December 16, 2014
Kepler and K2 have kept the team very busy over the past couple of months, and we are overdue on providing an update on the great work that’s been going on. The spacecraft continues to perform superbly in its two-wheel configuration and is actively collecting data for the K2 mission, while the team has continued to tune the operations to improve the science yield. Meanwhile, we continue analyzing the full four years of Kepler data and delivering the new K2 data to the public at the Mikulski Archive for Space Telescopes (MAST).
K2 is now in its seventh month of operation and began its third campaign on Nov. 12. The Campaign 3 field-of-view includes more than 16,000 target stars, which can be searched for exoplanets and examined for an array of astrophysical information. This campaign also includes observations of a number of objects within our own solar system, including the dwarf planet (225088) 2007 OR10, the largest known body without a name in the solar system, and the planet Neptune and its moon Nereid.
Artist’s impression of (225088) 2007 OR10
Campaign 0 data have been delivered to MAST, and Campaign 1 data will follow later this month. Campaign 2 will be processed with a scheduled delivery in February 2015.
Target proposals for Campaigns 6 and 7 are now being accepted. The deadline for K2 Cycle-2 Stage-1 Guest Observer proposals is 11:59 p.m. EST on Jan. 16, 2015. For the full schedule of operational milestones see the K2 Mission Timeline.
On Oct. 20, the Kepler spacecraft joined the fleet of NASA science assets that observed distant Oort Cloud native Comet Siding Spring as it passed through K2’s Campaign 2 field-of-view on its long journey around the sun. The data collected by K2 will add to the study of the comet, giving scientists an invaluable opportunity to learn more about the materials, including water and carbon compounds, that existed during the formation of the solar system 4.6 billion years ago.
Impression of the Oort Cloud
Comet Siding Spring
To learn more about the K2 mission visit the Kepler Science Center website.
While K2 operations proceed, the Kepler team continues work on finalizing the data processing and products for the prime mission. The team is also anticipating another mission milestone: the 1,000th exoplanet discovered by Kepler.
To-date Kepler has identified more than 4,000 planet candidates, and 996 have been verified as bona fide planets. For the latest Kepler exoplanet and candidate statistics, visit the NASA Exoplanet Archive.
In January 2015, members of the team will participate in the 225th meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Seattle. We look forward to the meeting and sharing the latest scientific results using Kepler and K2 data.
The following are highlights of recent research using Kepler and K2 data that have been accepted by a peer-review journal:
High-resolution Multi-band Imaging for Validation and Characterization of Small Kepler Planets (Everett et al., 2014) – The paper presents a new method for validating Kepler candidates using high-resolution imaging and validates five new small planets in two systems: Kepler-430 and Kepler-431.
Planet Hunters VII. Discovery of a New Low-Mass, Low-Density Planet (PH3 c) Orbiting Kepler-289 (Schmitt et al., 2014) – The paper confirms the discovery of a third planet orbiting host star Kepler-239 by Planet Hunters, a volunteer citizen scientist effort. This marks the group’s third confirmed planet since its inception in December 2010.
A Technique for Extracting Highly Precise Photometry for the Two-Wheeled Kepler Mission (Vanderburg et al., 2014) – The publication presents a technique for generating light curves from K2 pixel data. The research finds that the technique produces data with noise properties similar to Kepler targets at the same magnitude.
See the full article here.
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The Kepler Mission, NASA Discovery mission #10, is specifically designed to survey our region of the Milky Way galaxy to discover hundreds of Earth-size and smaller planets in or near the habitable zone→ and determine the fraction of the hundreds of billions of stars in our galaxy that might have such planets.
The operations phase of the Kepler mission is managed for NASA by the Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, CA. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), Pasadena, CA, managed the mission through development, launch and the start of science operations. Dr. William Borucki of NASA Ames is the mission’s Science Principal Investigator. Ball Aerospace and Technologies Corp., Boulder, CO, developed the Kepler flight system.
In October 2009, oversight of the Kepler project was transferred from the Discovery Program at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, AL, to the Exoplanet Exploration Program at JPL