul Hernandez Olea

santeewelding
santeewelding

By three diehard geeks. They will ride the ship down at end of mission and burn up in the atmosphere with it.

Roger Bamforth
Roger Bamforth

1) We're not getting photos of these planets, all we we will see is a dip in the brightness of the star as the planet goes in front of it. From this they can work out the size of the planet and all sorts of stuff. 2) Yes we are seeing things as they were 13000 years ago. 3) When they say there was a supernova in 1994 they mean we actually saw it in 1994, it really happened thousands of years before.

AndesEbla
AndesEbla

If we think so, then Kepler, Newton, Einstein and the others (even Darwin) should have done better silencing their insight. Since the ancient civilizations started thinking about the constellations, and later on Universe-Isles, Humanity has been progressing in the Plan B for saving our Mother-Ship. It is million-year effort, indeed, but we still have 5 billion ahead to rig many Kepler telescopes in such attempt. Saying it straightly: before the Sun, converted in a Red-giant, engulfs our planet, it does not matter whether all the celestial objects seen by the Kepler do not exist anymore and maybe we are just roaming or fantasizing; the point is that thanks to that Humanity will find the way to impel the very Earth to escape somewhere by the route of the Kepler and Chandra telescopes. AndesEbla / EblaChile / Raul Hernandez Olea

bross
bross

Well, the sun is only 8 light-minutes away, and it's 5 billion years old. It's true that looking out in space equals looking back in time, but that's on the scale of the entire universe. A simple explanation might be that the sun formed some 3 billion years after the star cluster in a relatively close region of space. Hubble's Law need not be invoked here. Just a thought....

frylock
frylock

My guess is that those are optical artifacts. Read the part about the images being intentionally blurred to minimize blooming from bright objects (and bright objects are where I'm seeing those horizontal bars). Could be related to that blurring, or blooming. Regardless, I don't think they're real.

Chi-7
Chi-7

Isn't it amazing, how far we have progressed in the last half century, an appropriate diversion for TR considering we owe our professions to NASA's spin off technologies. Now most of us have more raw computing power on our belts than the Apollo moon missions carried, ah.. the never ending quest of knowledge.