Data download and ground-based follow-up observations in full swing
Kepler project engineers successfully completed another download of science data over April 21-22, 2010. The data, collected since late March 2010, is the first month of the Quarter 5 collection period. During the two-day spacecraft contact, project engineers used three ground-stations in NASA’s deep space network, at Madrid, Spain, Canberra Australia, and California, for the operation. A Kepler first was also completed during the satellite contact for the science data download. Kepler spacecraft flight software (FSW) received its first update since operations began on May 12, 2009. The flight software included updates to improve attitude determination and control system-to-star tracker functionality and performance. Many weeks of development and testing preceded the FSW update, and the operation was completed flawlessly. Engineers expect the FSW update will mitigate circumstances that caused two of the Safe Modes that Kepler has experienced.
Kepler’s Guest Observer Program continues its busy activities. An independent time allocation committee gathered in Baltimore on Mar 10-12, 2010 to evaluate proposals to the Kepler cycle 2 Guest Observer program and recommend to NASA Headquarters the allocation of spacecraft pixels and research grants to successful proposers. In terms of funded Guest Observer science, the proposed oversubscription rate for Kepler targets was 8:1. Observations of these targets will begin after the June 2010 quarterly roll and continue for a year. Selected cycle 2 programs will provide Kepler with an archived legacy to astrophysics, which extends well beyond the primary mission of exo-planet hunting. A full list of successful principle investigators and program abstracts can be found at http://keplergo.arc.nasa.gov/Programs.shtml.
The Science Team continues to analyze data collected by Kepler. Kepler’s list of interesting candidates has grown to well over 200. Meanwhile, the constellation Cygnus has returned to the night sky of the northern hemisphere, so the Science Team is actively involved in ground-based follow-up observations of Kepler’s candidate targets. The team had over 10 nights (March 24 to April 5, 2010) on the Tillinghast Reflector at the Fred Lawrence Whipple Observatory in Arizona and acquired more than 100 spectrosopic observations of our targets of interest. Another 8 nights (March 25 to April 1, 2010) using the 2.7-meter telescope at McDonald Observatory also contributed. This observing season’s first use of the Keck 10-meter telescope at Mauna Kea, Hawaii occurred on April 27, 2010. Keck is used to obtain high-precision radial velocity measurements on our most interesting candidates.
After the completion of these observations over the next several months, interpretation and modeling of the data can begin. By late Fall, It is expected that this work will provide sufficient evidence that several candidates are actually planets rather than some other astrophysical process that only mimics planets. After all the results are reviewed by the Kepler Science Team and by peers, announcement of the new discoveries will be made this winter.
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