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Double Duty

March 5, 2014

The main mission for the Kepler space telescope has been to look for planets — especially Earth-like planets around Sun-like stars. And it’s been quite successful — it’s discovered more than 3500 possible planets in other star systems.

But the craft has also helped astronomers study lots of other objects. A sampling of participants at a recent astronomy conference — professionals and students alike — offers some examples:

I am David Nowak. I am a senior at the College of New Jersey. Our focus was using the Kepler data to look at active galactic nuclei or AGNs....

My name is Leslie Hebb, and I'm an assistant professor at Hobart and William & Smith colleges in Geneva, New York. I am trying to measure the lifetime of starspots on stars other than the Sun....

Elizabeth Warner, I'm actually in high school. Basically, we were trying to classify red giant stars to see if they were RGBs or red clumps. So either hydrogen shells or helium core.

They’re able to do these projects because of the way Kepler operated. It stared at the same patch of sky for about four years, measuring changes in brightness of the objects in its field of view. In some cases, the changes indicated a planet passing across the face of its star.

In other cases, though, the change could be caused by dark starspots...a flickering disk of gas around a black hole...the in-and-out pulsations on the surface of a star...or many other kinds of objects. So a space telescope designed to look for planets has provided a bonus look at much more.

More about Kepler tomorrow.


Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2014

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