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NASA’s ‘Rock Star’ Telescope Subject of Imiloa Talk

Posted July 25, 2013, 11:07 AM HST Updated July 25, 2013, 05:08 PM HST
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One of the star systems examined by the Kepler Space Telescope includes planet 69c, which is 70% larger than the size of Earth and orbits in the habitable zone of a star similar to our sun. Astronomers are uncertain about the composition of Kepler-69c, but its orbit of 242 days around a sun-like star resembles that of our neighboring planet Venus. Courtesy image.

The project scientist for the Kepler Space Telescope will speak Saturday in Hilo on the wealth of new planets it has discovered.

Steve Howell will give his presentation on exoplanets at 7 p.m. at the Imiloa Astronomy Center’s planetarium.

The talk entitled “Exoplanets are everywhere: Discovery by the Kepler Mission and validation by the Gemini Observatory” includes an introduction to the Kepler mission and some of its major scientific discoveries.

Since its launch in March 2009, the space telescope – NASA’s doubly aptly dubbed “rock star of science” — has discovered more than 3,000 planets orbiting alien suns, including rocky ones similar to our Earth in several key aspects.

NASA announced earlier this year that Kepler had discovered two more planetary systems that include three super-Earth-size planets located in the “habitable zone,” the distance from a star where surface temperature of an orbiting planet might be suitable for liquid water.

Scientists do not know whether life could exist on the newfound planets, but their discovery signals we are another step closer to finding a world similar to Earth around a star like our sun, NASA said in a press release earlier this year.

“The Kepler spacecraft has certainly turned out to be a rock star of science,” said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator of the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington.

“The discovery of these rocky planets in the habitable zone brings us a bit closer to finding a place like home. It is only a matter of time before we know if the galaxy is home to a multitude of planets like Earth, or if we are a rarity.”

The Kepler space telescope, which simultaneously and continuously measures the brightness of more than 150,000 stars, is NASA’s first mission capable of detecting Earth-size planets around stars like our sun.

Kepler Project Scientist Steve Howell. Courtesy image.

Kepler Project Scientist Steve Howell. Courtesy image.

Howell has a distinguished career as an astronomer including building instruments for the NASA Space Shuttle and telescopes at the Kitt Peak National Observatory.

He is the author of over 600 scientific publications, numerous popular and technical articles, and has written and edited eight books on astronomy and astronomical instrumentation. He recently published his first work of science fiction, “A Kepler’s Dozen.”

Tickets for Saturday’s event are $10 for non-members and $8 for members (member level discounts apply). Tickets may be pre-purchased at the ‘Imiloa front desk or by phone using Visa, MasterCard, Discover, or JCB by calling (808) 969-9703 during regular business hours. Tickets are non-refundable.

Imiloa Astronomy Center of Hawai‘i is located at 600 ‘Imiloa Place in Hilo, off Komohana and Nowelo Streets at the University of Hawaii at Hilo Science and Technology Park. For more information, go to www.imiloahawaii.org, or call (808) 969-9700.

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