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  • richardmitnick 10:33 pm on November 27, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , , NASA Kepler K2, Newly Discovered Twin Planets Could Solve Puffy Planet Mystery, University of Hawaii Institute for Astronomy   

    From Keck: “Newly Discovered Twin Planets Could Solve Puffy Planet Mystery” 

    Keck Observatory

    Keck Observatory.
    Keck, with Subaru and IRTF (NASA Infrared Telescope Facility). Vadim Kurland

    Keck Observatory

    November 27, 2017
    Sam Grunblatt
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    Upper left: Schematic of the K2-132 system on the main sequence. Lower left: Schematic of the K2-132 system now. The host star has become redder and larger, irradiating the planet more and thus causing it to expand. Sizes not to scale. Main panel: Gas giant planet K2-132b expands as its host star evolves into a red giant. The energy from the host star is transferred from the planet’s surface to its deep interior, causing turbulence and deep mixing in the planetary atmosphere. The planet orbits its star every nine days and is located about 2000 light years away from us in the constellation Virgo.
    Hot Jupiters. Credit: KAREN TERAMURA, UH ©IFA/Hawaii.

    Since astronomers first measured the size of an extrasolar planet seventeen years ago, they have struggled to answer the question: how did the largest planets get to be so large?

    Thanks to the recent discovery of twin planets by a University of Hawaii Institute for Astronomy team led by graduate student Samuel Grunblatt, scientists are getting closer to an answer.

    Gas giant planets are primarily made out of hydrogen and helium, and are at least four times the diameter of Earth. Gas giant planets that orbit scorchingly close to their host stars are known as “hot Jupiters.” These planets have masses similar to Jupiter and Saturn, but tend to be much larger – some are puffed up to sizes even larger than the smallest stars.

    The unusually large sizes of these planets are likely related to heat flowing in and out of their atmospheres, and several theories have been developed to explain this process. “However, since we don’t have millions of years to see how a particular planetary system evolves, planet inflation theories have been difficult to prove or disprove,” said Grunblatt.

    To solve this issue, Grunblatt searched through data collected by NASA’s K2 Mission to hunt for hot Jupiters orbiting red giant stars. These stars, which are in the late stages of their lives, become themselves significantly larger over their companion planet’s lifetime. Following a theory put forth by Eric Lopez of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, hot Jupiters orbiting red giant stars should be highly inflated if direct energy input from the host star is the dominant process inflating planets.

    The search has now revealed two planets, each orbiting their host star with a period of approximately nine days. Using stellar oscillations to precisely calculate the radii of both the stars and planets, the team found that the planets are 30 percent larger than Jupiter.

    Observations using the W. M. Keck Observatory on Maunakea, Hawaii also showed that, despite their large sizes, the planets were only half as massive as Jupiter. Remarkably, the two planets are near twins in terms of their orbital periods, radii, and masses.

    Using models to track the evolution of the planets and their stars over time, the team calculated the planets’ efficiency at absorbing heat from the star and transferring it to their deep interiors, causing the whole planet to expand in size and decrease in density. Their findings show that these planets likely needed the increased radiation from the red giant star to inflate, but the amount of radiation absorbed was also lower than expected.

    It is risky to attempt to reach strong conclusions with only two examples. But these results begin to rule out some explanations of planet inflation, and are consistent with a scenario where planets are directly inflated by the heat from their host stars. The mounting scientific evidence seems to suggest that stellar radiation alone can directly alter the size and density of a planet.

    Our own Sun will eventually become a red giant star, so it’s important to quantify the effect its evolution will have on the rest of the Solar System. “Studying how stellar evolution affects planets is a new frontier, both in other solar systems as well as our own,” said Grunblatt. “With a better idea of how planets respond to these changes, we can start to determine how the Sun’s evolution will affect the atmosphere, oceans, and life here on Earth.”

    The search for gas giant planets around red giant stars continues since additional systems could conclusively distinguish between planet inflation scenarios. Grunblatt and his team have been awarded time with the NASA Spitzer Space Telescope to measure the sizes of these twin planets more accurately. In addition, the search for planets around red giants with the NASA K2 Mission will continue for at least another year, and NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), launching in 2018, will observe hundreds of thousands of red giants across the entire sky.

    Seeing double with K2: Testing re-inflation with two remarkably similar planets orbiting red giant branch stars. published in November 27th edition of The Astronomical Journal.

    See the full article here .

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    To advance the frontiers of astronomy and share our discoveries with the world.

    The W. M. Keck Observatory operates the largest, most scientifically productive telescopes on Earth. The two, 10-meter optical/infrared telescopes on the summit of Mauna Kea on the Island of Hawaii feature a suite of advanced instruments including imagers, multi-object spectrographs, high-resolution spectrographs, integral-field spectrometer and world-leading laser guide star adaptive optics systems. Keck Observatory is a private 501(c) 3 non-profit organization and a scientific partnership of the California Institute of Technology, the University of California and NASA.

    Today Keck Observatory is supported by both public funding sources and private philanthropy. As a 501(c)3, the organization is managed by the California Association for Research in Astronomy (CARA), whose Board of Directors includes representatives from the California Institute of Technology and the University of California, with liaisons to the board from NASA and the Keck Foundation.
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  • richardmitnick 1:55 pm on August 31, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , NASA Kepler K2, What Does Kepler Have Its Eye On?   

    From Kepler: “What Does Kepler Have Its Eye On?” 

    NASA Kepler Logo

    NASA Kepler Telescope

    Aug. 31, 2017
    Editor: Michele Johnson


    Now in the fifteenth observing campaign of its K2 extended mission, the Kepler Space Telescope is studying more than 23,000 objects located in the direction of the constellation Scorpius. The cartoon illustrates some of the objects of interest that Kepler is observing from Aug. 23 to Nov. 20.

    In this swath of sky, called Field 15, Kepler will monitor a variety of astronomical sources of light, including faraway galaxies, star clusters, planetary systems and brown dwarfs. Closer to home, comets traveling from the outer reaches of our solar system on their orbital dance with the sun, and occupants of the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, will captivate the gaze of the multipurpose planet-hunter.

