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  • richardmitnick 12:28 pm on June 7, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , NASA Kepler K2, Researchers discover a system with three Earth-sized planets   

    From Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias – IAC : “Researchers discover a system with three Earth-sized planets” 

    Manu Garcia, a friend from IAC.

    The universe around us.
    Astronomy, everything you wanted to know about our local universe and never dared to ask.


    From Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias – IAC

    Jun. 6, 2018
    Contact at the IAC:
    Jonay González Hernández

    The Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias (IAC) and the University of Oviedo present today the discovery of two new planetary systems, one of them hosting three planets with the same size of the Earth.


    The information about these new exoplanets has been obtained from the data collected by the K2 mission of NASA’s Kepler satellite, which started in November 2013.

    NASA/Kepler Telescope

    The work, which will be published in the Monthly Notices of the magazine Royal Astronomical Society (MNRAS), reveals the existence of two new planetary systems detected from the eclipses they produce in the stellar light of their respective stars. In the research team led jointly by Javier de Cos at the University of Oviedo, and Rafael Rebolo at the IAC, participate, along with researchers from these two centres, others from the University of Geneva and the Gran Telescopio Canarias (GTC).

    The first exoplanetary system is located in the star K2-239, characterized by these researchers as a red dwarf type M3V from observations made with the Gran Telescopio Canarias (GTC), at the Roque de los Muchachos Observatory (Garafía, La Palma). It is located in the constellation of the Sextant at 50 parsecs from the Sun (at about 160 light years). It has a compact system of at least three rocky planets of similar size to the Earth (1.1, 1.0 and 1.1 Earth radii) that orbit the star every 5.2, 7.8 and 10.1 days, respectively.

    The other red dwarf star called K2-240 has two super-Earth-like planets about twice the size of our planet. Although the atmospheric temperature of red dwarf stars, around which these planets revolve, is 3,450 and 3,800 K respectively, almost half the temperature of our Sun. These researchers estimate that all planets discovered will have temperatures superficial tens of degrees higher than those of the planet Earth due to the strong radiation they receive in these close orbits to their stars.

    Future observation campaigns with the new James Webb space telescope will characterize the composition of the atmospheres of the discovered planets. Spectroscopic observations with the ESPRESSO instrument, installed in the Very Large Telescope (VLT), of the European Southern Observatory (ESO), or with future spectrographs in the GTC or in new astronomical facilities, such as the ELT or the TMT, will be crucial to determine the masses, densities and physical properties of these planets.

    NASA/ESA/CSA Webb Telescope annotated

    Espresso Layout


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

    ESO/E-ELT,to be on top of Cerro Armazones in the Atacama Desert of northern Chile, at an altitude 3,046 m (9,993 ft)

    TMT-Thirty Meter Telescope, proposed and now approved for Mauna Kea, Hawaii, USA4,207 m (13,802 ft) above sea level

    Astro-ph: https://arxiv.org/pdf/1806.01181.pdf

    See the full article here.

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    The Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias(IAC) is an international research centre in Spain which comprises:

    The Instituto de Astrofísica, the headquarters, which is in La Laguna (Tenerife).
    The Centro de Astrofísica en La Palma (CALP)
    The Observatorio del Teide (OT), in Izaña (Tenerife).
    The Observatorio del Roque de los Muchachos (ORM), in Garafía (La Palma).

    Roque de los Muchachos Observatory is an astronomical observatory located in the municipality of Garafía on the island of La Palma in the Canary Islands, at an altitude of 2,396 m (7,861 ft)

    These centres, with all the facilities they bring together, make up the European Northern Observatory(ENO).

    The IAC is constituted administratively as a Public Consortium, created by statute in 1982, with involvement from the Spanish Government, the Government of the Canary Islands, the University of La Laguna and Spain’s Science Research Council (CSIC).

    The International Scientific Committee (CCI) manages participation in the observatories by institutions from other countries. A Time Allocation Committee (CAT) allocates the observing time reserved for Spain at the telescopes in the IAC’s observatories.

