It was six years ago this month that NASA shot the Kepler telescope to the heavens on a galactic, planet-finding mission. Today, the space agency released this graphic that could also be Kepler’s mic-dropping resume.
Launched on March 6, 2009, Kepler’s duty is pinpointing stars in our galaxy that sport orbiting exoplanets (like sun does with Earth). NASA is especially interested in those exoplanets that fall in the “habitable zone” — that sweet spot where an exoplanet is just close enough to a life-giving star that the planet could have an atmosphere that produces water, and, in turn, foster living organisms.
The telescope’s mondo powerful light sensor is what’s used to find the locations of Earth-sized planets that might dwell in the habitable zone. The sensor spots minuscule changes in brightness around certain stars — these brightness changes suggest an exoplanet that’s orbiting its star.
That’s not an easy task though. According to NASA’s press release:
For a remote observer, Earth transiting the sun would dim its light by less than 1/100th of one per cent, or the equivalent of the amount of light blocked by a gnat crawling across a car’s headlight viewed from several miles away.
Now according to the data released today, Kepler: Exoplanet Hunter has discovered over 1000 of these in only six years. Can we give this spacecraft a raise?