NASA News: NASA Conducts Orion Parachute Testing For Orbital Test Flight


HOUSTON -- NASA successfully conducted a drop test of the Orion crew
vehicle's parachutes high above the Arizona desert Tuesday in
preparation for its orbital flight test in 2014. Orion will carry
astronauts deeper into space than ever before, provide emergency
abort capability, sustain the crew during space travel and ensure a
safe re-entry and landing.

A C-130 plane dropped the Orion test article from an altitude of
25,000 feet above the U.S. Army's Yuma Proving Grounds. Orion's
drogue chutes were deployed between 15,000 and 20,000 feet, followed
by the pilot parachutes, which then deployed two main landing
parachutes. This particular drop test examined how Orion would land
under two possible failure scenarios.

Orion's parachutes are designed to open in stages, which is called
reefing, to manage the stresses on the parachutes after they are
deployed. The reefing stages allow the parachutes to sequentially
open, first at 54 percent of the parachutes' full diameter, and then
at 73 percent. This test examined how the parachutes would perform if
the second part of the sequence was skipped.

The second scenario was a failure to deploy one of Orion's three main
parachutes, requiring the spacecraft to land with only two. Orion
landed on the desert floor at a speed of almost 33 feet per second,
which is the maximum designed touchdown speed of the spacecraft.
Since 2007, the Orion program has conducted a vigorous parachute air
and ground test program and provided the chutes for NASA's successful
pad abort test in 2010. Lessons learned from this experience have
improved Orion's parachute system.

For images of the drop test, visit:


For more about Orion, visit:



NASA Selects Student Teams For Microgravity Research Flights

WASHINGTON -- NASA has selected 24 undergraduate student teams to test
science experiments under microgravity conditions. The teams will fly
during 2012 as part of the agency's Reduced Gravity Education Flight
Program (RGEFP).

The teams will design and build their experiments at NASA's Johnson
Space Center in Houston and conduct tests aboard an aircraft modified
to mimic a reduced-gravity environment. The aircraft will fly
approximately 30 parabolas with roller-coaster-like climbs and dips
to produce periods of weightlessness and hyper-gravity ranging from 0 to 2g's.

"The program provides unique opportunities for students all over the
country to experience life as a scientist or engineer in the working
world," said Douglas Goforth, RGEFP manager at Johnson. "We hope the
experience of performing experiments in microgravity will help
inspire students to pursue careers in technical fields."

Ten of the teams will participate through the Systems Engineering
Education Discovery (SEED) flight week April 20-28. They will work
with NASA scientists and engineers as part of ongoing systems
engineering projects pertinent to future agency research and missions.

The 2012 SEED teams are from Carthage College, Georgia Institute of
Technology, Northwest Nazarene University, Oklahoma State University,
University of Houston-Clear Lake, San Jacinto College, University of
Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, University of Nebraska-Lincoln,
University of Wisconsin-Madison, Washington University in St. Louis
and Yale University.

The other teams were selected through the Microgravity University
program and will conduct their research June 8-16. Those teams are
from Arizona State University, University of Southern California,
Yale University, University of Florida, Boise State University,
Purdue University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Missouri
University of Science and Technology, Santa Ana Community College,
Lamar University, University of Texas-El Paso, Virginia Polytechnic
Institute and State University, University of Washington and West
Virginia University.

The RGEFP experience includes scientific research, experimental
design, test operations and outreach activities. The program supports
NASA's goal of strengthening the nation's future workforce.

For more information about the Reduced Gravity Education Flight
Program, visit:

For more information about NASA's education programs, visit:

For information about NASA and agency programs, visit:


Trio Heads For Holiday Reunion With Space Station Residents

HOUSTON -- NASA Flight Engineer Don Pettit, Russian Soyuz Commander
Oleg Kononenko and European Space Agency Flight Engineer Andre
Kuipers of the Netherlands launched to the International Space
Station aboard their Soyuz TMA-03M craft at 7:16 a.m. CST Wednesday,
Dec. 21 (7:16 p.m. local time), from Kazakhstan.

Pettit, Kononenko and Kuipers are scheduled to dock to the Rassvet
module of the station at 9:22 a.m. Friday, Dec. 23. They will receive
a holiday welcome from station Commander Dan Burbank of NASA and
Russian Flight Engineers Anton Shkaplerov and Anatoly Ivanishin, who
have been aboard the orbital laboratory since mid-November.

NASA Television will provide live docking coverage beginning at 8:45
a.m. Friday. Hatch opening and welcoming ceremonies will occur about
three hours later.