    The exceptional quality of the sky over the Canaries for astronomical observations is protected by law. The IAC’s Sky Quality Protection Office (OTPC) regulates the application of the law and its Sky Quality Group continuously monitors the parameters that define observing quality at the IAC Observatories.

    The IAC’s research programme includes astrophysical research and technological development projects.

    The IAC is also involved in researcher training, university teaching and outreachactivities.

    The IAC has devoted much energy to developing technology for the design and construction of a large 10.4 metre diameter telescope, the ( Gran Telescopio CANARIAS, GTC), which is sited at the Observatorio del Roque de los Muchachos.

    Gran Telescopio Canarias at the Roque de los Muchachos Observatory on the island of La Palma, in the Canaries, SpainGran Telescopio CANARIAS, GTC

  • richardmitnick 12:08 pm on March 27, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , NASA Kepler K2, , , National Computational Infrastructure at the Australian National University in Canberra, SkyMapper telescope at Siding Spring Observatory, SN KSN 2015K,   

    From Space Science Telescope Institute via COSMOS: “Gone in a flash: supernova burns up in just 25 days” 

    Space Science Telescope Institute


    27 March 2018
    Lauren Fuge

    Huge, bright and incredibly violent, a new supernova provides new challenges for astronomers.

    An artists impression of how the explosive light of the supernova was hidden for a while behind a cocoon of ejected dust. Nature Astronomy.

    Astronomers have witnessed a blazing supernova explosion that faded away 10 times faster than expected.

    A supernova is the violent death of a massive star, typically occurring when it exhausts its fuel supply and collapses under its own weight, generating a powerful shockwave that blasts light and material out into space.

    Supernovae often blaze so brightly that they briefly outshine all the other stars in their host galaxy. They show off for months on end — in 1054, a supernova could be seen during the day for three weeks and only disappeared completely after two years. Its remnants are known as the Crab Nebula.

    The Crab Nebula in all its glory. NASA, ESA, NRAO/AUI/NSF and G. Dubner (University of Buenos Aires).

    Now an international team of astronomers, led by Armin Rest from the Space Science Telescope Institute in Baltimore, US, has observed a supernova that rapidly soared to its peak brightness in 2.2 days then faded away in just 25.

    “When I first saw the Kepler data, and realised how short this transient is, my jaw dropped,” recalls Rest.

    The supernova, dubbed KSN 2015K, is part of a puzzling class of rare events called Fast-Evolving Luminous Transients (FELTs).

    KSN 2015K’s host is the star-forming spiral galaxy 2MASX-J13315109-1044061. Image credit: Rest et al: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41550-018-0423-2.

    FELTs don’t fit into existing supernova models and astronomers are still debating their sources. Previous suggestions include the afterglow of a gamma-ray burst, a supernova turbo-boosted by a magnetically-powerful neutron star, or a failed example of special type of binary star supernova known as a type 1a. KSN 2015K is the most extreme example found so far.

    In a paper published in the journal Nature Astronomy, the team says that KSN 2015K’s behaviour can most likely be explained by its surroundings: the star was swathed in dense gas and dust that it ejected in its old age, like a caterpillar spinning a cocoon. When the supernova detonated, it took some time for the resulting shock wave to slam into the shell of material and produce a burst of light, becoming visible to astronomers.

    KSN 2015K was captured by NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope, which is designed to hunt for planets by noticing the tiny, temporary dips in light from far-away stars when planets pass in front of them.

    NASA/Kepler Telescope

    Planet transit. NASA/Ames

    This exact skill is also useful in studying supernovae and other brief, explosive events.

    “Using Kepler’s high-speed light-measuring capabilities, we’ve been able to see this exotic star explosion in incredible detail,” says team member Brad Tucker, an astrophysicist from the Australian National University.

    Co-author David Khatami from the University of California, Berkeley, US, adds that this is the first time astronomers can test FELT models to a high degree of accuracy. “The fact that Kepler completely captured the rapid evolution really constrains the exotic ways in which stars die,” he says.

