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28-Mar-09 | Delta flight 339 – Kepler

On the evening of Friday, 6 March, a three-stage Delta II 7925 launched NASA’s newest observatory, Kepler. The official liftoff time from Cape Canaveral’s SLC-17B was 03:49:57.465 UTC on 7 March. As usual, Spaceflight Now provided a complete play-by-play in its Mission Status Center.

Kepler is the first concentrated attempt at seeking out terrestrial planets—i.e., those roughly the size of Earth. It will do this by watching stars closely to spot the minute dimming caused by periodic transits of planets across the stars’ visible faces. Using Johannes Kepler’s Third Law of planetary motion scientists will be able to determine the planet’s orbit, and from there extrapolate its mass and estimated surface temperature. Thus they may figure out whether the planet might be capable of supporting life similar to that on Earth.

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