    One particularly interesting object is called GW Librae, a binary star system composed of a pulsating white dwarf and a brown dwarf. In this system, the strong gravity of the white dwarf distorts the brown dwarf and strips away gases from its outer layers. The build up of those gases on the white dwarf causes irregular and significant increases in brightness, and may eventually trigger a supernova explosion that will destroy the system. Scientists will study the brightness changes caused by the duo’s tumultuous tango to better understand the mechanisms that ignite these titanic explosions.

    Another system of interest previously discovered by the K2 mission is K2-38. In this planetary system, two super-Earth-size planets orbit a bright sun-like star approximately 600 light-years from Earth. Both planets orbit very close to their star, making them inhospitable for life–stick figure or otherwise–as we know it. The additional observations of the K2 Mission Field 15 will help scientists learn more about the characteristics of the star and enable a search for additional planets in the system.

    In addition, Kepler will observe three dozen solar system objects, and will also monitor more than three thousand faraway galaxies for signs of exploding stars or supernovae.

    Since May 2014, the Kepler spacecraft has been operating in its second mission called K2. Continuing the search for planets beyond the solar system or exoplanets, the K2 mission expands the scope of study to include notable star clusters, such as the Pleiades and Hyades; young and old stars, such as Aldebaran; distant active galaxies and supernovae.

    Unlike its predecessor, the K2 mission studies a different region of the sky known as the ecliptic plane. This is the plane in which Earth and the other planets and moons of our solar system travel on their annual trek around the sun. Along the ecliptic, 19 different fields of view have been identified for scientific investigation.

    See the full article here .

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    NASA’s Ames Research Center manages the Kepler and K2 missions for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, managed Kepler mission development. Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corporation operates the flight system with support from the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at the University of Colorado in Boulder.

    The loss of a second of the four reaction wheels on board the Kepler spacecraft in May 2013 brought an end to Kepler’s four plus year science mission to continuously monitor more than 150,000 stars to search for transiting exoplanets. Developed over the months following this failure, the K2 mission represents a new concept for spacecraft operations that enables continued scientific observations with the Kepler space telescope. K2 became fully operational in June 2014 and is expected to continue operating until 2017 or 2018.

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  • richardmitnick 9:33 pm on July 21, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , EPIC 228813918 b, NASA Kepler K2,   

    From Universe Today: “Earth-Sized Planet Takes Just Four Hours to Orbit its Star” 


    Universe Today

    21 July 2017
    Matt Williams

    Using data obtained by Kepler and numerous observatories around the world, an international team has found a Super-Earth that orbits its red dwarf star in just over 4 hours. Credit: M. Weiss/CfA

    The Kepler space observatory has made some interesting finds since it began its mission back in March of 2009.

    NASA/Kepler Telescope

    Even after the mission suffered the loss of two reaction wheels, it has continued to make discoveries as part of its K2 mission. All told, the Kepler and K2 missions have detected a total of 5,106 planetary candidates, and confirmed the existence of 2,493 planets.

    One of the latest finds made using Kepler is EPIC 228813918 b, a terrestrial (i.e. rocky) planet that orbits a red dwarf star some 264 to 355 light years from Earth. This discovery raises some interesting questions, as it is the second time that a planet with an ultra-short orbital period – it completes a single orbit in just 4 hours and 20 minutes – has been found orbiting a red dwarf star.

    The study, which was recently published online [MNRAS], was conducted by an international team of scientists who hail from institutions ranging from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), the Tokyo Institute of Technology, and the Institute of Astrophysics of the Canary Islands (IAC) to observatories and universities from all around the world.

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 1:23 pm on June 21, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , Mini-Neptunes, NASA Has Discovered Hundreds of Potential New Planets - And 10 May Be Like Earth, , NASA Kepler K2, , The new Earths next door?, You'd need 400 Keplers to cover the whole sky   

    From Science Alert: “NASA Has Discovered Hundreds of Potential New Planets – And 10 May Be Like Earth” 


    Science Alert

    20 JUN 2017

    An illustration of Earth-like planets Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/R. Hurt

    Astronomers are ecstatic.

    NASA scientists on Monday announced the discovery of 219 new objects beyond our solar system that are almost certainly planets. What’s more, 10 of these worlds may be rocky, about the size of Earth, and habitable.

    The data comes from the space agency’s long-running Kepler exoplanet-hunting mission. From March 2009 through May 2013, Kepler stared down about 145,000 sun-like stars in a tiny section of the night sky near the constellation Cygnus.

    Most of the stars in Kepler’s view were hundreds or thousands of light-years away, so there’s little chance humans will ever visit them – or at least any time soon. However, the data could tell astronomers how common Earth-like planets are, and what the chances of finding intelligent extraterrestrial life might be.

    “We have taken our telescope and we have counted up how many planets are similar to the Earth in this part of the sky,” Susan Thompson, a Kepler research scientist at the SETI Institute, said during a press conference at NASA Ames Research Center on Monday.

    SETI Institute

    “We said, ‘how many planets there are similar to Earth?’ With the data I have, I can now make that count,” she said.

    “We’re going to determine how common other planets are. Are there other places we could live in the galaxy that we don’t yet call home?”

    Added to Kepler’s previous discoveries, the 10 new Earth-like planet candidates make 49 total, Thompson said. If any of them have stable atmospheres, there’s even a chance they could harbour alien life.

    The new Earths next door?


    Scientists wouldn’t say too much about the 10 new planets, only that they appear to be roughly Earth-sized and orbit in their stars’ ‘habitable zone’ – where water is likely to be stable and liquid, not frozen or boiled away.

    That doesn’t guarantee these planets are actually habitable, though. Beyond harboring a stable atmosphere, things like plate tectonics and not being tidally locked may also be essential.

    However, Kepler researchers suspect that almost countless Earth-like planets are waiting to be found. This is because the telescope can only ‘see’ exoplanets that transit, or pass, in front of their stars.

    Planet transit. NASA/Ames

    The transit method of detecting planets that Kepler scientists use involves looking for dips in a star’s brightness, which are caused by a planet blocking out a fraction of the starlight (similar to how the Moon eclipses the Sun).

    Because most planets orbit in the same disk or plane, and that plane is rarely aligned with Earth, that means Kepler can only see a fraction of distant solar systems. (Exoplanets that are angled slightly up or down are invisible to the transit method.)