    Australian researchers and facilities were also key to this discovery. Follow-up observations were made with the SkyMapper telescope at Siding Spring Observatory, and then processed by the National Computational Infrastructure at the Australian National University in Canberra.

    ANU Skymapper telescope, a fully automated 1.35 m (4.4 ft) wide-angle optical telescope, at Siding Spring Observatory , near Coonabarabran, New South Wales, Australia, Altitude 1,165 m (3,822 ft)

    Siding Spring Observatory, near Coonabarabran, New South Wales, Australia, Altitude 1,165 m (3,822 ft)

    The National Computational Infrastructure building at the Australian National University

    Tucker says that by learning more about how stars live and die, astronomers can better understand solar systems as a whole, including the potential life on orbiting planets.

    He concludes: “With the imminent launch of NASA’s new space telescope, TESS, we hope to find even more of these rare and violent explosions.”


    See the full article here . Other articles here and here and here.

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    We are the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Maryland, operated by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy. We help humanity explore the universe with advanced space telescopes and ever-growing data archives.

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    Founded in 1982, we have helped guide the most famous observatory in history, the Hubble Space Telescope.

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    Since its launch in 1990, we have performed the science operations for Hubble. We also lead the science and mission operations for the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), scheduled for launch in 2019.

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    We will perform parts of the science operations for the Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST), in formulation for launch in the mid-2020s, and we are partners on several other NASA missions.


    Our staff conducts world-class scientific research; our Barbara A. Mikulski Archive for Space Telescopes (MAST) curates and disseminates data from over 20 astronomical missions;

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  • richardmitnick 1:28 pm on March 26, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: A new kind of supernova, , , , , FELTs - Fast-Evolving Luminous Transients, , , NASA Kepler K2   

    From Hubble: “Kepler Solves Mystery of Fast and Furious Explosions” 

    NASA Hubble Banner

    NASA/ESA Hubble Telescope

    NASA/ESA Hubble Telescope

    Mar 26, 2018

    Ray Villard
    Space Telescope Science Institute, Baltimore, Maryland

    Armin Rest
    Space Telescope Science Institute, Baltimore, Maryland

    Space Observatory Captures the Details of an Unusual Stellar Detonation.

    The universe is full of mysterious exploding phenomena that go boom in the dark. One particular type of ephemeral event, called a Fast-Evolving Luminous Transient (FELT), has bewildered astronomers for a decade because of its very brief duration.

    Now, NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope — designed to go hunting for planets across our galaxy — has also been used to catch FELTs in the act and determine their nature. They appear to be a new kind of supernova that gets a brief turbo boost in brightness from its surroundings.

    NASA Kepler Telescope

    Kepler’s ability to precisely sample sudden changes in starlight has allowed astronomers to quickly arrive at this model for explaining FELTs, and rule out alternative explanations.

    Researchers conclude that the source of the flash is from a star after it collapses to explode as a supernova. The big difference is that the star is cocooned inside one or more shells of gas and dust. When the tsunami of explosive energy from the blast slams into the shell, most of the kinetic energy is immediately converted to light. The burst of radiation lasts for only a few days — one-tenth the duration of a typical supernova explosion.

    Over the past decade several FELTs have been discovered with timescales and luminosities not easily explained by traditional supernova models. And, only a few FELTs have been seen in sky surveys because they are so brief. Unlike Kepler, which collects data on a patch of sky every 30 minutes, most other telescopes look every few days. Therefore they often slip through undetected or with only one or two measurements, making understanding the physics of these explosions tricky.

    In the absence of more data, there have been a variety of theories to explain FELTs: the afterglow of a gamma-ray burst, a supernova boosted by a magnetar (neutron star with a powerful magnetic field), or a failed Type Ia supernova.

    Then along came Kepler with its precise, continuous measurements that allowed astronomers to record more details of the FELT event. “We collected an awesome light curve,” said Armin Rest of the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Maryland. “We were able to constrain the mechanism and the properties of the blast. We could exclude alternate theories and arrive at the dense-shell model explanation. This is a new way for massive stars to die and distribute material back into space.

