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NASA Approves Kepler Mission Extension
04.04.2012

See full NASA RELEASE : 12-33AR

Kepler field of view, Kepler spacecraft, and a receiving dish on Earth
Four more years of data collecting.

NASA's Kepler mission has been approved for extension through fiscal year 2016 based on a recommendation from the Agency’s Senior Review of its operating missions. The 2012 Senior Review report is available at:

https://science.nasa.gov/astrophysics/2012-senior-review

Excerpt from the 2012 Senior Review report: "Kepler offers a new technical capability, opening a new measurement parameter space, and as often happens with such developments, that has led to unexpected results…. There has been a continuous stream of new findings - the assimilation and exploitation of new opportunities is just beginning...."

Roger Hunter, Kepler project manager at NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif., commented, "Kepler has revolutionized our understanding of exoplanets and the study of stellar seismology and variability. ...There is currently no other mission in development that can replace or surpass the precision of Kepler. This extended mission will afford Kepler a unique opportunity to rewrite our understanding of the galaxy and our place in it."

The Kepler spacecraft identifies planet candidates by measuring minuscule changes in brightness of more than 150,000 stars. When planets pass (transit) in front of stars, dips in brightness can reveal the sizes of the planets (from how much the brightness dips) and how far the planets are from their stars (from the time period between transits).

The mission's discoveries to date include the first unquestionably rocky planet (beyond our solar system); the first multiple-transiting planet system; the first small planet in the habitable zone of a star; the first Earth-size planets; Mars-size planets; and the confirmation of a new class of double-star planetary systems.

Another of Kepler's findings pertains to the reasonable assumption that the Sun would be typical of Sun-like stars. But it's not. Most other stars' data exhibit greater variations in brightness than the Sun—they're "noisier. As Kepler Principal Investigator, Bill Borucki, has said "we were surprised by the universe." The key reason the extended the mission is so valued is that more data collecting time is needed to find the true Earth analog planets. As Borucki has said, "The way you build up the signal to noise ratio is to get more transits, so we need more time." The extension provides four additional years to find 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.

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