Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Can u believe---there will be two Kepler missions from the middle of Feb!

        Yes, you can say it will be a space history of sorts.

        From the middle of February there will be two Kepler space missions atleast for a brief period. There is the planet-hunting mission which was launched on March 7,2009. The second Kepler mission is the automated unmanned transfer vehicle (atv) of the European Space Agency slated for launch tentatively in the middle of February which will carry cargo to the International Space Station.

       Both the missions have been named after the eminent German astronomer and mathematician, Johannes Kepler.``Beyond Moon and Mars (BMM),'' has already written about the European Space Agency project. It will therefore focus about the planet-hunting mission.

       It measures 1.4 times the size of earth and is the smallest planet ever discovered outside our solar system. It is the first rocky planet orbiting a star than our sun. It is called Kepler 10-b and is more than 20 times closer to its star than Mercury is to our sun and not in the habitable zone.

      The discovery of this planet,s announced recently, was based on eight months of data collected by Nasa's Kepler spacecraft between May 2009 to January 2010. According to Nasa, to date it has discovered more than 700 planets.

      Significantly, all of the extra solar planets detected so far by other projects are giant planets, mostly the Jupiter and bigger. Kepler is hunting planets 30 to 600 times less massive than Jupiter.

       Kepler is the first Nasa mission capable of spotting earth-size planets in or near the habitable zone. How does it work? It makes the discovery by what is known as ``transit method'' of planet finding. For example, when a planet passes in front of its parent star, it blocks a small fraction of light from the star. This means a planet is transiting a star. If this happens at regular intervals, it signifies a planet has been found. The changing brightness will indicate the new planet's size.

       Douglas Hudgins, Kepler programme scientist at Nasa HQ in Washington has been quoted as saying: ``The discovery of Kepler 10-b, a bonafide rocky world, is a significant milestone in the search for planets similar to our own. Although this planet is not in the habitable zone, the exciting find showcases the kinds of discoveries made possible by the mission and the promise of many more to come.''

      Happy hunting!


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