Now in its fourth observing campaign, the Kepler spacecraft continues to operate wonderfully since beginning its new K2 mission in May 2014. Data collected for Campaigns 0, 1 and 2 have been made available to the public through theMikulski Archive for Space Telescopes (MAST). Campaign 3 data will be processed with a scheduled delivery to MAST in June 2015.
K2 began its fourth campaign on Feb. 8. The Campaign 4 target set includes nearly 16,000 target stars, which can be searched for exoplanets and examined for an array of astrophysical phenomena. This field includes two notable open star clusters—Pleiades and Hyades, the nearest open cluster to our solar system. Both are located in the constellation of Taurus.
As expected, the team continues to make improvements in the spacecraft’s K2 operations, improving the pointing performance, conserving fuel, extending the observation periods and increasing the number of observed targets. The team currently estimates that the onboard fuel should last until at least December 2017.
To learn more about the K2 mission visit the Kepler Science Center website.
While data collection has concluded for the prime Kepler mission, the team continues to analyze the full four years of Kepler data. To-date the Kepler team, together with the global science community, has identified more than 4,000 candidates and verified 1,023 as exoplanets, planets that orbit other stars. For the latest Kepler exoplanet and candidate statistics, visit the NASA Exoplanet Archive.
At the 225th meeting of the American Astronomical Society in January 2015, the Kepler team made two noteworthy announcements:
- Dr. Fergal Mullally described the delivery of the sixth Kepler catalog, including 554 new Kepler candidate planets, bringing the total number of Kepler candidates to 4,175. He also announced eight new small, habitable zone candidates – six around sun-like stars.
- Dr. Douglas Caldwell announced eight newly validated planets – marking Kepler’s 1000th verified exoplanet. Among these were three small planets securely in the habitable zone, two of those likely to be rocky.
In late February, William Borucki, visionary and science principal investigator of the Kepler mission, was inducted as a NASA Ames Research Center Fellow. The Ames program recognizes a distinguished few for their national and international reputation of scientific or engineering excellence to NASA. Borucki is only the 12th person to receive the center’s highest honor in Ames’ 75-year history.
On March 25, the Kepler team was honored by the presentation of the 2015 National Air and Space Museum Trophy for current achievement at a ceremony in Washington. For a full listing of previous awardees, along with a video about Kepler’s award, visit the museum’s trophy award page.
In March the team achieved another milestone—this time in the realm of data processing. Using the first uniform processing of the four-year Kepler data set, the first uniformly vetted catalog of planetary candidates and false positives was delivered to the NASA Exoplanet Archive. Since this catalog was generated by automated software, the detectability of each planet candidate can be quantified, thus enabling reliable occurrence rate calculations to be made over the full range of period and radius for the first time. The data was made available on April 1.
Understanding The Effects Of Stellar Multiplicity On The Derived Planet Radii From Transit Surveys: Implications for Kepler, K2, and TESS (Ciardi et al., 2015) – The paper presents the effect of undetected companion stars on the measured radii of the Kepler planet candidates. On average, the planetary radii may be underestimated by as much as 50 percent.
- A Nearby M Star With Three Transiting Super-Earths Discovered By K2(Crossfield et al., 2015) – The paper confirms the discovery of a star with three exoplanets. The first discovery of its kind using K2 data. This marks the K2 mission’s third confirmed planet since it began in May 2014.
- Precise time series photometry for the Kepler-2.0 mission (Aigrain et al., 2015) – The paper presents a new method to extract precise light curves from the K2 data.
- Kepler’s Third Law and the NASA’s Kepler Mission (Gould et al., 2015) – This paper summarizes the mission goals, briefly explains the transit method of finding exoplanets and design of the mission, provides some key findings and describes useful education materials available at the Kepler website.