    “With Kepler, we are now really able to connect the models with the data,” he continued. “Kepler just makes all the difference here. When I first saw the Kepler data, and realized how short this transient is, my jaw dropped. I said, ‘Oh wow!'”

    “The fact that Kepler completely captured the rapid evolution really constrains the exotic ways in which stars die. The wealth of data allowed us to disentangle the physical properties of the phantom blast, such as how much material the star expelled at the end of its life and the hypersonic speed of the explosion. This is the first time that we can test FELT models to a high degree of accuracy and really connect theory to observations,” said David Khatami of the University of California at Berkeley.

    This discovery is an unexpected spinoff of Kepler’s unique capability to sample changes in starlight continuously for several months. This capability is needed for Kepler to discover extrasolar planets that briefly pass in front of their host stars, temporarily dimming starlight by a small percent.

    The Kepler observations indicate that the star ejected the shell less than a year before it went supernova. This gives insight into the poorly understood death throes of stars — the FELTs apparently come from stars that undergo “near-death experiences” just before dying, belching out shells of matter in mini-eruptions before exploding entirely.

    The science team’s study appears in the March 26, 2018 online issue of Nature Astronomy.

    Rest says the next steps will be to find more of these objects in the ongoing K2 mission, or in the next mission of that kind, TESS. This will allow astronomers to start a follow-up campaign spanning different wavelength regimes, which constrains the nature and physics of this new kind of explosion.

    NASA’s Ames Research Center at Moffett Field, California, 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 and Technologies Corp. operates the flight system with support from the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at the University of Colorado in Boulder, Colorado. The Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) in Baltimore, Maryland, archives, hosts, and distributes Kepler science data. STScI is operated for NASA by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy, in Washington, D.C.

    See the full article here .

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    The Hubble Space Telescope is a project of international cooperation between NASA and the European Space Agency. NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center manages the telescope. The Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI), is a free-standing science center, located on the campus of The Johns Hopkins University and operated by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA) for NASA, conducts Hubble science operations.

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  • richardmitnick 11:45 am on March 26, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , Kepler Beyond Planets: Finding Exploding Stars, , , NASA Kepler K2,   

    From JPL-Caltech- “Kepler Beyond Planets: Finding Exploding Stars” 

    NASA JPL Banner


    March 26, 2018
    Calla Cofield
    Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.

    Alison Hawkes
    Ames Research Center, California’s Silicon Valley

    Written by Elizabeth Landau
    NASA’s Exoplanet Exploration Program

    A new study describes the most extreme known example of a “fast-evolving luminous transient” (FELT) supernova.Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

    Astronomer Ed Shaya was in his office looking at data from NASA’s Kepler space telescope in 2012 when he noticed something unusual: The light from a galaxy had quickly brightened by 10 percent. The sudden bump in light got Shaya instantly excited, but also nervous. The effect could be explained by the massive explosion of a star — a supernova! — or, more troublingly, a computer error.

    “I just remember on that day, not knowing whether I should believe it or not,” he remembers. Rather than celebrate, he thought, “Did I make a mistake? Am I doing this all wrong?”

    This animation shows a kind of stellar explosion called a Fast-Evolving Luminous Transient. In this case, a giant star “burps” out a shell of gas and dust about a year before exploding. Most of the energy from the supernova turns into light when it hits this previously ejected material, resulting in a short, but brilliant burst of radiation. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

    Stellar explosions forge and distribute materials that make up the world in which we live, and also hold clues to how fast the universe is expanding. By understanding supernovae, scientists can unlock mysteries that are key to what we are made of and the fate of our universe. But to get the full picture, scientists must observe supernovae from a variety of perspectives, especially in the first moments of the explosion. That’s really difficult — there’s no telling when or where a supernova might happen next.

    A small group of astronomers, including Shaya, realized Kepler could offer a new technique for supernova-hunting. Launched in 2009, Kepler is best known for having discovered thousands of exoplanets. But as a telescope that stares at single patches of space for long periods of time, it can capture a vast trove of other cosmic treasures –especially the kind that change rapidly or pop in and out of view, like supernovae.

