Pitara Kids Network

Hunting for Planets in Earth’s Galaxy

Where: Cape Canaveral, Florida, USA

March 7, 2009 : The USA’s space agency NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) launched its Kepler Telescope successfully from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. The telescope is designed to search for planets orbiting stars other than the Sun in our galaxy, the Milky Way. William Borucki, principal science investigator of the mission, said, “Even if we find no planets like Earth, that by itself would be profound. It would indicate that we are probably alone in the galaxy.” Planets around stars other than the Sun have been thought to exist for centuries. In 1988, a team of Canadian astronomers found evidence that the star Gamma Cephei had planets.

The Kepler Telescope will detect planets by the ‘Transit Method’. Whenever a planet passes in front of the star that it orbits, a small black dot appears to pass over the surface of the star. The brightness of the star is reduced temporarily by a very small degree. This can be detected and measured by the telescope as evidence of the existence of a planet. The telescope will be on orbit around the sun, maintaining a constant distance of 1530 kilometres from the Earth. It is expected to monitor over 100,000 stars simultaneously for a period of three and a half years.

Johannes Kepler, after whom the telescope is named, was a German astronomer and mathematician who lived around the turn of the 16th century.