Upon arrival, Pettit, Kononenko and Kuipers will become members of
Expedition 30, restoring the station's crew complement to six. They
will continue scientific research and christen a new era of
commercial resupply services from the United States, greeting the
first SpaceX Dragon spaceship in mid-February. A Russian spacewalk to
continue external assembly and maintenance of the station also is
planned during Expedition 30.

Burbank, Shkaplerov and Ivanishin are scheduled to return to Earth in
March, and Pettit, Kononenko and Kuipers will return home in May.
For more information about the International Space Station and its
crew, visit:


To follow Twitter updates from Expedition 30 commander Burbank and
flight engineer Pettit, visit:




For NASA TV streaming video, schedule and downlink information, visit:



NASA Announces Plans for Human Exploration of Deep Space, Fosters Commercial Spaceflight and Makes Major Discoveries in 2011

WASHINGTON -- In 2011, NASA began developing a heavy-lift rocket for
the human exploration of deep space, helped foster a new era of
commercial spaceflight and technology breakthroughs, fully utilized a
newly complete space station, and made major discoveries about the
universe we live in, many of which will benefit life on Earth.

"The year truly marks the beginning of a new era in the human
exploration of our solar system," NASA Administrator Charles Bolden
said. "Just as important are the ground-breaking discoveries about
Earth and the universe, as well as our work to inspire and educate a
new generation of scientists and engineers, and our efforts to keep
the agency on a firm financial footing with its first clean audit in
nine years. It's been a landmark year for the entire NASA team."

The following are some of NASA's top stories for the past calendar year:


NASA reached several milestones in developing a new U.S. space
transportation system that will serve as the cornerstone for
America's future human space exploration efforts. The first decision
came in late May, when NASA Administrator Bolden selected the Orion
Crew Exploration Vehicle as the spacecraft that would take astronauts
beyond low Earth orbit. In addition to exceeding the requirements
necessary for deep space travel, it was consistent with the NASA
Authorization Act of 2010 to retain as much of the current workforce
and its critical skills as possible. In September, Bolden announced
the design of a new Space Launch System -- a heavy-lift rocket that
will take our astronauts farther into space than ever before, create
high-quality jobs here at home, and provide the cornerstone for
America's future human space exploration efforts.

In November, NASA announced it planned to add an unpiloted flight test
of the Orion spacecraft in early 2014 to its contract with Lockheed
Martin Space Systems. The Exploration Flight Test, or EFT-1, will fly
two orbits to a high-apogee and make a high-energy re-entry through
Earth's atmosphere. Orion will land off the California coast and be
recovered using operations planned for future human exploration
missions. Throughout the year, engineers conducted multiple test
firings of the agency's J-2X engines at NASA's Stennis Space Center
in Mississippi and performed several Orion water drop tests at NASA's
Langley Research Center in Virginia. In September, NASA and ATK Space
Systems successfully completed a two-minute, full-scale test of
Development Motor-3, the agency's largest and most powerful solid
rocket motor ever designed for flight.



NASA awarded four Space Act Agreements worth $269.3 million in the
second round of the agency's Commercial Crew Development effort in
April. Each company received between $22 million and $92.3 million to
advance commercial crew space transportation system concepts and
mature the design and development of systems elements, such as launch
vehicles and spacecraft. The four companies, Blue Origin in Kent,
Wash., Sierra Nevada Corporation in Louisville, Colo., Space
Exploration Technologies in Hawthorne, Calif., and The Boeing Company
in Houston, are working to accelerate the availability of U.S.
commercial crew transportation to the International Space Station and
reduce the gap in American human spaceflight capability. This
activity is expected to spur economic growth as potential new markets
are created. Crew transportation capabilities then could become
available to commercial and government customers.

All of NASA's commercial partners are meeting established milestones.
NASA program managers also signed several unfunded Space Act
Agreements with commercial partners during the year. In July, NASA
and United Launch Alliance (ULA) managers agreed to work together on
the Atlas V, a flight-proven expendable launch vehicle used for
critical space missions. The agency agreed to share its human
spaceflight experience and human certification requirements with ULA
to advance its crew transportation system capabilities. ULA will
provide feedback to NASA about those requirements, including input on
the technical feasibility and cost effectiveness of NASA's proposed
certification approach. In September, NASA and Alliant Techsystems
agreed to collaborate on the development of the company's Liberty
Launch System. The agreement enables the two parties to review and
discuss Liberty system requirements, safety and certification plans,
computational models of rocket stage performance and avionics
architecture designs. September also marked the release of a draft
request for proposals outlining a complete end-to-end transportation
system design, including spacecraft, launch vehicles, launch
services, ground and mission operations and recovery. The Integrated
Design Contract of up to $1.61 billion is scheduled to run from July
2012 through April 2014. In December, NASA announced a modified
approach for supporting commercial crew capability. The agency will
competitively award Space Act agreements for the next phase of the
Commercial Crew Program instead of awarding contracts. The move will
keep on track the agency's plan for U.S. companies to transport
astronauts into space and ultimately will end outsourcing the work to
foreign governments.



