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Science@Ames
 
Space ScienceSpace Science @ Ames features research in infrared astrophysics, laboratory astrophysics, extrasolar planets, planetary sciences, exobiology, and astrobiology.
 
 
Earth ScienceEarth Science @ Ames features basic and applied research in atmospheric and biospheric sciences, and conducts airborne science campaigns.
 
 
Biological ScienceBioSciences @ Ames features research in fundamental space biology, and provides engineering and payload development for the International Space Station.
 

 
Features
 
NASA's Kepler Mission Announces a Planet Bonanza, 715 New Worlds
Feb 26, 2014
 
NASA's Kepler Mission Announces a Planet Bonanza, 715 New Worlds


NASA's Kepler mission announced Wednesday the discovery of 715 new planets. These newly-verified worlds orbit 305 stars, revealing multiple-planet systems much like our own solar system.

Nearly 95 percent of these planets are smaller than Neptune, which is almost four times the size of Earth. This discovery marks a significant increase in the number of known small-sized planets more akin to Earth than previously identified exoplanets, which are planets outside our solar system.

"The Kepler team continues to amaze and excite us with their planet hunting results," said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. "That these new planets and solar systems look somewhat like our own, portends a great future when we have the James Webb Space Telescope in space to characterize the new worlds."

Since the discovery of the first planets outside our solar system roughly two decades ago, verification has been a laborious planet-by-planet process. Now, scientists have a statistical technique that can be applied to many planets at once when they are found in systems that harbor more than one planet around the same star.

To verify this bounty of planets, a research team co-led by Jack Lissauer, planetary scientist at NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif., analyzed stars with more than one potential planet, all of which were detected in the first two years of Kepler's observations -- May 2009 to March 2011.

The research team used a technique called verification by multiplicity, which relies in part on the logic of probability. Kepler observes 150,000 stars, and has found a few thousand of those to have planet candidates. If the candidates were randomly distributed among Kepler's stars, only a handful would have more than one planet candidate. However, Kepler observed hundreds of stars that have multiple planet candidates. Through a careful study of this sample, these 715 new planets were verified.

This method can be likened to the behavior we know of lions and lionesses. In our imaginary savannah, the lions are the Kepler stars and the lionesses are the planet candidates. The lionesses would sometimes be observed grouped together whereas lions tend to roam on their own. If you see two lions it could be a lion and a lioness or it could be two lions. But if more than two large felines are gathered, then it is very likely to be a lion and his pride. Thus, through multiplicity the lioness can be reliably identified in much the same way multiple planet candidates can be found around the same star.

"Four years ago, Kepler began a string of announcements of first hundreds, then thousands, of planet candidates -- but they were only candidate worlds," said Lissauer. "We've now developed a process to verify multiple planet candidates in bulk to deliver planets wholesale, and have used it to unveil a veritable bonanza of new worlds."

These multiple-planet systems are fertile grounds for studying individual planets and the configuration of planetary neighborhoods. This provides clues to planet formation.

Four of these new planets are less than 2.5 times the size of Earth and orbit in their sun's habitable zone, defined as the range of distance from a star where the surface temperature of an orbiting planet may be suitable for life-giving liquid water.

One of these new habitable zone planets, called Kepler-296f, orbits a star half the size and 5 percent as bright as our sun. Kepler-296f is twice the size of Earth, but scientists do not know whether the planet is a gaseous world, with a thick hydrogen-helium envelope, or it is a water world surrounded by a deep ocean.

"From this study we learn planets in these multi-systems are small and their orbits are flat and circular -- resembling pancakes -- not your classical view of an atom," said Jason Rowe, research scientist at the SETI Institute in Mountain View, Calif., and co-leader of the research. "The more we explore the more we find familiar traces of ourselves amongst the stars that remind us of home."

This latest discovery brings the confirmed count of planets outside our solar system to nearly 1,700. As we continue to reach toward the stars, each discovery brings us one step closer to a more accurate understanding of our place in the galaxy.

