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2012-06-27 International Speakers Evening

International Speakers Evening June 27 2011

Searching for Earth-sized planets with NASA’s Kepler space telescope

Dr Fergal Mullally, NASA Ames Research Centre

Abstract: Finding planets like our own elsewhere in the Galaxy is the first step to answering the age-old question of whether we are alone in theUniverse. Unfortunately, it’s very hard to see planets around other stars because the glare from the starshine overpowers the faint planets. Kepler is NASA’s first mission capable of finding Earth sized planets in orbit around stars other than our own. Instead of trying to see the planets directly, it measures the change in brightness when a planet passes in front a star and blocks a tiny fraction of the starlight. It is very rare for a planet to line up just right to pass in front of the star as seen from the spacecraft, so Kepler will stare at over 150,000 stars almost continuously for 5-6 years to capture these rare events. I will talk a little about the spacecraft, how we find planets, and present some of recent exciting planet discoveries.