ET, where are you? NASA to launch Kepler camera

February 20th, 2009 - 11:31 am ICT by IANS  

Washington, Feb 20 (DPA) The search for extraterrestrial life will take another step in March, when NASA launches its Kepler satellite to systematically look for Earth-type planets orbiting other stars.
The Kepler mission, named after the 17th century German astronomer, is to be launched March 5 and target 100,000 stars in the Milky Way galaxy that scientists believe could have planets orbiting in a “habitable” zone, NASA scientists said Thursday.

The orbiting camera will be looking for shadows moving across the stars, which would indicate planetary movement and help measure the length of the orbits.

“If it orbits very fast, it will be a very hot planet,” said William Borucki, NASA’s principal investigator for the Kepler project. “If the planet has a long orbital period, it will be very cold, we expect it would be forever frozen.”

The mission will eliminate both extremes as scientists, like Goldilocks, search for the planets that are “not too hot, not too cold, but just right”, Borucki said.

The $591-million mission is slated to last for three and a half years, but the Kepler camera will be outfitted to last six years, in anticipation that funding would be extended, NASA scientists said.

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