The centuries-old quest for other worlds like our Earth has been rejuvenated by the intense excitement and popular interest surrounding the discovery of giant planets like Jupiter orbiting stars beyond our solar system. With the exception of the pulsar planets, all of the extrasolar planets detected so far are gas giants, approximately 150 as of 2005. The challenge now is to find terrestrial planets (habitable planets like Earth), which are 30 to 600 times less massive than Jupiter.
Kepler is specifically designed to survey a portion of our region of the Milky Way galaxy to discover planets in or near the habitable zone and determine how many of the billions of stars in our galaxy have such planets. Results from this mission will allow us to place our solar system within the continuum of planetary systems in the Galaxy.
The scientific objective of the Kepler Mission is to explore the structure and diversity of planetary systems. This is achieved by surveying a large sample of stars to:
- Determine the abundance of terrestrial and larger planets in or near the habitable zone of a wide variety of stars
- Determine the distribution of sizes and shapes of the orbits of these planets
- Estimate how many planets there are in multiple-star systems
- Determine the variety of orbit sizes and planet reflectivities, sizes, masses and densities of short-period giant planets
- Identify additional members of each discovered planetary system using other techniques
- Determine the properties of those stars that harbor planetary systems
LASP is managing Mission Operations for Kepler.
LASP did not provide any instruments for the Kepler mission.
For more information about the Kepler mission and mission operations at LASP, see:
Launch date: March 6, 2009
Launch location: Kennedy Space Center, Cape Canaveral, Florida
Launch vehicle: Delta II
Mission target: Earth-trailing orbit
Mission duration: 3 1/2 years (extendable to at least 6 years)
Other organizations involved:
- NASA Ames Research Center
- NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory
- Ball Aerospace
- SETI Institute
- Lawrence Hall of Science
- Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory
- Space Telescope Science Institute