Search begins for Earth-sized planets around other stars

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Washington, June 26 (ANI): The Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) in Baltimore, US, is partnering on a historic search for Earth-sized planets around other stars.

STScI is the data archive center for NASA's Kepler mission, a spacecraft that is undertaking a survey for Earth-size planets in our region of the galaxy.

The spacecraft sent its first raw science data to STScI on June 19.

The Institute's role is to convert the raw science data into files that can be analyzed by Kepler researchers and to store the files every three months in an archive.

"We are part of this mission because of our experience with Hubble data processing and archiving," explained David Taylor, project manager for the development of Kepler's Data Management Center at the Institute.

Launched on March 6 on a Delta II rocket from Cape Canaveral, Florida, the Kepler spacecraft will spend the next 3 1/2 years searching for habitable planets by staring nonstop at more than 100,000 Sun-like stars out of about 4.5 million catalogued stars in the spacecraft's field-of-view, located in the summer constellations Cygnus and Lyra.

The spacecraft simultaneously measures the variations in brightness of the more than 100,000 stars every 30 minutes, searching for periodic dips in a star's brightness that happen when an orbiting planet crosses in front of it and partially blocks the light.

These fluctuations are tiny compared with the brightness of the star.

For an Earth-size planet transiting a solar-type star, the change in brightness is less than 1/100 of 1 percent.

This event is similar to the dimming one might see if a flea were to crawl across a car's headlight viewed from several miles away.

When the mission is completed in several years, the survey should tell astronomers how common Earth-size planets are around stars.

"The mission's main purpose is to find planets that are the same distance from its solar-type star as Earth is from the Sun," said Daryl Swade, who directed the systems engineering development of Kepler's Data Management Center at the Institute.

"So that means that the planet would cross in front of its star every year. We would need three or four of these transits to confirm the detection, which will take about three or four years," he added. (ANI)

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