NASA and its international partners celebrated 11 years of permanent
human habitation on the International Space Station on Nov. 2. More
than 1,400 research and technology development experiments have been
conducted aboard the orbiting lab, many of which are producing
advances in medicine, environmental systems and our understanding of
the universe. NASA selected an independent non-profit organization,
the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS), to manage
U.S. scientific and technological research conducted through the part
of ISS that is a National Laboratory, and is transitioning
responsibilities to CASIS. Robonaut 2, the first humanoid robot in
space, and the Robotics Refueling Mission (RRM), which tests robotic
techniques for on-orbit satellite servicing, were delivered to the
station in 2011. In preparation for the first commercial resupply
missions to ISS in 2012, NASA has been working closely with SpaceX
and Orbital Science Corp. of Dulles, Va., to ensure the Dragon and
Cygnus cargo vehicles' designs and operations are compatible with the
station. Integration activities include verification of physical and
operational interfaces, safety assessments, joint software testing,
operations planning, crew training and mission simulations. This
year, NASA graduated the astronaut class of 2009 and, on Nov. 15,
began recruiting its next astronaut class. These new astronauts will
advance research aboard the space station to benefit life on Earth
and develop the knowledge and skills needed for longer flights to
explore the solar system. Those selected also will be among the first
to pioneer a new generation of commercial launch vehicles and travel
aboard a new heavy-lift rocket to distant destinations in deep space.
Qualified individuals can apply to become an astronaut through the
federal government's USAJobs.gov website.



NASA's Space Shuttle Program concluded in 2011 with three final
missions to the International Space Station. Each mission carried
supplies and equipment that will sustain the space station crews
until NASA's new Commercial Resupply Service providers take over this role.

Shuttle Discovery launched the STS-133 mission on Feb. 24, carrying
the retrofitted, Italian-built multipurpose logistics module (MPLM)
"Leonardo" to the space station. On May 16, Endeavour launched
STS-134 and, along with supplies and equipment, brought the Alpha
Magnetic Spectrometer-2 (AMS) to the space station. The AMS is a
particle physics experiment module designed to search for unusual
matter by measuring cosmic rays. STS-135 launched on July 8, making
the space shuttles' final delivery of supplies to the space station.
Just before returning to Earth, STS-135 Commander Chris Ferguson
presented the station's crew with a U.S. flag flown on the first
space shuttle mission, STS-1, in April 1981. The flag will remain
displayed aboard the station until the next crew launched from the
U.S. retrieves it for return to Earth so it can be carried by the
first crew launched from the U.S. on a journey of exploration beyond
low-Earth orbit.



NASA's Office of the Chief Technologist and the agency's newly created
Space Technology Program moved from formulation to implementation in
2011. The Space Technology Program is investing in transformation
technologies to improve NASA's capabilities, while reducing cost and
expanding the reach of future aeronautics, science and exploration
missions. The program has more than 1,000 projects underway, almost
all of which were competitively selected, ranging across all
technical areas and all levels of technical maturity. The first
Technology Development Mission, the Mars Science Laboratory Entry,
Descent, and Landing Instrument (MEDLI) Suite, launched with the Mars
Science Laboratory in November. In addition, NASA spinoff
technologies have created thousands of jobs and revenue while
significantly improving the quality of life for millions of people.
In September, NASA awarded $1.5 million in prizes for hyper-efficient
aircraft at the Green Flight Challenge, heralding a new industry for
electric aircraft.





NASA's Office of the Chief Technologist selected the inaugural class
of 80 highly qualified and talented graduate students from 37
universities and colleges last summer to receive fellowships. The
students will pursue master's or doctoral degrees in relevant space
technology disciplines at their respective institutions. This first
class of Space Technology Fellows is part of NASA's strategy to
develop the technological foundation for its future science and
exploration missions. The program's goal is to provide the nation
with a pipeline of highly skilled engineers and technologists to
improve U.S. competitiveness.



