Kepler Mission Update

Nov 06, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- Kepler completed another science data download over October 18-19. In this download, a month's worth of science data was transmitted through the NASA Deep Space Network and into the Science Operations Center at Ames Research Center. After the download was complete, the Kepler spacecraft was returned to its science collection attitude and another cycle of science data collection began.

While the Kepler spacecraft continues in its orbit, and collecting science data, the Kepler team at the Ames Research Center continues its work on the science data processing pipeline software. Their work has allowed for the publication of Kepler’s first science discovery, the occultation associated with previously discovered transiting exoplanet HAT-P7-B. This discovery showed the precision of the Kepler instrument and its ability to detect signals whose sizes are consistent with the transit of an Earth-size planet.

Additionally, results from data taken since operations began on May 12 have allowed the Kepler Science Team to select a number of planetary candidates for follow-up observation and potential confirmation. It is expected that confirmation of a number of planets will be announced by NASA in conjunction with the January 2010 American Astronomical Society (AAS) meeting in Washington DC.

Finding Earth-size planets requires detecting very faint transit signals against the inherent background noise of the measurements. Kepler noise sources come in three broad categories: stellar variability, random noise, and systematic noise.

Stellar variability is the natural fluctuation in the brightness of the stars themselves. Some stars are much more variable than others, and so the Kepler team must examine the light curves and determine which stars are suitably quiet for finding planets. Stars that are too noisy can be replaced on the target list by other stars from the input catalog.

Random noise is present in all measurements and cannot be calibrated out. Therefore, strict requirements were placed on the design of Kepler’s spacecraft systems to limit random noise to a low level. Measurements taken in space confirm that Kepler meets its random noise requirements.

Systematic noise results from the imperfect nature of any measuring device. It represents the instrument’s “finger print” placed upon the measurement, and must be calibrated out of the data in post-processing on the ground. Because systematic noise depends on the specific characteristics of the instrument, the best calibration requires that the noise sources be characterized and modeled based on measurements made in space. The Kepler team has been developing the ground software to calibrate out the various systematic noise sources since launch, and this work will continue for a number of months. As each source of systematic noise is calibrated, fainter transit signals can be detected. Data collected from the spacecraft will be continually reprocessed as the ground software matures, revealing smaller and smaller planets. This is a normal process and has been part of the Kepler plan since before launch. Fortunately for Kepler, the worst sources of systematic noise affect only a small portion of the field of view, so the majority of the field of view will be calibrated earlier, enabling small planets to be detected sooner.

Detecting planets requires at least three transits, which occur only once per orbit. For Earth-like planets orbiting in the habitable zones of sun-like stars it will take three to four years to collect three transits, and so these discoveries are several years in the future. The habitable zones around stars smaller than our sun involve shorter period orbits, so it is likely that Earth-size planets will be found around such low mass stars sooner.

While operations of the Kepler spacecraft continue, the Kepler Science Team is preparing for the January AAS meeting a number of papers and presentations on Kepler and its early results. Also in January, special issues of both Science Magazine and the Astrophysical Journal will publish 3 overview papers in the former and several papers discussing technical aspects of the Mission in the latter journal. As the AAS draws closer, the Kepler project is delighted to report that some of Kepler’s data is closer to being made public. Data collected by the during commissioning, and during the first six weeks of the science operations, have now been processed and sent to the archive at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, MD. From there the data will be available to the Science Team members for their continued investigations. This early data will be released to the public in June 2010.

Provided by JPL/NASA (news : web)

Explore further: Kazakh satellite to be launched into orbit

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Let the Planet Hunt Begin

May 13, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- NASA's Kepler spacecraft has begun its search for other Earth-like worlds. The mission, which launched from Cape Canaveral, Fla., on March 6, will spend the next three-and-a-half years staring ...

Kepler Set to Launch Tonight on Planet Finding Mission

Mar 06, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- The Kepler spacecraft and its Delta II rocket are "go" for a launch tonight that is expected to light up the sky along Florida's Space Coast at 10:49 p.m. EST as the rocket lifts off from ...

NASA's Kepler Spacecraft Ready to Ship to Florida

Dec 18, 2008

(PhysOrg.com) -- Engineers are getting ready to pack NASA's Kepler spacecraft into a container and ship it off to its launch site at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla. The mission, scheduled to launch ...

Kepler Mission Update

Sep 23, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- Kepler is approximately 18 million kilometers (11 million miles) from Earth, and continuing its drift-away orbit. All systems are operating normally. Last week, the Kepler project team completed ...

Kepler Detects Atmosphere of Hot World

Aug 06, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- NASA's new exoplanet-hunting Kepler space telescope has detected the atmosphere of a known giant gas planet, demonstrating the telescope's extraordinary scientific capabilities. The discovery ...

Recommended for you

Kazakh satellite to be launched into orbit

13 hours ago

Kazakhstan's first-ever Earth observation satellite is to be fired into orbit next week from the European spaceport in Kourou in French Guiana, launch company Arianespace said.

Habitable exoplanets are bad news for humanity

16 hours ago

Last week, scientists announced the discovery of Kepler-186f, a planet 492 light years away in the Cygnus constellation. Kepler-186f is special because it marks the first planet almost exactly the same size as Earth ...

First-of-its-kind NASA space-weather project

Apr 23, 2014

A NASA scientist is launching a one-to-two-year pilot project this summer that takes advantage of U.S. high-voltage power transmission lines to measure a phenomenon that has caused widespread power outages ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

Habitable exoplanets are bad news for humanity

Last week, scientists announced the discovery of Kepler-186f, a planet 492 light years away in the Cygnus constellation. Kepler-186f is special because it marks the first planet almost exactly the same size as Earth ...

Professional and amateur astronomers join forces

(Phys.org) —Long before the term "citizen science" was coined, the field of astronomy has benefited from countless men and women who study the sky in their spare time. These amateur astronomers devote hours ...

Kazakh satellite to be launched into orbit

Kazakhstan's first-ever Earth observation satellite is to be fired into orbit next week from the European spaceport in Kourou in French Guiana, launch company Arianespace said.

Genetic code of the deadly tsetse fly unraveled

Mining the genome of the disease-transmitting tsetse fly, researchers have revealed the genetic adaptions that allow it to have such unique biology and transmit disease to both humans and animals.

Ocean microbes display remarkable genetic diversity

The smallest, most abundant marine microbe, Prochlorococcus, is a photosynthetic bacteria species essential to the marine ecosystem. An estimated billion billion billion of the single-cell creatures live i ...