Kepler Mission Manager Update
Since my last update, the Kepler team announced
the discovery of 11 new planetary systems with 26 more planets. These discoveries nearly double the number of verified Kepler planets and triple the number of stars known to have more than one planet that transits. The team also announced
Kepler had found two new circumbinary planets. The discovery of the Kepler-34 and Kepler-35 systems establishes that double-star worlds are not uncommon. This brings Kepler’s confirmed planet count to 61.
During January, some team members attended the 219th meeting of the American Astronomical Society (AAS) in Austin, TX. There were 28 talks and 29 posters presented at the AAS directly related to Kepler data. We were quite pleased and impressed that these presentations were shared across 29 different scientific sessions -- including cosmology! -- over the course of the five-day meeting.
Routine spacecraft operations continued as the operations team downlinked the latest month of science data without issue, successfully beginning the first month of Quarter 12. The operation occurred Feb. 1-2, 2012, with only 17.2 hours of interruption in science data collection. One of the events that will be investigated in this data set is any impact of the Coronal Mass Ejections (CME) that occurred during the week of Jan. 23, 2012. Kepler was designed to operate in such an environment, having on-board fault protection to protect the spacecraft if solar activity affects the spacecraft performance.
Kepler is trailing Earth in orbit around the sun currently at a distance of more than 30 million miles. CMEs are directional and Earth-bound detectors that predicted and measured the event, could not tell us if the event also was seen by Kepler. Engineering and science data from Kepler indicated the detection of two events at the spacecraft, one that occurred over Jan. 23 and Jan. 24, and the other on Jan. 28.
The CMEs did not affect any computers or trip any spacecraft self-protection measure, but some small, temporary changes in the sensitive detectors in the Kepler telescope were seen in the daily snapshots. Now that we have the full resolution data, we will check for any other minor impacts or changes. So far, it seems the spacecraft weathered the event quite well, as science data collection for Quarter 12 month 2 is well underway.