NASA missions continued their ground-breaking research on the Red
Planet in 2011. These discoveries will help lay the foundation for
future human missions to Mars. NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter
revealed possible flowing water during the planet's warmest months.
Dark, finger-like features appear and extend down some Martian slopes
during late spring through summer, fade in winter, and return the
next spring. Repeated observations tracked the seasonal changes in
these recurring features on several steep slopes in the middle
latitudes of Mars' southern hemisphere. Scientists' best explanation
for these observations is the flow of briny water. Some aspects of
the observations still puzzle researchers, but flows of liquid brine
fit the features' characteristics better than alternate hypotheses.
These results are the closest scientists have come to finding
evidence of liquid water on the planet's surface today.

NASA's Mars Exploration Rover program continued to make news in 2011.
The Opportunity rover found bright veins of a mineral, apparently
gypsum, deposited by water, near the rim of Endeavour crater.
Analysis of the vein will help improve understanding of the history
of wet environments on Mars. NASA's newest Mars explorer, the Mars
Science Laboratory spacecraft, which includes the car-sized Curiosity
rover, launched aboard an Atlas V rocket on Nov. 26 to begin an
eight-month journey to the Red Planet's Gale Crater. The rover will
search for signs that the planet could ever have been hospitable to life.



NASA's new Aquarius instrument, launched into Earth orbit on June 10,
produced its first global map of the salinity of the ocean surface.
Surface salinity is the last of the major ocean surface quantities to
be measured globally from space and provides scientists with a new
tool to explore the connections between global rainfall, ocean
currents and climate changes. Aquarius is now producing continuous
observations of the global oceans in unprecedented detail, including
extensive low-salinity regions associated with the outflow of major
rivers. The instrument was launched on the Aquarius/SAC-D
observatory, a collaboration between NASA and Argentina's space
agency, Comision Nacional de Actividades Espaciales, with
participation by five other nations.



The Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory (STEREO) spacecraft
captured the first entire view of the far side of the sun in June.
These first-ever views will advance the study of solar and space
physics, help validate previous imaging techniques, and contribute to
the accuracy and timeliness of space weather forecasts. The
spacecraft reached opposite sides of the sun in February, but a small
part of the sun was inaccessible to their combined view until June.



NASA's Year of the Solar System resulted in three planetary launches,
major science observations, an asteroid rendezvous, and a comet
flyby. In February, Stardust-NExT provided the first-ever opportunity
to compare observations of a single comet, Tempel 1, made at close
range during two successive passages. In March, the Mercury Surface,
Space Environment, Geochemistry, and Ranging, or MESSENGER,
spacecraft became the first spacecraft inserted into orbit around
Mercury, our solar system's innermost planet. The mission is
currently providing unprecedented images of that planet's topography
and improved understanding of its core and magnetic field. In July,
the Dawn spacecraft began orbiting the asteroid Vesta and obtained
never-before-seen close-up observations of the second largest
asteroid in our asteroid belt. In August, the Juno spacecraft was
launched on a mission to Jupiter to map the depths of the planet's
interior and learn how the gas giant was formed. It will reach
Jupiter in 2016. The Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory, or
GRAIL, lifted off in September to study the moon from crust to core.
And in November, the Mars Science Laboratory was launched on its
voyage to the Red Planet with Curiosity, the largest planetary rover
ever developed, and the first astrobiology mission since the Viking
landers in the 1970's.



Observations from NASA's Voyager spacecraft, humanity's farthest deep
space sentinels, suggest the edge of our solar system may not be
smooth, but filled with a turbulent sea of magnetic bubbles. Using a
new computer model to analyze Voyager data, scientists found the
sun's distant magnetic field is made up of bubbles approximately 100
million miles wide. The bubbles are created when magnetic field lines
reorganize. The Voyager spacecraft, more than 9 billion miles away
from Earth, are traveling in a boundary region where the solar wind
and magnetic field are affected by material expelled from other stars
in our corner of the Milky Way galaxy. Understanding the structure of
the sun's magnetic field will allow scientists to explain how
galactic cosmic rays enter our solar system and help determine how
the star interacts with the rest of the galaxy.



