February, NASA held a press conference to announce the 1,235 planet
candidates found by the Kepler project team using space observatory
launched in 2009. The space observatory had added an impressie 500
possible planets to its count, of which 68 were Earth-sized planets.
Also, 54 of the discoveries were in the so-called Goldilocks zone, the
area in which water could exist in a liquid state, raising the
possibility of alien lifeforms.
member Jason Rowe has won a lot of fans by using scientific plotting
software to visualize the discoveries in a single image, illustrating
the way Kepler uses periodic brightness fluctuations in stars to find
exoplanets. Rowe is a member of the Kepler team and the SETI (Search for
Extraterrestrial Intelligence) Institute.
to NASA, some of these candidates may not be planets. Instead, they may
be aberrations or other extrasolar phenomena that look like transiting
planets. Scientists are conducting observations with ground-based
telescopes to confirm discoveries.
in honor of German astronomer Johannes Kepler, the spacecraft uses a
photometer developed by NASA to continuously monitor the brightness of
over 145,000 main sequence stars in a fixed field of view. The data
collected from these observations is being analyzed to detect periodic
fluctuations that indicate the presence of extrasolar planets that are
in the process of crossing the face of other stars.
Mission Manager Update, March 8, 2011
Kepler project team had an exciting month in February. Besides
recovering the spacecraft from a Safe Mode event, the team released
Kepler’s Quarter 2 science data to the public on Feb. 1. The press
conference on Feb. 2, announcing the 1,235 planet candidates and the
Kepler-11 system, drew the attention of major national and international
news outlets. More than 1,150 news media outlets published or aired
stories following the announcement. On Feb. 11, NASA Ames Research
Center held its first Tweetup. Traveling from five countries and 18 U.S.
states, 60 attendees, or ‘tweeps’ as they are affectionately known,
donned their mobile devices to participate in the Planet Hunting
Tweetup. The attendees were treated to a rare opportunity to tour the
labs at NASA Ames, listen to presentations and have their questions
answered by researchers who work at the center. All the while, sharing
their experience real-time with nearly 1,000 tweets, Facebook posts,
check-ins, and video and photo blogs.
the Science Operations Center (SOC) team has been putting the final
touches on an upgrade to Kepler’s science data processing software. This
software upgrade – called SOC 7.0 — will provide enhanced capabilities
to search for transiting planet signatures in the Kepler data. The
release of SOC 7.0 code brings substantial new capability online for
discovering Earth-sized and smaller planets and planets in longer
orbital periods than previously possible. With SOC 7.0, the science
pipeline can stitch together multiple quarters of data and search for
planets with even longer orbital periods. This also greatly enhances the
sensitivity to small planets in short orbital periods. In addition, the
team can perform a suite of data validation diagnostic tests across
quarterly boundaries, providing important information for prioritizing
and ranking the candidates. The software for this upgrade entered its
final verification and validation testing in early March and is expected
to be operational no later than June.
for the spacecraft, Kepler continued in science attitude for the
remainder of February and into early March, collecting more of the
mission’s Quarter 8 science data. The regularly scheduled data download,
which was planned for Feb. 22-23, was bypassed since the science data
was downloaded in early February in conjunction with Safe Mode recovery
actions over Feb. 1-3. The project spacecraft engineers continued to
work on minor operating parameters that will be updated on the
spacecraft by March 14. These parameters will update some calibration
coefficients and fault protection limits to mitigate sun sensor noise
issues seen on the spacecraft last December.