Kepler and the Carnival

By Phil Plait | March 7, 2009 1:00 pm

Congrats to everyone associated with the Kepler mission! It launched last night right on time, and was a very exciting event. Twitter was ablaze with tweets, comments, exclamations, kudos, questions, and just plain ol’ excitement. The Kepler spacecraft is now a solar satellite, slowly moving away from Earth, getting ready to start looking for planets around other stars. It’s a new era in astronomy, and that’s no exaggeration.

And if that doesn’t sate your appetite for space and astronomy, Emily Lakdawalla at the Planetary Society Blog is hosting the 93rd Carnival of Space, too. I just found out Emily is on Twitter as well, so follow her to keep up with what’s new in planetary science.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Astronomy, NASA, Space

Comments (15)

Links to this Post

  1. Lousy Canuck | March 8, 2009
  1. Brian

    I wave a white handkerchief in the air at the departing silhouette. Safe journey, Kepler. And for goodness’ sake stay in touch!

  2. Steven

    Quick Q. Can anyone say when we should expect the first data/observations etc? Is that weeks away? Months or even a year or more away? I looked through NASA’s Kepler pages and couldn’t find any info on when observations begin. Thanks, -Steve

  3. QUASAR

    Whenever I think about Kepler, I always keep thinking that we’re going to find potentially Earth-like planets out there! I just never get tired of hearing about it! And the LHC, this summer, well, we can call this year a year of science, don’t you agree?

  4. Torbjörn Larsson, OM

    Hooray!

    Uh, and I hope the next two months or so of setting up the experiment will go smoothly as well, especially as I believe the ‘scope cover isn’t to go off until later. [Expect an upcoming BAd pun on the nature of premature, or not, cover-ejection.]

  5. Sundance

    I am so unbelievably excited about this, the prospect of discovering other planets like our own, and the follow-up missions to observe them more closely and find out more about them, make this the dawn of an amazing new era in our understanding of the Universe. Plus Kepler is my favourite scientific hero, and I’m glad to see him being recognised with such a mission.

    @Steven, the hope is that Kepler will find planets orbiting stars like our Sun, at distances similar to the distance of the Earth from our Sun. Hence these other Earths should take about one year to complete an orbit of their star. Kepler is searching by the transit method (i.e. trying to detect when a star dims because a planet passes in front of it) so it can only detect planets for a brief period during each orbit, and it will take three transits (i.e. two to three years) to be certain that a planet was detected (rather than random noise in the detector or a bit of space-flotsam causing a false result), and tell what its orbital period is.

  6. Torbjörn Larsson, OM

    Steven, I now see your comment. The info on 60 days setup is in the local science media; but no references back to the mission site.

  7. Torbjörn Larsson, OM

    Oh, and what Sundance says on the data delivery.

  8. IVAN3MAN

    @ Steven:

    Can anyone say when we should expect the first data/observations etc? Is that weeks away? Months or even a year or more away?

    Extract from Kepler: First Mission Capable of
    Finding Earth-Size Planets
    [PDF]
    :

    [The commissioning phase] begins with the separation of the Kepler spacecraft from the launch vehicle and is planned to last 60 days immediately after launch, when the Kepler observatory is expected to be fully operational, but may be extended if required.

    [...]

    One critical event during commissioning is the photometer dust cover jettison. The dust cover protects the photometer from contamination on the ground through launch, and from stray or direct sunlight during launch and early commissioning. While the dust cover is attached, all light is precluded from entering the photometer. This period will be used to characterize the performance of the detector electronics and to collect ‘dark’ calibration data to be used throughout the mission. Given the high-precision measurements necessary to detect Earth-size planets, great care will be taken to ensure that all necessary dark calibration data are collected. Dust cover jettison is planned to occur about three weeks into commissioning, but the exact time will be adjusted to accommodate the calibration data activity. Once the dust cover is jettisoned, optical characterization will begin.

    [...]

    [Science Operations Phase...] begins to collect data immediately after commissioning and produces results in a progressive fashion shortly thereafter. The first results come in just a few months, when the giant inner planets with orbital periods of only a few days are detected. Objects that are in Mercury-like orbits of a few months, are detected using the data collected during the first year.

    After several months of data processing and confirmation by ground-based telescopes, scientists hope to announce their first results approximately in December 2009 at NASA Headquarters during a NASA Science Update briefing about giant planets found in short-period orbits.

    Approximately in December 2010, scientists expect to announce any discoveries they have made in the first year. This will be the first possible announcement of Earth-size planets in the habitable zones of M-type stars, which are stars smaller and cooler than the Sun.

    Discovery of Earth-size planets in Earth-like orbits requires nearly the full lifetime of the 3.5 year mission, although in some cases three transits are seen in just a little more than two years. Other results that require the full 3.5 years of data are: Planets as small as Mars in short period orbits, which utilizes the addition of dozens or more transits to be detectable; and the detection of giant-inner planets that do not transit the star, but do periodically modulate the apparent brightness due to reflected light from the planet.

    Approximately in December 2011, scientists are expected to announce any discoveries made during the first two years of the mission. The announcement will be made at NASA Headquarters and later at the January 2012 American Astronomical Society (AAS) meeting held in Seattle, Wa., as well as at NASA’s Ames Research Center. This will be the first possible announcement of Earth-size planets in the habitable zones of K-type stars.

    Around December 2012, scientists are expected to announce any discoveries made during the first
    three years of the mission. The announcement will be made at NASA Headquarters and later at the AAS
    meeting held in Austin, Texas, as well as at NASA’s Ames Research Center. This is the first possible
    announcement of Earth-size planets in the habitable zones of solar-like or G stars.

    [...]


  9. IVAN3MAN

    Hey, Phil. If one had a preview/edit facility here, I could fix the premature line breaks in that last paragraph of my post above. I don’t know how the bloody hell that occurred.

  10. Bein'Silly

    By weird co-incidence, I’m currently reading a non-fiction book titled ‘Heavenly Intrigue’ by Joshua & Ann-Lee Gilder that suggest the historical Johannes Kepler was a very strange bloke who might’ve murdered fellow major league historic astronomer Tycho Brahe!

    Can’t say how convincing or otherwise their case is as I’ve really only started reading it but its interesting and well-written so far …

    Wonder if any of the Kepler team or others here have read it? Could NASA have named this satellite for a murderer? :-O

  11. Bein'Silly
  12. csrster

    It’s fantastic that NASA has launched such a splendid satellite to study stellar variability. I hear it might even find some rocks at the same time.

  13. Ad Hominid

    Sundance:
    “I am so unbelievably excited about this, the prospect of discovering other planets like our own, and the follow-up missions to observe them more closely and find out more about them, make this the dawn of an amazing new era in our understanding of the Universe.”

    Well said, Sundance. I have waited 50 years for this. My thanks and congratulations to the Kepler team.

  14. Torbjörn Larsson, OM

    IVAN3MAN, thanks for the reference/delivery dates info.

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