NASA's Swift satellite, Hubble Space Telescope and Chandra X-ray
Observatory teamed up to study one of the most puzzling cosmic blasts
ever observed. Astronomers never before had seen such a bright,
variable, high-energy, long-lasting burst. Usually, gamma-ray bursts
mark the destruction of a massive star, and emissions from these
events last no more than a few hours. Astronomers soon realized the
source, known as Swift J1644+57, was the result of a truly
extraordinary event -- the awakening of a distant galaxy's dormant
black hole as it shredded and consumed a star. The galaxy is so far
away, it took the light from the event approximately 3.9 billion
years to reach Earth.




In 2011, NASA's Kepler mission confirmed its first planet in the
habitable zone, the region where liquid water could exist on a
planet's surface. Kepler also discovered more than 1,000 new planet
candidates, nearly doubling its previously known count to 2,326. Ten
of these candidates are near-Earth-size and orbit in the habitable
zone of their host star. The newly confirmed planet, Kepler-22b, is
the smallest yet found to orbit in the middle of the habitable zone
of a star similar to our sun. The planet is about 2.4 times the
radius of Earth and located 600 light-years away. Scientists don't
yet know if Kepler-22b has a predominantly rocky, gaseous or liquid
composition, but its discovery is a step closer to finding Earth-like
planets. While the planet is larger than Earth, its orbit of 290 days
around a sun-like star resembles that of our world. The planet's host
star belongs to the same class as our sun, called G-type, although it
is slightly smaller and cooler. Kepler mission also discovered the
first Earth-size planets orbiting a sun-like star outside our solar
system. The planets, called Kepler-20e and Kepler-20f, are too close
to their star to be in the habitable zone, but they are the smallest
exoplanets ever confirmed around a star like our sun.



NASA's aeronautical innovators continued in 2011 to lay the foundation
for the future of flight by exploring new ways to manage air traffic,
build more fuel-efficient and environmentally friendly airliners, and
ensure aviation's outstanding safety record. NASA researchers
investigated for the first time the impact on airport local air
quality of jet engines burning renewable biofuels and found large
reductions in the output of harmful small particulates compared to
burning today's jet fuel. NASA aeronautics researchers also developed
new concepts for efficiently routing airliners around bad weather,
which accounts for 70 percent of all air traffic delays each year.
New sophisticated computer algorithms developed by NASA are also
providing airlines with the capability to sift through millions of
pieces of information collected from flights each day to identify
maintenance or operational issues long before they lead to incidents
or accidents.



NASA's website, www.nasa.gov, received its third-consecutive Webby
Award (and fourth overall) for best government website. The site
served a record number of visitors, more than 140 million, and
received record-high customer satisfaction ratings as well. Visitors
downloaded more than 652 million web pages and 27 million video
clips. They shared NASA content via Facebook and other services
246,000 times. The launch of STS-135 became the biggest online event
in NASA history, serving up more than 560,000 live streams of NASA TV
for the launch. The agency also began streaming to iPhones, iPads and
Android phones, recognizing the public's increasing use of mobile devices.

In 2011, NASA expanded its engagement with the public and social media
presence. People now can find NASA, the agency's centers, programs
and projects on more than 250 locations across Twitter, Facebook,
Flickr, Foursquare, Google+, YouTube, UStream and SlideShare. The
agency's flagship Twitter account, @NASA, now has more than 1.6
million followers, and astronauts aboard the International Space
Station have maintained a connection to Earthlings via their Twitter
accounts. NASA astronaut Doug Wheelock was honored with a Shorty
Award for an image of the moon he took and posted to his Twitter
account, @Astro_Wheels, while living aboard the International Space
Station in 2010. Wheelock's "Moon from Space" image was selected as
the best Real-Time Photo of the Year. The agency invited more than
1,600 of its Twitter followers to experience NASA behind-the-scenes
at 17 different Tweetups held across the agency on various topics.
Participants interacted with NASA scientists, engineers and leaders
at the events, viewed the final three space shuttle launches and four
launches of science spacecraft, and visited NASA Headquarters and
seven different field centers. Find all the ways to connect and
collaborate with NASA at:



NASA's Office of Education successfully developed a variety of new
partnerships and engaged in a number of activities to promote
science, technology, engineering and math education. In March, the
office collaborated with Donna Karan's Urban Zen Foundation and Mary
J. Blige's Foundation for the Advancement of Women Now to inspire
underserved youth in New York City. The outreach program aligned with
a White House initiative designed to engage women and girls in STEM
studies. NASA Education's 2011 Summer of Innovation program reached
more than 46,000 middle school students in 46 states, plus the
District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. The program also provided
professional development for more than 3,700 middle school teachers
nationwide. At the launch of the Mars Science Laboratory and the
Curiosity rover in November, NASA announced an educational
collaboration with entertainer will.i.am of the musical group The
Black Eyed Peas to engage students in hands-on activities in
engineering, robotics and other high-tech fields. The goal is to
promote curiosity and exploration and hone students' skills for the
high-tech job opportunities of the future.


