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Deep Impact's New Mission: Finding Exosolar Planets

10 Feb 2008, 04:32 UTC
Deep Impact's New Mission:  Finding Exosolar Planets
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Well now that NASA's Deep Impact has finished blowing holes in comets, which it did to Comet Tempel 1 in July 2005 to help scientists study what was beneath its surface, it's moving on to discover new worlds, exosolar worlds (planets around stars) to be exact. Between now and Oct. 11, 2010, when Deep Impact has its next flyby with Comet Hartley 2; the probe will be searching for planets. The spacecraft will be focusing its largest telescope at five stars, hoping to catch a glimpse of a planetary transit. This is where a planet dims the light from its parent star as it passes in front. This new mission, now called EPOXI, a hybrid of Extrasolar Planet Observations and Characterization (Epoch) and Deep Impact Extended Investigation (Dixi), began on January 22. The stars that were picked were known to have giant planets with massive atmospheres, like Jupiter in our solar system. Though the scientists of the program hope to find planets more like Earth in size and mass.Most of the 200 exosolar planets that have been discovered so far have been detected indirectly, by the gravitational pull they exert on their parent star. Though sometimes they can be found ...

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