    Despite those challenges, Kepler has revealed the existence of 4,034 planet candidates, with 2,335 of those confirmed as exoplanets. And these are just the worlds in 0.25 percent of the night sky.

    “In fact, you’d need 400 Keplers to cover the whole sky,” Mario Perez, a Kepler program scientist at NASA, said during the briefing.

    The biggest number of planets appear to be a completely new class of planets, called “mini-Neptunes”, Benjamin Fulton, an astronomer at the University of Hawaii at Manoa and California Institute of Technology, said during the briefing.

    Such worlds are between the size of Earth and the gas giants of our solar system, and are likely the most numerous kind in the universe. ‘Super-Earths’, which are rocky planets that can be up to 10 times more massive than our own, are also very common.

    A popular new image I have used before. NASA/Kepler/Caltech (T. Pyle)

    “This number could have been very, very small,” Courtney Dressing, an astronomer at Caltech, said during the briefing. “I, for one, am ecstatic.”

    Kepler’s big back-up plan

    NASA Ames/W. Stenzel and JPL-Caltech/R. Hurt

    Gravitational microlensing, S. Liebes, Physical Review B, 133 (1964): 835

    Kepler finished collecting its first mission’s data in May 2013. It has taken scientists years to analyse that information because it’s often difficult parse, interpret, and verify.

    Thompson said this new Kepler data analysis will be the last for this leg of the telescope’s first observations. Kepler suffered two hardware failures (and then some) that limited its ability to aim at one area of the night sky, ending its mission to look at stars that are similar to the Sun.

    But scientists’ back-up plan, called the K2 mission, kicked off in May 2014. It takes advantage of Kepler’s restricted aim and uses it to study a variety of objects in space, including supernovas, baby stars, comets, and even asteroids.

    Although K2 is just getting off the ground, other telescopes have had success in these types of endeavours. In February, for example, a different one revealed the existence of seven rocky, Earth-size planets circling a red dwarf star.

    ESO Belgian robotic Trappist National Telescope at Cerro La Silla, Chile interior

    ESO Belgian robotic Trappist National Telescope at Cerro La Silla, Chile

    The TRAPPIST-1 star, an ultracool dwarf, is orbited by seven Earth-size planets (NASA).

    Such dwarf stars are the most common in the universe and can have more angry outbursts of solar flares and coronal mass ejections than sun-like stars.

    But paradoxically, they seem to harbour the most small, rocky planets in a habitable zone in the universe – and thus may be excellent places to look for signs of alien life.

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 5:28 pm on May 22, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Astronomers Confirm Orbital Details of TRAPPIST-1h, , NASA Kepler K2   

    From JPL-Caltech: “Astronomers Confirm Orbital Details of TRAPPIST-1h” 

    NASA JPL Banner


    May 22, 2017
    Elizabeth Landau
    Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.

    Michele Johnson
    Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif.

    Written by Michele Johnson

    This artist’s concept shows TRAPPIST-1h, one of seven Earth-size planets in the TRAPPIST-1 planetary system. NASA’s Kepler spacecraft, operating in its K2 mission, obtained data that allowed scientists to determine that the orbital period of TRAPPIST-1h is 19 days.Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

    NASA/Kepler Telescope

    Scientists using NASA’s Kepler space telescope identified a regular pattern in the orbits of the planets in the TRAPPIST-1 system that confirmed suspected details about the orbit of its outermost and least understood planet, TRAPPIST-1h.

    The TRAPPIST-1 star, an ultracool dwarf, is orbited by seven Earth-size planets (NASA).

    TRAPPIST-1 is only eight percent the mass of our sun, making it a cooler and less luminous star. It’s home to seven Earth-size planets, three of which orbit in their star’s habitable zone — the range of distances from a star where liquid water could pool on the surface of a rocky planet. The system is located about 40 light-years away in the constellation of Aquarius. The star is estimated to be between 3 billion and 8 billion years old.

    Scientists announced that the system has seven Earth-sized planets at a NASA press conference on Feb. 22. NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope, the TRAPPIST (Transiting Planets and Planetesimals Small Telescope) in Chile and other ground-based telescopes were used to detect and characterize the planets. But the collaboration only had an estimate for the period of TRAPPIST-1h.

    NASA/Spitzer Telescope

    ESO Belgian robotic Trappist National Telescope at Cerro La Silla, Chile interior

    ESO Belgian robotic Trappist National Telescope at Cerro La Silla, Chile

    Astronomers from the University of Washington have used data from the Kepler spacecraft to confirm that TRAPPIST-1h orbits its star every 19 days. At six million miles from its cool dwarf star, TRAPPIST-1h is located beyond the outer edge of the habitable zone, and is likely too cold for life as we know it. The amount of energy (per unit area) planet h receives from its star is comparable to what the dwarf planet Ceres, located in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, gets from our sun.

    “It’s incredibly exciting that we’re learning more about this planetary system elsewhere, especially about planet h, which we barely had information on until now,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate at Headquarters in Washington. “This finding is a great example of how the scientific community is unleashing the power of complementary data from our different missions to make such fascinating discoveries.”

    “It really pleased me that TRAPPIST-1h was exactly where our team predicted it to be. It had me worried for a while that we were seeing what we wanted to see — after all, things are almost never exactly what you expect them to be in this field,” said Rodrigo Luger, doctoral student at UW in Seattle, and lead author of the study published in the journal Nature Astronomy. “Nature usually surprises us at every turn, but, in this case, theory and observation matched perfectly.”

    Orbital Resonance – Harmony Among Celestial Bodies

    Using the prior Spitzer data, the team recognized a mathematical pattern in the frequency at which each of the six innermost planets orbits their star. This complex but predictable pattern, called an orbital resonance, occurs when planets exert a regular, periodic gravitational tug on each other as they orbit their star.

    To understand the concept of resonance, consider Jupiter’s moons Io, Europa and Ganymede, which is the farthest out of the three. For every time Ganymede orbits Jupiter, Europa orbits twice and Io makes four trips around the planet. This 1:2:4 resonance is considered stable and if one moon were nudged off course, it would self-correct and lock back into a stable orbit. It is this harmonious influence between the seven TRAPPIST-1 siblings that keeps the system stable.

