Friday, December 19, 2014

NASA’s Kepler Reborn, Makes 1st Exoplanet Find of New Mission

artistic concept shows NASA's planet-hunting Kepler spacecraft
The artistic concept shows NASA's planet-hunting Kepler spacecraft operating in a new mission profile called K2. Using publicly available data, astronomers have confirmed K2's first exoplanet discovery proving Kepler can still find planets.
Image Credit: NASA Ames/JPL-Caltech/T Pyle 

NASA's planet-hunting Kepler spacecraft makes a comeback with the discovery of the first exoplanet found using its new mission -- K2.

The discovery was made when astronomers and engineers devised an ingenious way to repurpose Kepler for the K2 mission and continue its search of the cosmos for other worlds.

"Last summer, the possibility of a scientifically productive mission for Kepler after its reaction wheel failure in its extended mission was not part of the conversation," said Paul Hertz, NASA's astrophysics division director at the agency's headquarters in Washington. "Today, thanks to an innovative idea and lots of hard work by the NASA and Ball Aerospace team, Kepler may well deliver the first candidates for follow-up study by the James Webb Space Telescope to characterize the atmospheres of distant worlds and search for signatures of life."

Lead researcher Andrew Vanderburg, a graduate student at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Massachusetts, studied publicly available data collected by the spacecraft during a test of K2 in February 2014. The discovery was confirmed with measurements taken by the HARPS-North spectrograph of the Telescopio Nazionale Galileo in the Canary Islands, which captured the wobble of the star caused by the planet’s gravitational tug as it orbits.

The newly confirmed planet, HIP 116454b, is 2.5 times the diameter of Earth and follows a close, nine-day orbit around a star that is smaller and cooler than our sun, making the planet too hot for life as we know it. HIP 116454b and its star are 180 light-years from Earth, toward the constellation Pisces.

Kepler’s onboard camera detects planets by looking for transits -- when a distant star dims slightly as a planet crosses in front of it. The smaller the planet, the weaker the dimming, so brightness measurements must be exquisitely precise. To enable that precision, the spacecraft must maintain steady pointing. In May 2013, data collection during Kepler's extended prime mission came to an end with the failure of the second of four gyroscopic reaction wheels, which are used to stabilize the spacecraft.

Rather than giving up on the stalwart spacecraft, a team of scientists and engineers crafted a resourceful strategy to use pressure from sunlight as a “virtual reaction wheel” to help control the spacecraft. The resulting K2 mission promises to not only continue Kepler’s planet hunt, but also to expand the search to bright nearby stars that harbor planets that can be studied in detail and better understand their composition. K2 also will introduce new opportunities to observe star clusters, active galaxies and supernovae.

Small planets like HIP 116454b, orbiting nearby bright stars, are a scientific sweet spot for K2 as they are good prospects for follow-up ground studies to obtain mass measurements. Using K2’s size measurements and ground-based mass measurements, astronomers can calculate the density of a planet to determine whether it is likely a rocky, watery or gaseous world.

"The Kepler mission showed us that planets larger in size than Earth and smaller than Neptune are common in the galaxy, yet they are absent in our solar system," said Steve Howell, Kepler/K2 project scientist at NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California. "K2 is uniquely positioned to dramatically refine our understanding of these alien worlds and further define the boundary between rocky worlds like Earth and ice giants like Neptune."

Since the K2 mission officially began in May 2014, it has observed more than 35,000 stars and collected data on star clusters, dense star-forming regions, and several planetary objects within our own solar system. It is currently in its third campaign.

The research paper reporting this discovery has been accepted for publication in The Astrophysical Journal.

Ames is responsible for Kepler's mission concept, ground system development, science data analysis and K2 mission operations. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, managed Kepler mission development. Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp. in Boulder, Colorado, developed the Kepler flight system and supports mission operations with the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at the University of Colorado in Boulder. The Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore archives, hosts and distributes Kepler science data. Kepler is NASA's 10th Discovery Mission and was funded by the agency's Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

More information about the Kepler mission: Link >>> http://www.nasa.gov/kepler

Felicia Chou
Headquarters, Washington
202-358-0257
felicia.chou@nasa.gov

Michele Johnson
Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif.
650-604-6982
michele.johnson@nasa.gov

Source: NASA.

