2014-01-06. The Kepler team today reports on four years of ground-based follow-up observations targeting Kepler's exoplanet systems, confirming the numerous Kepler discoveries are indeed planets and yield mass measurements that vary between Earth and Neptune in size. ...Such planets dominate the galactic census but are not represented in our own solar system. Astronomers don’t know how they form or if they are made of rock, water or gas. ...follow-up ... Doppler measurements of the planets' host stars ...reveals the mass of the planet: the higher the mass of the planet, the greater the gravitational tug on the star and hence the greater the wobble. "This marvelous avalanche of information about the mini-Neptune planets is telling us about their core-envelope structure, not unlike a peach with its pit and fruit," said Geoff Marcy, professor of astronomy at University of California, Berkeley who led the summary analysis of the high-precision Doppler study. "We now face daunting questions about how these enigmas formed and why our solar system is devoid of the most populous residents in the galaxy." See NASA feature article at http://www.nasa.gov/ames/kepler/nasa-kepler-provides-insight-about-enigmatic-but-ubiquitous-planets-five-new-rocky-planets/.
2014-10-06. David Kipping reports that KOI-314c is the lightest planet to have both its mass and physical size measured. Although the planet weighs the same as Earth, it is 60 percent larger in diameter, meaning that it must have a very thick, gaseous atmosphere. "This planet might have the same mass as Earth, but it is certainly not Earth-like," says Kipping of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA), lead author of the discovery. "It proves that there is no clear dividing line between rocky worlds like Earth and fluffier planets like water worlds or gas giants.". See Press Release at http://www.cfa.harvard.edu/news/2014-01
In May , Kepler lost the second of four gyroscope-like reaction wheels, ending new data collection for the original mission. A new mission concept, dubbed K2, would continue Kepler's search for other worlds, and introduce new opportunities to observe star clusters, young and old stars, active galaxies and supernovae. The conception illustration (info graphic) here depicts how solar pressure can be used to balance NASA's Kepler spacecraft, keeping the telescope stable enough to continue monitoring distant stars in search of transiting planets. Using the sun and the two remaining reaction wheels, engineers have devised an innovative technique to stabilize and control the spacecraft in all three directions of motion. This technique of using the sun as the 'third wheel' to control pointing is currently being tested on the spacecraft. To achieve the necessary stability, the orientation of the spacecraft must be nearly parallel to its orbital path around the sun, which is slightly offset from the ecliptic, the orbital plane of Earth. The ecliptic plane defines the band of sky in which lie the constellations of the zodiac. K2 would study a specific portion of the sky for up to 83 days, until it is necessary to rotate the spacecraft to prevent sunlight from entering the telescope. Each orbit or year would consist of approximately 4.5 unique viewing periods or campaigns.
The image above is NASA Kepler's Second Light image showing the telescope's full field of view taken in a new demonstration mode in late October . A new mission concept, dubbed K2, would continue Kepler's search for other worlds, and provide new astrophysics observation opportunities. See news feature from last November - http://www.nasa.gov/kepler/a-sunny-outlook-for-nasa-keplers-second-light
K2 has a performance demonstration window is starting Mar 2014 and lasting approximately 80 days. The initial campaign test has the possibility of collecting science data for 5,000-10,000 targets. Kepler team is requesting the community propose the targets to observe during the campaign. The deadline for target proposals is Feb 1, 2014. See more about this at teh Kepler Science Center website - http://keplerscience.arc.nasa.gov/K2/ProposeTargets.shtml
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