    These relationships, said Luger, suggested that by studying the orbital velocities of its neighboring planets, scientists could predict the exact orbital velocity, and hence also orbital period, of planet h, even before the Kepler observations. The team calculated six possible resonant periods for planet h that would not disrupt the stability of the system, but only one was not ruled out by additional data. The other five possibilities could have been observed in the Spitzer and ground-based data collected by the TRAPPIST team.

    “All of this”, Luger said, “indicates that these orbital relationships were forged early in the life of the TRAPPIST-1 system, during the planet formation process.”

    “The resonant structure is no coincidence, and points to an interesting dynamical history in which the planets likely migrated inward in lock-step,” said Luger. “This makes the system a great laboratory for planet formation and migration theories.”

    Worldwide Real-time Collaboration

    The Kepler spacecraft stared at the patch of sky home to the TRAPPIST-1 system from Dec. 15, 2016, to March 4, 2017. collecting data on the star’s minuscule changes in brightness due to transiting planets as part of its second mission, K2. On March 8, the raw, uncalibrated data was released to the scientific community to begin follow-up studies.

    The work to confirm TRAPPIST-1h’s orbital period immediately began, and scientists from around the world took to social media to share in real-time the new information gleaned about the star’s behavior and its brood of planets. Within two hours of the data release, the team confirmed its prediction of a 19-day orbital period.

    “Pulling results out of data is always stimulating, but it was a rare treat to watch scientists across the world collaborate and share their progress in near-real time on social media as they analyzed the data and identified the transits of TRAPPIST-1h,” said Jessie Dotson, project scientist for the K2 mission at NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley. “The creativity and expediency by which the data has been put to use has been a particularly thrilling aspect of K2’s community-focused approach.”

    TRAPPIST-1’s seven-planet chain of resonances established a record among known planetary systems, the previous holders being the systems Kepler-80 and Kepler-223, each with four resonant planets.

    The TRAPPIST-1 system was first discovered in 2016 by the TRAPPIST collaboration, and was thought to have just three planets at that time. Additional planets were found with Spitzer and ground-based telescopes. NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope is following up with atmospheric observations, and the James Webb Space Telescope will be able to probe potential atmospheres in further detail.

    NASA/ESA Hubble Telescope

    “This work was based on 1333 hrs of new observations gathered from the ground with the 60cm telescopes TRAPPIST-South (469 hrs) and TRAPPIST-North (202 hrs), the 8m Very Large Telescope (3 hrs), the 4.2m William Herschel telescope (26 hrs), the 4m UKIRT telescope (25 hrs), the 2m Liverpool telescope (50 hrs), and the 1m SAAO telescope (11 hrs), and from space with Spitzer (518 hrs).

    ESO Belgian robotic Trappist-South National Telescope at Cerro La Silla, Chile

    Trappist-North Telescope in Morocco

    ESO/VLT at Cerro Paranal, with an elevation of 2,635 metres (8,645 ft) above sea level

    ING 4 meter William Herschel Telescope at Roque de los Muchachos Observatory on La Palma in the Canary Islands

    UKIRT, located on Mauna Kea, Hawai’i, USA as part of Mauna Kea Observatory

    2-metre Liverpool Telescope at La Palma in the Canary Islands

    SAAO 1.9 meter Telescope, at the SAAO observation station 15Kms from the small Karoo town of Sutherland in the Northern Cape, a 4-hour drive from Cape Town.

    Ames manages the Kepler and K2 missions for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, managed Kepler mission development. Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp. operates the flight system with support from the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at the University of Colorado in Boulder.

    For more information about the Kepler and K2 missions, visit:


    For more information about the TRAPPIST-1 system, visit:


    See the full article here .

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    NASA JPL Campus

    Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) is a federally funded research and development center and NASA field center located in the San Gabriel Valley area of Los Angeles County, California, United States. Although the facility has a Pasadena postal address, it is actually headquartered in the city of La Cañada Flintridge [1], on the northwest border of Pasadena. JPL is managed by the nearby California Institute of Technology (Caltech) for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. The Laboratory’s primary function is the construction and operation of robotic planetary spacecraft, though it also conducts Earth-orbit and astronomy missions. It is also responsible for operating NASA’s Deep Space Network.

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  • richardmitnick 8:47 am on January 9, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: And along came a Neptune-sized planet, , Hot-Neptune, K2:105 b, NASA Kepler K2   

    From astrobites: “And along came a Neptune-sized planet” 

    Astrobites bloc


    Title: The K2-ESPRINT Project VI: K2-105 b, a Hot-Neptune around a Metal-rich G-dwarf
    Authors: N.Narita et al. 2017
    First Author’s Institution: Department of Astronomy, The University of Tokyo, 7-3-1 Hongo, Bunkyo-ku, Tokyo 113-0033, Japan
    Status: Accepted in the Publications of the Astronomical Society of Japan, open access

    At the end of its extended 4 year campaign in space, Kepler scientists were left with a telescope that despite certain limitations, could still do good science. Thus the K2 mission was born and has so far found an additional 520 candidate exoplanets, including K2:105 b: a “Hot-Neptune” orbiting around a Sun-like G2 star. In this astrobite we will be discussing the K2 mission, confirming candidate planets using ground based telescopes and the importance of objects like K2-105 b if we are ever going to understand our own Solar system.

    NASA/Kepler Telescope
    NASA/Kepler Telescope

    Fig 1: The observation fields for Kepler, including Field 5 which contains K2-105b. Credit: Kepler mission, NASA.

    Launched in 2009, Kepler spent four years watching hundreds of thousands of stars in order to catch transiting exoplanets. When a planet moves in front of its host, a characteristic dip in brightness is observed which is related to the radius of the exoplanet. The mission almost came to an end when the second of Kepler’s four reaction wheels ceased operations limiting control over its orientation. Thankfully the clever scientists at NASA concluded that Kepler could still be manoeuvred sufficiently to observe stars in one patch of the sky for 80 days. This gave rise to the K2 mission and provided scientists with a chance to continue their hunt for new planets.

    As of December the 21st 2016, the number of confirmed exoplanets sits at a staggering 3,439 planets, with some existing inside 576 confirmed planetary systems. Yet with over a thousand potential Kepler planets there is clearly still a lot of work to do on the ground. Kepler candidate planets are often confirmed through follow up observations of a stars wobble – this is known as the radial velocity method and when combined with transit data reveals the mass of an exoplanet.