Related Blog Posts ---

New Mission for Crippled Kepler Telescope ?  (2013 Sept. 24):

Link >>> http://spacewatchtower.blogspot.com/2013/09/new-mission-for-crippled-kepler.html

 

Kepler Exoplanet Hunter Spacecraft at Risk (2013 May 16):

Link >>> http://spacewatchtower.blogspot.com/2013/05/kepler-exoplanet-hunter-spacecraft-at.html

 

Citizen Planet Hunters: Kepler Space Telescope Data Now Available  (2012 Oct. 30):

Link >>> http://spacewatchtower.blogspot.com/2012/10/planet-hunters-kepler-space-telescope.html


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5 comments:

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  2. 3d bioprinting = Immortality = go to stars

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  3. ...interstellar travel constant acceleration (Sun-Deneb: 1000g)... Earth...the 2 ships that will go formation flying for mutual assisting if there are problems...indestructible structures made of Hexapentas material, awaiting in airport the arrival of passengers... Day 1: zero-speed... THE SHIPS TAKEOFF►...navigation computer places on screen the spacecraft in the center of sphere...spherical\tridimensional\spatial Heading: Deneb... Antimatter rocket engines...ON... Here we go...goooooo!...1g...10g...100g...constant acceleration cruise 1000g (9.8 kms/sec²)... Inside of living areas (the same as going submerged in water: constant acceleration downwards...less...constant thrust, constant acceleration, from water upwards)...the gravitational transformers, perfectly synchronized with the acceleration, running: 1000g constant acceleration toward the floor ↓↓(motors)↓↓...less...999g constant acceleration toward the ceiling ↑↑(gravitational transformers)↑ = 1g constant acceleration toward the floor↓... 8.5 hours: light-speed = 1c...the fusion reactor as an artificial sun illuminating the immense Vital Support Gardens to lowering, from their comfortable apartments, cheerful passage to the pool...the electromagnetic shield anti-radiation...antigravity fields generator run forward, working: light objects away from the path of the ship...and trajectory ship away from the heavy objects...superluminal-speed > 1c... 42.5 hours: reaches hyperluminal-speed = 5c... Day 508: Half Journey...1000 light years...high hyperluminal-speed = 1435.39c... OFF engines...a few minutes of weightlessness during maneuver...the ship rotates 180º around its axis...motors ON again and... ◄STARTS TO BRAKE... Day 1017 (2.79 years): End Path party...2000 light years...zero-speed... The forever young passage of the 1st Immortal Generation (3D Bioprinting...Telomerase...modified Biological Timers...) disembarks at destination: an extra-stellar planet which came errant to orbit of Deneb giant.

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  4. ...interstellar travel constant acceleration (Trappist-1: 1g)... passengers climb in space-elevator to the "Aquarius-1" (star-ship with 1000*100*100 mts size, and the distribution of a building of housing flats)...awaits them in asteroid Toutatis which long ago placed, "carefully"!! driven, in geostationary orbit...Day 1: zero-speed...distance 40 light years...total travel time = 4548.8 days (12.46 years)... Releasing moorings from Orbital Station... THE SHIP TAKEOFF►... 354 days to 1g (9.8 mts/sec²) of CONSTANT ACCELERATION (weightlessness solved the problem), the ship with their various powerful Antimatter rocket engines working tirelessly alternating, while one works, other stops for properly maintaining...antigravity fields generator run forwards working, and no collisions with anything...the ship reaches light-speed and...disappears...to enter into "superluminal dimension"...and continues traveling at superluminal-speed > 1c... Day 2274.4 (6.23 years): Halfway...20 light years...max hyperluminal-speed = 6.42c... "ladies and gentlemen your attention please, for a few minutes while the motors are OFF ship will be in weightlessness during maneuver"...the ship rotates 180º around its axis (perpendicular to the longitudinal axis of forward movement)... ON engines again and... ◄STARTS TO BRAKE... Day 4195: the ship slows light-speed and...appears...descends again to the "subluminal dimension"... 354 days more decelerating and the ship is at zero-speed, at destination passengers disembark: an engineered Terraformed planet from the red dwarf Trappist-1 cool star.

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  5. ...space-elevator (orbital station-balloon)... a hyper-speed Maglev Train... Instead of an Asteroid could be an artificial Orbital-Station with sufficient mass, for example with adequate sizes, an inox Cylindrical-Tank, or a huge, once deployed from its little carry container, Cylindrical Mesh and within a resistant graphene´s Inflatable-Balloon made waterproof...full of sea water sent from the ocean into a great number of provisional little carrier tanks hooked at each cable of the system pulley´s "clothesline" who is parallel installed next to the main Track still without Train... Maintaining orbital geostationary parameters if is it necessary; centripetal force=(MASS*velocity²)/radius; r=(mv²)/f; (do not is the same make rotates a tennis ball...that make rotates a Titanic); firing a provisional rocket higher placed with a cable attached to still extensible Track´s end, when Orbital-Balloon (Titanic) is increasing its MASS receiving more and more water from ocean... Once totally full of water (years and years...) the Orbital-Tank, little carrier tanks are dismantled on Earth remaining only the 2 cables next to Track, entering now the Maglev Train on its already free Track... Orbital-Station placed in adequate higher orbit than exact geostationary orbit, for maintaining with enough centrifugal force tense the Track without needing on a higher orbit a counterweight...

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