One of the most interesting areas of astronomical research is the hunt for extra solar planets or exoplanets.
The American Kepler space telescope was designed to hunt for exoplanets in our area of the Milky Way. It was launched on March 6, 2009. Before official observing had even started – and with only 10 days of test data – Kepler made a major discovery. Kepler detected the atmosphere of a previously known exoplanet named HAT-P-7.
The NASA Image at the left depicts what HAT-P-7 might look like as it orbits a star located about 1,000 light years from earth. HAT-P-7 has been described as a “hot Jupiter”. It’s mass is a little bit higher than Jupiter but it is 26 times closer to its star than Jupiter is to our Sun. Because of its close proximity to its star HAT-P-7 only takes 2.2 days to complete an orbit. By comparison, it takes Jupiter almost 12 years to complete an orbit. The dayside temperature of HAT-P-7 is estimated at 4,310 degrees Fahrenheit.
The discovery of the atmosphere around this planet is not only exciting in its own right but it means Kepler is capable of great things in the future. The precision required to detect the atmosphere of this planet demonstrates that Kepler has the precision to detect earth-size planets around other stars.
You can learn more about the Kepler mission on NASA’s Kepler Overview page.