    Fig 2: (Left. Fig.1 of paper) Light curve of K2-105 taken by Kepler, with red bars to indicate the positions of transits, required to determine the radius of K2-105 b. (Right. Fig.6 of paper) Radial velocity data, taken with the Subaru telescope based in Hawaii, is combined with transit data to estimate the mass of K2-105 b.

    With a Neptune-like radius of around 23,000 km and orbital period of 8.27 days around its Sun-like host, K2-105 b is described as a Hot-Neptune. Hot-Neptunes are Neptune-sized planets with a radius between 3-6 times that of the Earth which orbit close to their star. Previous studies have only uncovered a few Hot-Neptunes around solar mass stars, and no exoplanets larger than Hot-Neptunes around smaller stars. This has lead some scientists to hypothesise the existence of a size boundary which planets must exceed to become a gas giant like Jupiter – meaning future investigation of Hot-Neptunes like K2-105 b are vital to understanding the formation of our outer Solar system.

    One major aspect for further study is uncovering the mass of K2-105 b. Some parameters were not extracted from the original radial velocity data, meaning current mass estimates are poorly constrained at 30 +/- 19 Earth masses. If the total mass is fewer than 30 Earth masses, scientists believe that the planet is likely to be a rocky planet with around 10% of its mass existing as an atmosphere – a kind of gas dwarf planet. This conclusion just leads to more questions such as how does a gas dwarf form? All current formation scenarios require the planetary mass to be known and this requires more radial velocity data.

    Observations of Hot-Neptunes could provide a good insight into the early days of Solar system formation. Clearly we have no K2-105 bs in our Solar system, and our own icy giants, Neptune and Uranus, are located beyond 20 AU. During the formation of a planetary system, planets are believed to migrate inwards towards their host star. The ‘Nice’ model suggests Saturn and Jupiter migrated inwards and not only acted as a barrier for icy giant inward migration, but also pushed Neptune and Uranus outwards to a highly elliptical orbit. Continued radial velocity observations will not only help constrain the mass of K2-105 b, but will also confirm whether the exoplanet has company in the form of outer planets.

    The Kepler spacecraft has discovered and confirmed thousands of exoplanets since its launch, providing scientists with new insights into just how odd and unique our own Solar system is. Hopefully K2-105 b is just the start of a Hot-Neptune discovering extravaganza required to uncover its early secrets.

    See the full article here .

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    What do we do?

    Astrobites is a daily astrophysical literature journal written by graduate students in astronomy. Our goal is to present one interesting paper per day in a brief format that is accessible to undergraduate students in the physical sciences who are interested in active research.
    Why read Astrobites?

    Reading a technical paper from an unfamiliar subfield is intimidating. It may not be obvious how the techniques used by the researchers really work or what role the new research plays in answering the bigger questions motivating that field, not to mention the obscure jargon! For most people, it takes years for scientific papers to become meaningful.
    Our goal is to solve this problem, one paper at a time. In 5 minutes a day reading Astrobites, you should not only learn about one interesting piece of current work, but also get a peek at the broader picture of research in a new area of astronomy.

  • richardmitnick 9:12 am on October 31, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , NASA Kepler K2, NASA Missions Harvest a Passel of ‘Pumpkin’ Stars,   

    From Goddard: “NASA Missions Harvest a Passel of ‘Pumpkin’ Stars” 

    NASA Goddard Banner

    NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

    Oct. 27, 2016
    Francis Reddy
    NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.

    Astronomers using observations from NASA’s Kepler and Swift missions have discovered a batch of rapidly spinning stars that produce X-rays at more than 100 times the peak levels ever seen from the sun. The stars, which spin so fast they’ve been squashed into pumpkin-like shapes, are thought to be the result of close binary systems where two sun-like stars merge.

    NASA/Kepler Telescope
    NASA/Kepler Telescope

    NASA/SWIFT Telescope
    NASA/SWIFT Telescope

    Access mp4 video here .
    Dive into the Kepler field and learn more about the origins of these rapidly spinning stars.
    Credits: Credits: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/Scott Wiessinger, producer

    “These 18 stars rotate in just a few days on average, while the sun takes nearly a month,” said Steve Howell, a senior research scientist at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California, and leader of the team. “The rapid rotation amplifies the same kind of activity we see on the sun, such as sunspots and solar flares, and essentially sends it into overdrive.”

    The most extreme member of the group, a K-type orange giant dubbed KSw 71, is more than 10 times larger than the sun, rotates in just 5.5 days, and produces X-ray emission 4,000 times greater than the sun does at solar maximum.

    This artist’s concept illustrates how the most extreme “pumpkin star” found by Kepler and Swift compares with the sun. Both stars are shown to scale. KSw 71 is larger, cooler and redder than the sun and rotates four times faster. Rapid spin causes the star to flatten into a pumpkin shape, which results in brighter poles and a darker equator. Rapid rotation also drives increased levels of stellar activity such as starspots, flares and prominences, producing X-ray emission over 4,000 times more intense than the peak emission from the sun. KSw 71 is thought to have recently formed following the merger of two sun-like stars in a close binary system. Credits: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/Francis Reddy

    These rare stars were found as part of an X-ray survey of the original Kepler field of view, a patch of the sky comprising parts of the constellations Cygnus and Lyra. From May 2009 to May 2013, Kepler measured the brightness of more than 150,000 stars in this region to detect the regular dimming from planets passing in front of their host stars. The mission was immensely successful, netting more than 2,300 confirmed exoplanets and nearly 5,000 candidates to date. An ongoing extended mission, called K2, continues this work in areas of the sky located along the ecliptic, the plane of Earth’s orbit around the sun.

    “A side benefit of the Kepler mission is that its initial field of view is now one of the best-studied parts of the sky,” said team member Padi Boyd, a researcher at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, who designed the Swift survey. For example, the entire area was observed in infrared light by NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, and NASA’s Galaxy Evolution Explorer observed many parts of it in the ultraviolet.

    NASA/Galex telescope
    NASA/Galex telescope

    “Our group was looking for variable X-ray sources with optical counterparts seen by Kepler, especially active galaxies, where a central black hole drives the emissions,” she explained.