    “Kepler opened up a new way of looking at the sky,” said Jessie Dotson, Kepler’s project scientist, based at NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley. “It was designed to do one thing really well, which was to find planets around other stars. In order to do that, it had to deliver high-precision, continuous data, which has been valuable for other areas of astronomy.”

    Originally, Shaya and colleagues were looking for active galactic nuclei in their Kepler data. An active galactic nucleus is an extremely bright area at the center of a galaxy where a voracious black hole is surrounded by a disk of hot gas. They had thought about searching for supernovae, but since supernovae are such rare events, they didn’t mention it in their proposal. “It was too iffy,” Shaya said.

    Unsure if the supernova signal he found was real, Shaya and his University of Maryland colleague Robert Olling spent months developing software to better calibrate Kepler data, taking into account variations in temperature and pointing of the instrument. Still, the supernova signal persisted. In fact, they found five more supernovae in their Kepler sample of more than 400 galaxies. When Olling showed one of the signals to Armin Rest, who is now an astronomer at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltlimore, Rest’s jaw dropped. “I started to drool,” he said. The door had opened to a new way of tracking and understanding stellar explosions.

    Today, these astronomers are part of the Kepler Extra-Galactic Survey, a collaboration between seven scientists in the United States, Australia and Chile looking for supernovae and active galactic nuclei to explore the physics of our universe. To date, they have found more than 20 supernovae using data from the Kepler spacecraft, including an exotic type reported by Rest in a new study in Nature Astronomy. Many more are currently being recorded by Kepler’s ongoing observations.

    “We have some of the best-understood supernovae,” said Brad Tucker, astronomer at the Mt. Stromlo Observatory at the Australian National University, who is part of the Kepler Extra-Galactic Survey.

    This animation shows the explosion of a white dwarf, an extremely dense remnant of a star that can no longer burn nuclear fuel at its core. In this “type Ia” supernova, white dwarf’s gravity steals material away from a nearby stellar companion. When the white dwarf reaches an estimated 1.4 times the current mass of the Sun, it can no longer sustain its own weight, and blows up. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

    Why do we care about supernovae?

    A longstanding mystery in astrophysics is how and why stars explode in different ways. One kind of supernova happens when a dense, dead star called a white dwarf explodes. A second kind happens when a single gigantic star nears the end of its life, and its core can no longer withstand the gravitational forces acting on it. The details of these general categories are still being worked out.

    The first kind, called “type Ia” (pronounced as “one a”) is special because the intrinsic brightness of each of these supernovae is almost the same. Astronomers have used this standard property to measure the expansion of the universe and found the more distant supernovae were less bright than expected. This indicated they were farther away than scientists had thought, as the light had become stretched out over expanding space. This proved that the universe is expanding at an accelerating rate and earned those researchers the Nobel Prize in 2011. The leading theory is that a mysterious force called “dark energy” is pushing everything in the universe apart from everything else, faster and faster.

    But as astronomers find more and more examples of type Ia explosions, including with Kepler, they realize not all are created equal. While some of these supernovae happen when a white dwarf robs its companion of too much matter, others are the result of two white dwarfs merging. In fact, the white dwarf mergers may be more common. More supernova research with Kepler will help astronomers on a quest to find out if different type Ia mechanisms result in some supernovae being brighter than others — which would throw a wrench into how they are used to measure the universe’s expansion.

    “To get a better idea of constraining dark energy, we have to understand better how these type Ia supernovae are formed,” Rest said.

