NASA's Kepler Spacecraft Takes Pulse of Distant Stars

Artist's concept of Kepler Artist's concept of NASA's Kepler space telescope. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
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October 26, 2010

An international cadre of scientists using data from NASA's Kepler spacecraft has detected stellar oscillations, or "starquakes," that yield new insights about the size, age and evolution of stars.

The results were presented at a news conference at Aarhus University in Denmark by scientists representing the Kepler Asteroseismic Science Consortium. The team studied thousands of stars observed by Kepler, releasing what amounts to a roster of some of humanity's most well-characterized stars.

Analysis of stellar oscillations is similar to the way seismologists study earthquakes to probe the Earth's interior. This branch of science, called astroseismology, produces measurements of stars the Kepler science team is anxious to have.

"Using the unparalleled data provided by Kepler, Asteroseismic Science Consortium scientists are quite literally revolutionizing our understanding of stars and their structures," said Douglas Hudgins, Kepler Program Scientist at NASA Headquarters in Washington.

One oscillating star has taken center stage: KIC 11026764 has the most accurately known properties of any star in the Kepler field. In fact, few stars in the universe are known to similar accuracy. At an age of 5.94 billion years, it has grown to a little over twice the diameter of the sun and it will continue to grow as it transforms into a red giant. The oscillations reveal that this star is powered by hydrogen fusion in a thin shell around a helium-rich core.

Launched in March 2009, Kepler was designed to discover Earth-size planets orbiting other stars. The spacecraft uses a huge digital camera, known as a photometer, to continuously monitor the brightness of more than 150,000 stars in its field of view as it orbits around the sun. Kepler searches for distant worlds by looking for "transits," when a planet passes in front of a star, briefly causing it to dim. The amount of dimming reveals the size of the planet compared to the size of the star.

Ames is responsible for the ground system development, mission operations and science data analysis. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., managed the Kepler mission development. Ball Aerospace and Technologies Corp. in Boulder, Colo., developed the Kepler flight system, and supports mission operations with the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at the University of Colorado in Boulder. The Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore archives, hosts and distributes the Kepler science data.

Read full news release at: http://www.nasa.gov/centers/ames/news/releases/2010/M10-91.html .

More information about Kepler is online at: http://www.nasa.gov/kepler. and http://www.kepler.nasa.gov .

Whitney Clavin 818-354-4673
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
whitney.clavin@jpl.nasa.gov

2010-350



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