    Using the X-ray and ultraviolet/optical telescopes aboard Swift, the researchers conducted the Kepler–Swift Active Galaxies and Stars Survey (KSwAGS), imaging about six square degrees, or 12 times the apparent size of a full moon, in the Kepler field.

    “With KSwAGS we found 93 new X-ray sources, about evenly split between active galaxies and various types of X-ray stars,” said team member Krista Lynne Smith, a graduate student at the University of Maryland, College Park who led the analysis of Swift data. “Many of these sources have never been observed before in X-rays or ultraviolet light.”

    For the brightest sources, the team obtained spectra using the 200-inch telescope at Palomar Observatory in California.

    Caltech Palomar 200 inch Hale Telescope, at Mt Wilson, CA, USA
    Caltech Palomar 200 inch Hale Telescope interior
    Caltech Palomar 200 inch Hale Telescope, at Mt Wilson, CA, USA

    These spectra provide detailed chemical portraits of the stars and show clear evidence of enhanced stellar activity, particularly strong diagnostic lines of calcium and hydrogen.

    The researchers used Kepler measurements to determine the rotation periods and sizes for 10 of the stars, which range from 2.9 to 10.5 times larger than the sun. Their surface temperatures range from somewhat hotter to slightly cooler than the sun, mostly spanning spectral types F through K. Astronomers classify the stars as subgiants and giants, which are more advanced evolutionary phases than the sun’s caused by greater depletion of their primary fuel source, hydrogen. All of them eventually will become much larger red giant stars.

    A paper detailing the findings will be published in the Nov. 1 edition of the Astrophysical Journal and is now available online.

    Forty years ago, Ronald Webbink at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign noted that close binary systems cannot survive once the fuel supply of one star dwindles and it starts to enlarge. The stars coalesce to form a single rapidly spinning star initially residing in a so-called “excretion” disk formed by gas thrown out during the merger. The disk dissipates over the next 100 million years, leaving behind a very active, rapidly spinning star.

    Howell and his colleagues suggest that their 18 KSwAGS stars formed by this scenario and have only recently dissipated their disks. To identify so many stars passing through such a cosmically brief phase of development is a real boon to stellar astronomers.

    “Webbink’s model suggests we should find about 160 of these stars in the entire Kepler field,” said co-author Elena Mason, a researcher at the Italian National Institute for Astrophysics Astronomical Observatory of Trieste. “What we have found is in line with theoretical expectations when we account for the small portion of the field we observed with Swift.”

    The team has already extended their Swift observations to additional fields mapped by the K2 mission.

    Ames manages the Kepler and K2 missions for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, managed Kepler mission development. Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp. operates the flight system with support from the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at the University of Colorado in Boulder.

    Goddard manages the Swift mission in collaboration with Pennsylvania State University in University Park, the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico and Orbital Sciences Corp. in Dulles, Virginia. Other partners include the University of Leicester and Mullard Space Science Laboratory in the United Kingdom, Brera Observatory and the Italian Space Agency in Italy, with additional collaborators in Germany and Japan.

    Related Links

    NASA’s Kepler and K2 mission website
    NASA’s Swift mission website

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    NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center is home to the nation’s largest organization of combined scientists, engineers and technologists that build spacecraft, instruments and new technology to study the Earth, the sun, our solar system, and the universe.

    Named for American rocketry pioneer Dr. Robert H. Goddard, the center was established in 1959 as NASA’s first space flight complex. Goddard and its several facilities are critical in carrying out NASA’s missions of space exploration and scientific discovery.
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  • richardmitnick 12:27 pm on October 24, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Kepler has caught hundreds of asteroids, NASA Kepler K2,   

    From phys.org: “Kepler has caught hundreds of asteroids” 


    October 24, 2016
    László Molnár

    A selection of Trojan light curves. The shape of the light curve depends on the shape of the asteroid and its altitude with respect to the Sun. Asteroid (22056) appears to be a binary object with a period of almost fifteen days (lower right). Credit: Gy. M. Szabó et al. 2016

    Previously, the Kepler space telescope looked straight out from the solar system in a direction almost perpendicular to the ecliptic and the plane of the planets.

    NASA/Kepler Telescope
    NASA/Kepler Telescope

    This way, it could observe the same spot all year long, as the sun, and most of the solar system, were out of its field of view. But since the start of K2 mission, it has been observing parallel to that plane in order to better balance against the radiation pressure of the sun. This new strategy has two important consequences: One is that Kepler has to change its field of view every three months to avoid the sun; the other is that our own solar system, unexpectedly, has become a target for the exoplanet-hunting telescope.

    For most astronomers working with Kepler, planets and asteroids zipping through the images are little more than a nuisance when studying the light variations of stars. Researchers from the Konkoly and Gothard Observatories in Hungary, however, saw a research opportunity in these moving specks of light. Following up on their work with trans-Neptunian objects, they examined the light variations of some main-belt and Trojan asteroids in a pair of research papers.

    Szabó, R., et al: Uninterrupted optical light curves of main-belt asteroids from the K2 Mission, Astronomy & Astrophysics (2016), dx.doi.org/10.1051/0004-6361/201629059, arxiv.org/abs/1609.02759

    Szabó, Gy. M., et al.: The heart of the swarm: K2 photometry and rotational characteristics of 56 Jovian Trojan asteroids, Astronomy & Astrophysics (2016), doi.org/10.1051/0004-6361/201629401, arxiv.org/abs/1609.02760

    They used a custom-built pipeline based on the software package Fitsh, developed by team member András Pál, to accurately measure moving targets in the images.

    Main-belt asteroids were not targeted by Kepler, so the astronomers selected two extended mosaics that covered the open cluster M35 and the path of the planet Neptune, and simply tracked all known asteroids crossing them. Most of the objects were continuously observable for one to four days, which may not sound like much, but is significantly longer than single-night runs achievable with ground-based telescopes. Indeed, the researchers hoped that with Kepler, they could determine the rotation periods of the asteroids more accurately, without the uncertainties caused by daytime gaps in the data—and they did, but only for a fraction of the sample.

    “We measured the paths of all known asteroids, but most of them turned out to be simply too faint for Kepler. The dense stellar background toward M35 further reduced the number of successful detections,” said Róbert Szabó (Konkoly Observatory, MTA CSFK), lead author of the paper. “Still, we have to keep in mind that Kepler was never meant to do such studies; therefore, observing four dozen asteroids with new rotation rates is already more than anybody anticipated,” he added.

