Since launch, Kepler's enormous photometer instrument, backed by a 42-Megapixel CCD (the largest such device ever sent to space by NASA), has been protected behind a truly gargantuan lens cap. The mission announced late yesterday that the lens cap (more correctly, "dust cover") was successfully ejected, first tipping to one side on a "flyaway hinge" and then springing off into space. Now the photometer can start collecting starlight. The release states they still have a few weeks of calibration work to do before science data gathering can begin.
NASA / Ames / JPL-Caltech
Kepler ejects its dust cover
On April 7, Kepler ejected the 1.7 - by - 1.3 - meter cover that had protected its sensitive photometer from dust since launch. With the cover removed, it could start collecting starlight. Download a high-resolution version of this animation here.
The latest project manager's update says that Kepler has now drifted more than three million kilometers behind Earth in its trailing orbit, which puts it at about eight times farther away from Earth than the Moon is.
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