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by Jon Jenkins
The Kepler Mission began its science observations just over two years ago on May 12, 2009, initiating NASA’s first search for Earth-like planets. Initial results and light curves from Kepler are simply breath-taking, including confirmation of the first unquestionable rocky planet, Kepler-10b, and Kepler-11b, a system of 6 transiting planets orbiting one Sun-like star.
Kepler released light curves for the first 120 days of observations for over 150,000 target stars on February 2, 2011, and announced the identification of over 1235 planetary candidates, including 68 candidates smaller than 1.25 Earth radii, and 54 candidates in or near the habitable zone of their parent star. An astounding 408 candidates orbiting 170 stars as planetary systems were found. Dr. Jenkins will discuss how much we’ve learned over the 24 months about the instrument, the planets and the stars.
by Jon Jenkins
The Kepler spacecraft launched on March 7, 2009, initiating NASA’s first search for Earth-size planets orbiting Sun-like stars, with stunning results after being on the job for just over two years. Designing and building the Kepler science pipeline software that processes and analyzes the resulting data to make the discoveries presented a daunting set of challenges.
Although capable of reaching a precision near 20 ppm in 6.5 hours in order to detect 80-ppm drops in brightness corresponding to Earth-size transits, the instrument is sensitive to its environment. Identifying and removing instrumental signatures from the data as well as characterizing the varability of the stars themselves has proven to be extremely important in the quest for Earth-size planets. In addition, the computational intensity of processing the accumulating data compelled us to port the detection and validation pipeline components to the Pleides supercomputer at NASA Ames Research Center. As we look forward to an extended mission of up to 10 years of flight operations, balancing the need for speed against the requirement for ultrahigh precision presents a challenge.
22nd–23rd September 2011