    The other study focused on 56 pre-selected Trojan asteroids in the middle of the L4, or “Greek” group, which orbits ahead of Jupiter. Since they are farther out from Kepler, they could be observed for longer periods, from 10 to 20 days, without interruption. And this turned out to be crucial: Many objects exhibited slow light variations between two and 15 days. Long periodicity suggests that what we see is not just one rotating asteroid, but actually two orbiting each other—the study confirmed that about 20 to 25 percent of Trojans are binary asteroids or asteroid-moon pairs. As Gyula M. Szabó (ELTE Gothard Astrophysical Observatory), lead author of the other paper, said, “Estimating the rate of binaries highlights the great advantage of Kepler, because the interesting periods, longer than 24 to 48 hours, are really hard to measure from the Earth.”

    What Kepler did not see are rapidly spinning Trojans. Even for the fastest ones, one rotation takes more than five hours, suggesting that the asteroids we see are likely icy, porous objects, similar to comets and trans-Neptunian objects, and different from the rockier main belt objects. “A large piece of rock can rotate much faster than a rubble pile or an icy body of the same size without breaking apart. Our findings favour the scenario that Trojans arrived from the ice-dominated outer solar system instead of migrating outwards from the main asteroid belt,” Szabó said.

    Kepler aimed at the heart of the L4 swarm. Green dots are the known Trojans, black dots are the observed ones. Credit: Gy. M. Szabó et al. 2016

    As Kepler continues its new mission, more objects from the solar system are crossing into its view, including planets, moons, asteroids and comets. The telescope that transformed the science of stars and exoplanets will undoubtedly leave its mark in planetary science, as well.

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    About Phys.org in 100 Words

    Phys.org™ (formerly Physorg.com) is a leading web-based science, research and technology news service which covers a full range of topics. These include physics, earth science, medicine, nanotechnology, electronics, space, biology, chemistry, computer sciences, engineering, mathematics and other sciences and technologies. Launched in 2004, Phys.org’s readership has grown steadily to include 1.75 million scientists, researchers, and engineers every month. Phys.org publishes approximately 100 quality articles every day, offering some of the most comprehensive coverage of sci-tech developments world-wide. Quancast 2009 includes Phys.org in its list of the Global Top 2,000 Websites. Phys.org community members enjoy access to many personalized features such as social networking, a personal home page. set-up, RSS/XML feeds, article comments and ranking, the ability to save favorite articles, a daily newsletter, and other options.

  • richardmitnick 8:13 am on October 24, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , Kepler finds scores of planets around cool dwarf stars, NASA Kepler K2,   

    From Nature: “Kepler finds scores of planets around cool dwarf stars” 

    Nature Mag

    21 October 2016
    Ramin Skibba

    NASA Ames/JPL-Caltech/T Pyle

    NASA’s Kepler observatory has spotted 20 planets that orbit cool, small stars — the largest such haul so far. These long-lived stars, known as K and M dwarfs, are ubiquitous in the Milky Way and could turn out to host numerous habitable planets.

    After the Kepler spacecraft experienced a mechanical failure in 2013 that made it impossible for it to keep observing its original targets, astronomers gave it a new mission, called K2. It now uses pressure from sunlight to help stabilize the craft. The latest observations with K2 revealed 87 planet candidates, on top of 667 previously announced candidates, almost all with sizes between those of Mars and Neptune.

    Although the original Kepler mission examined many Sun-like stars, the majority of stars in our Galaxy are smaller, fainter, cooler stars, known as red dwarfs. Such stars make up nearly half the targets of the K2 mission. “There are more than 250 of them within 30 light-years — all over the place — which is why some other astronomers here might call them the vermin of the sky,” says Courtney Dressing, an astrophysicist at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena who presented the research at a joint meeting of the American Astronomical Society’s Division for Planetary Sciences and the European Planetary Science Congress in Pasadena on 19 October.

    Of the confirmed planets, 63 are smaller than Neptune, and a few could be even smaller than Earth. But these small candidates remain to be confirmed. Dressing believes that these are probably “false positives” caused by other phenomena such as cosmic rays or an instrumental glitch.

    Five of the confirmed planet candidates are in or near their star’s ‘habitable zone’, the region that’s neither too close to the star, nor too far from it, for life to arise. In our Solar System, the zone is roughly between the orbits of Venus and Mars.

    Red dwarf stars give off less energy than larger, hotter stars, so their planets’ habitable zones are closer in, often closer to their star than Mercury is to the Sun. Such planets transit frequently, some orbiting their star within just a few weeks, making it easier to use Kepler’s instruments to detect the tell-tale dimming of stellar light.

    The focus on red dwarfs stems partly from the K2 mission’s constraints, which allow the astronomers less then three months to observe stars in its field of viewbefore having to rotate the craft. Moving from field to field poses a challenge, but it also gives the team an opportunity to investigate more objects. “It’s fun to study a new set of stars every 80 days,” Dressing says.

    Dressing’s research also paves the way for more sensitive future missions designed to look for Earth-sized planets, says Christa van Laerhoven, a planetary scientist at the Canadian Institute for Theoretical Astrophysics in Toronto. Such missions include NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, scheduled to launch in December next year.


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    Nature is a weekly international journal publishing the finest peer-reviewed research in all fields of science and technology on the basis of its originality, importance, interdisciplinary interest, timeliness, accessibility, elegance and surprising conclusions. Nature also provides rapid, authoritative, insightful and arresting news and interpretation of topical and coming trends affecting science, scientists and the wider public.

  • richardmitnick 1:49 pm on July 18, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , NASA Kepler K2   

    From Keck: “More Than 100 Planets Confirmed in Single Trove” 

    Keck Observatory

    Keck Observatory.
    Keck, with Subaru and IRTF (NASA Infrared Telescope Facility). Vadim Kurland

    Keck Observatory


    Steve Jefferson
    W. M. Keck Observatory
    (808) 881-3827


    Ian Crossfield
    University of Arizona
    (949) 923-0578

    An artist’s impression of Kepler-78b, an Earth-sized rocky exoplanet discovered by Roberto Sanchis-Ojeda (MIT) using Kepler Space Telescope data, and confirmed by University of Hawaii astronomer Andrew Howard using W. M. Keck Observatory atop Mauna Kea. Courtesy of UH-Manoa.

