Artist conception of Kepler-22b, a planet known to comfortably circle in the habitable zone of a sun-like star. Image credit: NASA/Ames/JPL-Caltech
The Kepler Mission built for NASA is revolutionizing our understanding exoplanets. Kepler is searching for Earth-size planets in the habitable zone -- the region in a planetary system where liquid water could exist on the surface of an orbiting planet – around sun-like stars in our galaxy.
During its three years on orbit, Kepler has discovered:
- Over 2,300 planetary candidates
- Over 400 multi-planet systems
- The first small planet in the habitable zone (Kepler-22b)
- Two Earth-sized planets in the habitable zones around their stars
- The smallest exoplanets ever detected (KOI-961.01, KOI-961.02, KOI-961.03)
- Three worlds (Kepler-16b, Kepler-34b, Kepler-35b) that orbit around two stars, establishing a new class of planetary system
Launched in March 2009, the Kepler photometer identifies planet candidates by continuously measuring the tiny change in brightness of more than 150,000 stars to detect when a planet transits the face of the star. The size of the planet can be derived from these periodic dips in brightness.
Ball Aerospace is the mission prime contractor, which includes responsibility for the photometer, spacecraft, system integration and testing for the Discovery Class mission.
Ball Aerospace employed its instrument expertise from successes such as Hubble Space Telescope in the photometer for Kepler and the spacecraft design used in Deep Impact for providing power, communications and telescope pointing.