American Astronomical Society conf + New Kepler results + Reviving Kepler + Starshades

The  223rd Meeting  of the American Astronomical Society is taking place in Washington this week. Exoplanets and the Kepler observatory have been a topic of discussion today. Jeff Foust is posting notes from some of the presentations: Jeff Foust (jeff_foust) on Twitter.


The Kepler space observatory group released this today: NASA Kepler Provides Insight About Enigmatic But Ubiquitous Planets, Five New Rocky Planets – NASA

The Kepler team today reports on four years of ground-based follow-up observations targeting Kepler’s exoplanet systems at the American Astronomical Society meeting in Washington. These observations confirm the numerous Kepler discoveries are indeed planets and yield mass measurements of these enigmatic worlds that vary between Earth and Neptune in size.

Included in the findings are five new rocky planets ranging in size from ten to eighty percent larger than Earth. Two of the new rocky worlds, dubbed Kepler-99b and Kepler-406b, are both forty percent larger in size than Earth and have a density similar to lead. The planets orbit their host stars in less than five and three days respectively, making these worlds too hot for life as we know it.


The Kepler spacecraft was crippled last year when one of its reaction wheels failed and prevented the telescope from pointing precisely enough to observe exoplanets transiting across the face of their stars. Since then they have proposed to NASA a way to regain some of their exoplanet observation capabilities. The new project would be called K2 if funded by NASA: K2 – Kepler Science Center


To see a small earth-like planet, the light from its star must be blocked by a specially shaped mask or ‘star shade” set at a good distance from the telescope. Jeff points to this interesting article and video from 2012 : The Search for Another Earth – PlanetQuest