Imaging sensors employed in search for extraterrestrial life

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CCD imaging sensors are being used onboard the Kepler spacecraft as part of a three and a half year-long mission to search for extraterrestrial life. Kepler, launched on 6 March 2009 from Cape Canaveral, Florida, has been designed by NASA and Ball Aerospace and Technology to monitor, from space, more than 100,000 stars in our galaxy. It will observe sun-like stars, seeking to discover Earth-like planets whose orbits about their star are at distances where liquid water can exist and are therefore where life could potentially form.

A focal plane array of 42 backside illuminated CCD90s from specialist component suppliers e2v make up the Ball Aerospace designed, built and tested photometer. With more than 95 Megapixels, the device forms the largest array of CCDs ever launched into space by NASA. The CCDs are not used to take sharp pictures. The images are intentionally defocused to about 10 arc seconds to improve the photometric precision. 

'e2v's imaging sensors are the heart of the Kepler mission,'  said John Troeltzsch, Ball Aerospace programme manager. 'The CCDs will allow Kepler to detect Earth-like planets orbiting in the habitable zone around other stars and possibly answer the million dollar queston, "Are we alone?"'