Kepler Space Telescope recently had it's First Light images released! Just how many stars do you think Kepler is watching every day and night?
This star in the circle is TrES2, a star known to have a planet around it. It's in a cluster of stars known as NGC6791. Zooming out more, here's an inverted-image of Kepler's entire field of view. How much of the field of view do you think was in that second picture?
Here is a Star Map of Kepler's field of view. There's a bunch of squares in the middle of the picture. Down the bottom edge there are 3 squares. If you click on the right end one, it actually contains two rectangles. You'll see a little circle in there with "N6791". That's where the cluster of stars NGC6791 is.
How many stars does Kepler watch? In this image zoom in on the fuzzy black dot below and left of the "Kepler" in the bottom right corner. That blob of stars that makes a fuzzy blob – is the area labeled "N6791" in the other picture – is what you zoom in on in this image. The answer: Kepler is interested in over one hundred thousand stars, and is watching them all at once. It will be interesting to see what bread crumbs Kepler finds for SIM and TPF to follow (SIM and TPF will be making a more complete survey of distances to stars and looking for more earth-like planets). I'm proud that Kepler's flight software runs on VxWorks.
Speaking of flight software… it looks like The Boeing 787 may have it's "first flight" fairly soon. 🙂