Let us learn about Kepler, an American spacecraft with a very powerful telescope. Its mission is to find planets where life could exist. Kepler took off from the United States in March 2009, and is expected to stay working in space till 2016. It is trying to find Earth-size planets around other stars that might have temperatures similar to Earth and might have liquid water. To find such planets, Kepler watches stars in certain regions in our galaxy. When a planet passes in front of its star, there is a small decrease in the brightness of the star. By observing these decreases, Kepler can determine the presence of a planet, the time the planet takes to orbit the star, the mass of the planet, and even its temperature. This provides a good indication of whether or not the newly discovered planet is Earth-like or not. So far, Kepler has discovered 2,740 candidates that might be planets, and it has helped confirm 122 exoplanets.
Kepler is named after the German astronomer and mathematician Johannes Kepler, who died in 1630 . He is most famous for using mathematics to describe how planets move. Some of his discoveries are being used by the spacecraft named after him to discover new planets.
You can watch a video explaining Kepler’s mission here.
Image Credits: NASA Ames/JPL-Caltech for Kepler