    This animation shows the merger of two white dwarfs. A white dwarf is an extremely dense remnant of a star that can no longer burn nuclear fuel at its core. This is another way that a “type Ia” supernova occurs. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

    Another kind of supernova, the “core collapse” variety, happens when a massive star ends its life in an explosion. This includes “Type II” supernovae. These supernovae have a characteristic shockwave called the “shock breakout,” which was captured for the first time in optical light by Kepler. The Kepler Extra-Galactic Survey team, led by team member Peter Garnavich, an astrophysics professor at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana, spotted this shock breakout in 2011 Kepler data from a supernova called KSN 2011d, an explosion from a star roughly 500 times the size of our Sun. Surprisingly, the team did not find a shock breakout in a smaller type II supernova called KSN 2011a, whose star was 300 times the size of the Sun — but instead found the supernova nestled in a layer of dust, suggesting that there is diversity in type II stellar explosions, too.

    Kepler data have revealed other mysteries about supernovae. The new study led by Rest in Nature Astronomy describes a supernova from data captured by Kepler’s extended mission, called K2, that reaches its peak brightness in just a little over two days, about 10 times less than others take. It is the most extreme known example of a “fast-evolving luminous transient” (FELT) supernova. FELTs are about as bright as the type Ia variety, but rise in less than 10 days and fade in about 30. It is possible that the star spewed out a dense shell of gas about a year before the explosion, and when the supernova happened, ejected material hit the shell. The energy released in that collision would explain the quick brightening.

    Why Kepler?

    Telescopes on Earth offer a lot of information about exploding stars, but only over short periods of time — and only when the Sun goes down and the sky is clear – so it’s hard to document the “before” and “after” effects of these explosions. Kepler, on the other hand, offers astronomers the rare opportunity to monitor single patches of sky continuously for months, like a car’s dashboard camera that is always recording. In fact, the primary Kepler mission, which ran from 2009 to 2013, delivered four years of observations of the same field of view, snapping a picture about every 30 minutes. In the extended K2 mission, the telescope is holding its gaze steady for up to about three months.

    This animation shows a gigantic star exploding in a “core collapse” supernova. As molecules fuse inside the star, eventually the star can’t support its own weight anymore. Gravity makes the star collapse on itself. Core collapse supernovae are called type Ib, Ic, or II depending on the chemical elements present. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

    With ground-based telescopes, astronomers can tell the supernova’s color and how it changes with time, which lets them figure out what chemicals are present in the explosion. The supernova’s composition helps determine the type of star that exploded. Kepler, on the other hand, reveals how and why the star explodes, and the details of how the explosion progresses. Using the two datasets together, astronomers can get fuller pictures of supernovae behavior than ever before.

    Kepler mission planners revived the telescope in 2013, after the malfunction of the second of its four reaction wheels — devices that help control the orientation of the spacecraft. In the configuration called K2, it needs to rotate every three months or so — marking observing “campaigns.” Members of the Kepler Extra-Galactic Survey made the case that in the K2 mission, Kepler could still monitor supernovae and other exotic, distant astrophysical objects, in addition to exoplanets.

    The possibilities were so exciting that the Kepler team devised two K2 observing campaigns especially useful for coordinating supernovae studies with ground-based telescopes. Campaign 16, which began on Dec. 7, 2017, and ended Feb. 25, 2018,included 9,000 galaxies. There are about 14,000 in Campaign 17, which is just beginning now. In both campaigns, Kepler faces in the direction of Earth so that observers on the ground can see the same patch of sky as the spacecraft. The campaigns have excited a community of researchers who can advantage of this rare coordination between Kepler and telescopes on the ground.


    A recent possible sighting got astronomers riled up on Super Bowl Sunday this year, even if they weren’t into the game. On that “super” day, the All Sky Automated Survey for SuperNovae (ASASSN) reported a supernova in the same nearby galaxy Kepler was monitoring. This is just one of many candidate events that scientists are excited to follow up on and perhaps use to better understand the secrets of the universe.

    A few more supernovae may come from NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, (TESS) which is expected to launch on April 16. In the meantime, scientists will have a lot of work ahead of them once they receive the full dataset from K2’s supernova-focused campaigns.

    “It will be a treasure trove of supernova information for years to come,” Tucker said.

    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 Corporation 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 mission, visit:


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    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, 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 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” 

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

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    November 27, 2017
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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.

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