Kepler Mission – Exoplanets – what’s all the fuss about? – By Stuart Atkinson

btc_stuHmmm. It’s a good question actually. Why DOES it matter that we now know some of those twinkling points of light in the night sky are circled by strange, exotic worlds? Why are astronomers spending hours and hours gazing at these distant suns, hoping to glimpse signs of planets spinning around them? And with countless problems to solve down here on Earth, why should money be spent on scanning the heavens for far-flung alien solar systems with multi-million $ telescopes, satellites and computers?

Simple. Because we have to leave Earth and find another home.

Read the full article by Stuart Atkinson, BtC collaborator, at Cumbrian Sky.

Kepler Mission – First Light update for 280309 – With Jon Jenkins

jenkins_jon_3_enh11The stray light inside the telescope was sunlight scattered through baffles at two gaps around the dust cover where the pins holding the dust cover to the sunshade are located. The stray light illuminated an “arc” around the edge of the dust cover opposite the entry points. (Interestingly enough, there are some dust particles on the field flattening lenses that functioned as inverse pin hole cameras, so we actually saw reverse images of the illumination pattern inside the sunshade.) The images we first obtained were very dark at the top of the focal plane array, and became gradually lighter towards the bottom of the focal plane. We aren’t talking about much light: at most, about 12,000 photoelectrons per read were falling on the brightest edge of the focal plane. When we tilted the photometer away from the sun, we almost completely eliminated the stray sun light getting through the simple baffles in these gaps (more complex baffles could prevent the dust cover from releasing cleanly). The maximum amount of light we measured on these final images was less than about 10 photoelectrons per readout, so the light was reduced by over a factor of 1000.

Keep in mind that these dark or bias frames were pictures only a parent could love: we were very happy to see the same intricate patterns in the dark frames matched those that we saw in preflight characterization tests. It was just like seeing the wizened face of a dear old friend or relative and noting that every wrinkle and freckle was in place and that no additional ones had appeared after launch.

We’re having a hard time waiting for the dust cover to be released so that we can finally see what the stars look like through Kepler’s eyes. I’m confident that we won’t have to wait too much longer.

Kepler Mission – First Light Update – With Jon Jenkins

We’ve all been here walking from one side of the room to the other, eagerly waiting for that special moment, the moment when Kepler peels of its sleep mask and awakes up, beholding the stars ahead, capturing its first light.

Well…it looks like Kepler is already slightly opening its dreamy eyes to the Milky Way!

It is like when you are sleeping and the blinds allow the first rays of the morning Sun to pass, touching your eyelids, calling you for a whole new day ahead…

 

Let us read what BtC collaborator, Jon Jenkins, Kepler Co-Investigator, had to tell us:

 

jenkins_jon_3_enh11We had our “first light” already with some sunlight making it in around the dust cover, but found a different attitude at which almost no light entered the telescope so that we could get a good dark frame for comparison with preflight test, and that can be used to formulate some of our calibration products. In retrospect, it’s nice to see that all 42 science CCDs and 4 Fine Guidance Sensor CCDs are responding to light as well as behaving as expected in dark frames.

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Kepler Mission – Anticipating First Light – Editor’s Note

btc_avatar_rui

Until today we are, once more, one tribe sitting at the shore of the sea, not knowing what lays beyond it, what unimagined islands, continents, other tribes await us? We simply don’t know, until now all we could do was to think, to dream, to hope.

But we have decided to send a scout, one that will change our knowledge in a so profound way that nothing will be the same after his return.

 

What will he see? What will he retrieve us?

Now, where dragons await us, can there be an eden?

Now, where silent rules, can there be voices?

Now, where we can only see the distant sparkling, can there be life? 

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Quick Kepler note

Just got a message from Kepler Co-Investigator Natalie Batalha, San José State University, informing us that 

a couple of minor glitches will probably delay “first light”

by a couple of days or so.

Overall, though, everything is going very well.

Looks like we’ll have to wait a bit more…guess it will only entice our curiosity…

Stay alert for more details.

EDITED on March 25, 7.58 AM UTC:

Natalie Batalha explained us the reason for the slight delay:

It took longer than expected to get really good calibration images.

 We did an extra telescope pointing just to be sure we got what we needed.

Still according to Batalha, there were some commemorations over Kepler’s “beautiful “dark” exposures”…

Now…let there be light!

Kepler mission – Anticipating First Light – the answering post

 

As I write these words Kepler has still its sleep mask on and has been, in the last days, dreaming with the future view, with the wonders waiting in the distance, in some sort of REM as calibration tests take place.

 

A good timing to publish the answers provided by Jon Jenkins, Kepler Co-Investigator to the questions sent by BtC readers about the mission.

Jon was thankful for the opportunity to answer these since, according to his words, they’re all great questions indicating that BtC readers are “very much on the ball”.

Here they are:

 

 

The Press kit mentioned a possible prolongation of the mission beyond 3.5 years. I guess (technically = excluding budget reasons) this will depend on the amount of coolant or the life time of the coolant radiator? Any other points that could influence a possible extension?

Philip Corneille

 

Kepler launched with enough hydrazine fuel for our thrusters (used mostly to manage the spacecraft attitude by removing excess momentum from the reaction wheels) for a 6 year mission. We don’t carry coolant, as our CCDs are passively cooled by heat pipes that conduct heat generated by the detector electronics in the focal plane to the radiator. The hydrazine fuel is our only consumable on orbit. Electronics and spacecraft components do age in space. Kepler was designed with a high reliability for the original primary mission duration of 4 years. If it is operating well at that point, we would expect good performance for the extended mission as well.

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brief note(s)

#01 – As you can see, Beyond the Cradle looks diferent…a problem appeared with the previous lay-out, while I try to find a solution for this we’ll keep this as clean as possible and, to be honest, I don’t dislike how it looks now, although I miss my Gagarin…

 

#02 – If you are thinking about sending a question about the Kepler mission for Jon Jenkins, mission Co-Investigator, to answer, the deadline is Monday 23, 12PM UTC. Know more about it here.

 

#03 – …more news are on the way so…stay alert…

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