by Jim Fanson, Kepler, JPL Project Manager
Kepler Mission Manager Update
Kepler's calibration data collection is drawing to a close. Several hundred data sets have been acquired to characterize and map the optical and noise performance of the telescope and the electronics for the focal plane array (the area where light is focused). The data sets are now being analyzed on the ground. Optimally shaped "windows" of pixels will be defined for each of the more than 100,000 target stars and a table of these pixels uploaded to the spacecraft. These are the pixels that will ultimately help the science team find planets -- the pixels will be downlinked to Earth and used to construct light curves, or measurements of brightness over time, for each star.
After science observations begin, the data analysis "pipeline" at the Science Operations Center at NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif., will process the light curves to identify "threshold crossing events," which is the first step in identifying potential transiting planets. Various tests will be applied to these events to weed out false indications. Once confidence is built for candidate transits, observations by ground-based telescopes will be performed to further rule out phenomena that can masquerade as transiting planets.