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The Search Continues

April 13, 2015

Venus is continuing its long reign as the brilliant “evening star” this month. It’s in the west as night falls, in the middle of Taurus. That’s right where a planet-hunting space telescope is aiming right now. It’ll have to turn away in a couple of weeks, though, because the bull is dropping toward the Sun in our sky, and soon will be lost in the Sun’s glare.

The Kepler spacecraft has already discovered more than a thousand confirmed planets, with another three thousand awaiting confirmation. Technical problems halted its initial search a couple of years ago. But a new one allows it to look for planets around a smaller number of stars in different regions of the sky. It aims at one patch for about three months, then turns to a new one as that part of the sky moves behind the Sun.

The new mission is known as K2, and it’s already yielded at least one planet. The new world is bigger and heavier than Earth, and orbits quite close to its parent star, which is a bit smaller and cooler than the Sun.

K2 is also studying the stars as well as their planets. Its observations will look at stars that are particularly active, for example, or clusters of young stars that are just taking shape — yielding many more discoveries for astronomers to study.

We’ll have more about the Kepler mission tomorrow.

In the meantime, look at Kepler’s current search area in the western sky beginning as night falls — a patch of sky around the evening star.


Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2015

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