    An international team of astronomers have discovered and confirmed a treasure trove of new worlds. The researchers achieved this extraordinary discovery of exoplanets by combining NASA’s K2 mission data with follow-up observations by Earth-based telescopes including the W. M. Keck Observatory on Maunakea, the twin Gemini telescopes on Maunakea and in Chile, the Automated Planet Finder of the University of California Observatories and the Large Binocular Telescope operated by the University of Arizona. The team confirmed more than 100 planets, including the first planetary system comprising four planets potentially similar to Earth. The discoveries are published online in The Astrophysical Journal Supplement Series.

    NASA/Kepler Telescope
    NASA/Kepler Telescope

    Gemini/North telescope at Manua Kea, Hawaii, USA
    Gemini/North telescope at Manua Kea, Hawaii, USA

    Gemini South telescope
    Gemini South telescope, Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory (CTIO) campus near La Serena, Chile

     UCO Lick Automated Planet Finder telescope
    UCO Lick Automated Planet Finder telescope, Mount Hamilton, CA, USA

    Large Binocular Telescope,  Mount Graham,  Arizona, USA
    U Arizona Large Binocular Telescope, Mount Graham, Arizona, USA

    Ironically, the bounty was made possible when the Kepler space telescope’s pointing system broke.

    In its initial mission, Kepler surveyed a specific patch of sky in the northern hemisphere, measuring the frequency with which planets whose sizes and temperatures are similar to Earth occur around stars like our sun. But when it lost its ability to precisely stare at its original target area in 2013, engineers created a second life for the telescope that is proving remarkably fruitful.

    The new mission, dubbed K2, has provided the capability of observing a series of independent target fields in the ecliptic plane with greater opportunities for Earth-based observatories in both the northern and southern hemispheres. Additionally, in contrast to the Kepler mission, K2 is an entirely community-driven mission with all targets proposed for by the scientific community. K2 now looks at a larger fraction of cooler, smaller, red dwarf-type stars, which are much more common in our Milky Way than sun-like stars.

    “Kepler’s original mission observed a small patch of sky as it was designed to conduct a demographic survey of the different types of planets,” said Ian Crossfield, a Sagan Fellow at the University of Arizona’s Lunar and Planetary Laboratory, who led the research effort. “This approach effectively meant that relatively few of the brightest, closest red dwarfs were included in Kepler’s survey. The K2 mission allows us to increase the number of small, red stars by a factor of 20 for further study.”

    One of the most interesting set of planets discovered in this study is a system of four potentially rocky planets, between 20 and 50 percent larger than Earth, orbiting a star less than half the size and with less light output than the Sun. Their orbital periods range from five-and-a-half to 24 days, and two of them may experience radiation levels from their star comparable to those on Earth.

    Despite their tight orbits — closer than Mercury’s orbit around the sun — the possibility that life could arise on a planet around such a star cannot be ruled out, according to Crossfield.

    “Because these smaller stars are so common in the Milky Way, it could be that life occurs much more frequently on planets orbiting cool, red stars rather than planets around stars like our sun,” Crossfield said.

    To validate candidate planets identified by K2, the researchers obtained high-resolution images of the planet-hosting stars from Keck Observatory’s near infrared camera (NIRC2), the Gemini and Large Binocular Telescope (among others) as well as high-resolution optical spectroscopy using Keck Observatory’s high resolution spectrograph (HIRES) instrument and the AUtomated Planet Finder. By dispersing the starlight, the spectrographs allowed the researchers to measure the physical properties of a star — such as mass, radius and temperature — and infer the properties of any planets orbiting it.

    Keck NIRC2 Camera
    Keck NIRC2 Camera

    Keck HIRES
    Keck HIRES

    “Our analysis shows that by the end of the K2 mission, we expect to double or triple the number of relatively small planets orbiting nearby, bright stars,” Crossfield said. “And because these planets orbit brighter stars, we’ll be able to more easily study everything possible about them, whether it’s measuring their masses with Doppler spectroscopy — already underway at Keck Observatory and APF — or measuring their atmospheric makeup with the James Webb Space Telescope in just a few years.”

    For a full list of authors and funding information, please see the research paper, “197 Candidates and 104 Validated Planets in K2’s First Five Fields,” available for download at https://www.lpl.arizona.edu/~ianc/docs/crossfield….

    NIRC2 (the Near-Infrared Camera, second generation) works in combination with the Keck II adaptive optics system to obtain very sharp images at near-infrared wavelengths, achieving spatial resolutions comparable to or better than those achieved by the Hubble Space Telescope at optical wavelengths. NIRC2 is probably best known for helping to provide definitive proof of a central massive black hole at the center of our galaxy. Astronomers also use NIRC2 to map surface features of solar system bodies, detect planets orbiting other stars, and study detailed morphology of distant galaxies.

    HIRES (the High-Resolution Echelle Spectrometer) produces spectra of single objects at very high spectral resolution, yet covering a wide wavelength range. It does this by separating the light into many “stripes” of spectra stacked across a mosaic of three large CCD detectors. HIRES is famous for finding planets orbiting other stars. Astronomers also use HIRES to study distant galaxies and quasars, finding clues to the Big Bang. 

    See the full article here .

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    To advance the frontiers of astronomy and share our discoveries with the world.

    The W. M. Keck Observatory operates the largest, most scientifically productive telescopes on Earth. The two, 10-meter optical/infrared telescopes on the summit of Mauna Kea on the Island of Hawaii feature a suite of advanced instruments including imagers, multi-object spectrographs, high-resolution spectrographs, integral-field spectrometer and world-leading laser guide star adaptive optics systems. Keck Observatory is a private 501(c) 3 non-profit organization and a scientific partnership of the California Institute of Technology, the University of California and NASA.

    Today Keck Observatory is supported by both public funding sources and private philanthropy. As a 501(c)3, the organization is managed by the California Association for Research in Astronomy (CARA), whose Board of Directors includes representatives from the California Institute of Technology and the University of California, with liaisons to the board from NASA and the Keck Foundation.
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