NASA Television's Video File newsfeed will include items featuring
these top stories beginning at 10 p.m. EST, Dec. 20. For NASA TV
streaming video, schedules and downlink information, visit:


Visitors to NASA's website can vote on the top NASA story of the year at:



NASA Discovers First Earth-Size Planets Beyond Our Solar System

MOFFET FIELD, Calif. -- NASA's Kepler mission has discovered the first
Earth-size planets orbiting a sun-like star outside our solar system.
The planets, called Kepler-20e and Kepler-20f, are too close to their
star to be in the so-called habitable zone where liquid water could
exist on a planet's surface, but they are the smallest exoplanets
ever confirmed around a star like our sun.

The discovery marks the next important milestone in the ultimate
search for planets like Earth. The new planets are thought to be
rocky. Kepler-20e is slightly smaller than Venus, measuring 0.87
times the radius of Earth. Kepler-20f is slightly larger than Earth,
measuring 1.03 times its radius. Both planets reside in a five-planet
system called Kepler-20, approximately 1,000 light-years away in the
constellation Lyra.

Kepler-20e orbits its parent star every 6.1 days and Kepler-20f every
19.6 days. These short orbital periods mean very hot, inhospitable
worlds. Kepler-20f, at 800 degrees Fahrenheit, is similar to an
average day on the planet Mercury. The surface temperature of
Kepler-20e, at more than 1,400 degrees Fahrenheit, would melt glass.

"The primary goal of the Kepler mission is to find Earth-sized planets
in the habitable zone," said Francois Fressin of the
Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Mass., lead
author of a new study published in the journal Nature. "This
discovery demonstrates for the first time that Earth-size planets
exist around other stars, and that we are able to detect them."

The Kepler-20 system includes three other planets that are larger than
Earth but smaller than Neptune. Kepler-20b, the closest planet,
Kepler-20c, the third planet, and Kepler-20d, the fifth planet, orbit
their star every 3.7, 10.9 and 77.6 days. All five planets have
orbits lying roughly within Mercury's orbit in our solar system. The
host star belongs to the same G-type class as our sun, although it is
slightly smaller and cooler.

The system has an unexpected arrangement. In our solar system, small,
rocky worlds orbit close to the sun and large, gaseous worlds orbit
farther out. In comparison, the planets of Kepler-20 are organized in
alternating size: large, small, large, small and large.

"The Kepler data are showing us some planetary systems have
arrangements of planets very different from that seen in our solar
system," said Jack Lissauer, planetary scientist and Kepler science
team member at NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif.
"The analysis of Kepler data continue to reveal new insights about
the diversity of planets and planetary systems within our galaxy."

Scientists are not certain how the system evolved but they do not
think the planets formed in their existing locations. They theorize
the planets formed farther from their star and then migrated inward,
likely through interactions with the disk of material from which they
originated. This allowed the worlds to maintain their regular spacing
despite alternating sizes.

The Kepler space telescope detects planets and planet candidates by
measuring dips in the brightness of more than 150,000 stars to search
for planets crossing in front, or transiting, their stars. The Kepler
science team requires at least three transits to verify a signal as a planet.

The Kepler science team uses ground-based telescopes and the Spitzer
Space Telescope to review observations on planet candidates the
spacecraft finds. The star field Kepler observes in the
constellations Cygnus and Lyra can be seen only from ground-based
observatories in spring through early fall. The data from these other
observations help determine which candidates can be validated as planets.

To validate Kepler-20e and Kepler-20f, astronomers used a computer
program called Blender, which runs simulations to help rule out other
astrophysical phenomena masquerading as a planet.

On Dec. 5 the team announced the discovery of Kepler-22b in the
habitable zone of its parent star. It is likely to be too large to
have a rocky surface. While Kepler-20e and Kepler-20f are Earth-size,
they are too close to their parent star to have liquid water on the surface.

"In the cosmic game of hide and seek, finding planets with just the
right size and just the right temperature seems only a matter of
time," said Natalie Batalha, Kepler deputy science team lead and
professor of astronomy and physics at San Jose State University. "We
are on the edge of our seats knowing that Kepler's most anticipated
discoveries are still to come."

For more information about the Kepler mission and to view the digital
press kit, visit:



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