Mission News

Kepler Mission Manager Update
June 4, 2010

May was a busy month for the Kepler Mission. On May 12, 2010, the Kepler project team marked the one-year anniversary of on-orbit operations. As we commemorated the date, the team was in the final stages in its preparations to release Kepler’s first 43 days of science data to the public. Scheduled for June 15, 2010, the data will include observations from more than 150,000 stars (more information below). Meanwhile, the project successfully completed another monthly science data download on May 20, 2010. This data volume was about 95 gigabytes, and represented Kepler’s Quarter 5, Month 2 collection. As the download was completed, the team was already making preparations for the upcoming June science data download, scheduled for June 22-25, 2010. This science data download will also be made in conjunction with another quarterly roll of the Kepler spacecraft. The roll will place Kepler in its summer attitude for three months. This allows for Kepler’s solar arrays to be optimally aligned toward the sun for spacecraft power generation.

The science team has worked very hard this last month preparing for the upcoming release of data to the public. On June 15, 2010, the first 43 days of data will become publicly available at the Multi-Mission Archive at STScI (MAST: http://archive.stsci.edu). The team worked around the clock to identify as many transit-like events in those data as possible. Consequently, the number of planet candidates has more than doubled in the last month. And as we search for planet candidates, we inevitably find eclipsing binary stars. In fact we found many thousands of these eclipsing binarys! We've catalogued nearly three thousand such systems. Both the binary catalog and a list of a few hundred planet candidates will be published this month to coincide with the data release. It's our hope that the public and the astronomical community will join us in the analysis of Kepler's incredible data and in the painstaking and methodical process of sorting out which candidates are, indeed, new worlds.

To present a comprehensive overview of these results to the public, four papers are being written. The first discusses the characteristics of planetary candidates in the released data with respect to the distributions of size, semi-major axis, and orbital period. The location and magnitude of the stars they orbit also are provided, so that they can be analyzed by other observers. To avoid wasting valuable telescope time, a second paper identifies and discusses the candidates in the released data that are believed to be "false alarms." These are events in the released data that are caused by astrophysical phenomena that mimic the transit pattern expected for exoplanets. Over 2,000 eclipsing binary stars have also been found and their identity and characteristics are discussed in a third paper. The fourth paper discusses the discovery of several stars that show the presence of two or more candidates transiting the same star. If these candidates prove to be planetary systems, they will be the first transiting multi-planet systems ever discovered.