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Kepler mission allows Queen Mary astronomer to listen to the stars

Scientists from Queen Mary’s Astronomy Unit were celebrating the launch of the Kepler mission today; the NASA spacecraft hopes to discover if planets the size of Earth exist in orbit around other stars.

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The Kepler Mission
The Kepler Mission

Shortly before 4am GMT this morning (7 March 2009) NASA launched the Kepler Spacecraft into orbit around the Sun. The spacecraft is equipped with a large telescope that will measure the variations in brightness of 170,000 stars simultaneously and continuously for a period of at least 3.5 years.

In order to allow scientists worldwide to participate in the analyzing the huge dataset, a scientific consortium has been formed, aiming at maximizing the scientific use of the data. This consortium, the Kepler Asteroseismic Science Consortium (KASC), involves more than 200 researchers from 50 institutions all over the world, including Queen Mary.

Professor Ian Roxburgh from the College’s Astronomy Unit, will lead the KASC groups looking into the interiors of hot stars much more massive and younger than the Sun. Professor Roxburgh is the European Space Agency Scientist for the French-led CoRoT Mission, a highly successful predecessor of the Kepler Mission that recently found a planet less than twice the radius of Earth.

Roxburgh will use a technique known as asteroseismology to listen to the sounds of stars and ‘see’ inside them, discovering the secrets of other stars in our galaxy including how old are they, how do they evolve, is the Sun a typical star and how does matter behave under the extreme conditions in stars?

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