On Thursday, NASA released an initial set of images from the Kepler mission, showing the "star-rich sky" where the telescope will soon begin searching for Earth-like planets.
The so-called "first light" images reveal Kepler's intended patch of sky, a huge field of stars in the Cygnus-Lyra region of the Milky Way galaxy. Among other things, the images show the millions of stars in the full field of view of the Kepler mission, as well as others that zoom in on specific areas of the larger region.
This image shows the Kepler telescope's entire field of view in the Cygnus and Lyra constellations, a full 100 square degrees of sky, or, NASA says, the equivalent of "two side-by-side dips of the Big Dipper."
In this image, there are more than 4.5 million stars, of which more than 100,000 have been selected by NASA as being worth investigation by Kepler. The image is a 60-second exposure, taken on April 8, 2009. It is brighter in the lower right of the image since it's closer to the plane of the Milky Way, and is "jam-packed with stars." As well, it is color-coded: the whiter the star, the brighter it is, while the redder it appears, the fainter it is.