Launched in March 2009, Kepler is the first NASA mission to find potentially habitable Earth-size planets. Discoveries include more than 3,600 planet candidates, of which 961 have been verified as bona-fide worlds.

The findings papers will be published March 10 in The Astrophysical Journal and are available for download at: http://www.nasa.gov/ames/kepler/digital-press-kit-kepler-planet-bonanza

Ames is responsible for the Kepler mission concept, ground system development, mission operations and science data analysis. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., managed Kepler mission development. Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp. in Boulder, Colo., developed the Kepler flight system and supports mission operations with the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at the University of Colorado in Boulder. The Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore archives, hosts and distributes Kepler science data. Kepler is NASA's 10th Discovery Mission and was funded by the agency's Science Mission Directorate.


For more information about the Kepler space telescope, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/kepler

Michele Johnson Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif.
michele.johnson@nasa.gov


J.D. Harrington
Headquarters, Washington


 
National Space Club Honors Kepler's Planet Hunters
Feb 6, 2014
 
ational Space Club Honors Kepler's Planet Hunters


NASA's Kepler space telescope mission will be honored with the National Space Club's preeminent award, the Robert H. Goddard Memorial Trophy, in March.

The National Space Club is recognizing Kepler for revolutionizing astrophysics and exoplanet science by expanding the census of planets beyond our solar system and fundamentally altering our understanding of our place in the Milky Way galaxy. The award citation acknowledges the Kepler team's significant contribution to U.S. leadership in the field of rocketry and astronautics.

"This is an outstanding achievement for the entire Kepler team," said John Grunsfeld, NASA's associate administrator for science in Washington. "Kepler continues to surprise and inspire us on a regular basis and I'm delighted to see the team's pioneering work acknowledged with the Goddard Trophy."

The trophy will be presented at a 57th Annual Robert H. Goddard Memorial Dinner March 7 in Washington. Previous winners of the Goddard Trophy include NASA's Curiosity and Mars Science Laboratory team, James A. Van Allen and the Apollo 11 astronaut crew.

Developed jointly by NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif., and NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, Calif., Kepler was launched in 2009. It is the first NASA mission to find Earth-size planets in or near the habitable zone, the region in a planetary system where liquid water can exist on the surface of an orbiting planet.

"Kepler's determination that most stars have planets and that Earth-size planets are common provides impetus to future missions that will determine whether many planets have atmospheres compatible with the possibility of life," said William Borucki, Kepler principal investigator at Ames. "The future science enabled by the Kepler results will be one of the mission's greatest legacies."

Borucki and the team continue to analyze four years of collected data. Discoveries include more than 3,600 exoplanet candidates, of which 246 have been confirmed as exoplanets. They expect hundreds, if not thousands, of new discoveries contained within the data. This could include discovering long-awaited Earth-size planets in the habitable zone of sun-like stars.

Ames Center Director S. Pete Worden praised Kepler as "a hallmark of Ames ingenuity and humankind's collective spirit to advance the frontier." Worden said, "We may come up with ideas no one thinks are possible, but the collaboration of hundreds of scientists, engineers and managers from around the world has taken us closer to answering one of the ultimate questions: Are we alone?"

Jim Fanson, Kepler development phase project manager at JPL, commented on the historical implications of the mission. "Kepler has revolutionized our understanding of solar systems around other stars in the galaxy, and in so doing has transformed our view of our own island home," Fanson said.

The National Space Club is a non-profit organization devoted to fostering excellence in space activity through interaction between industry and government and through a continuing program of educational support. A full list of 2014 award winners is online at:

http://www.spaceclub.org/awards.html

Ames is responsible for the Kepler mission concept, ground system development, mission operations and science data analysis. JPL managed Kepler mission development. Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp. in Boulder, Colo., developed the Kepler flight system and supports mission operations with the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at the University of Colorado in Boulder. The Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore archives, hosts and distributes Kepler science data. Kepler is NASA's 10th Discovery mission and was funded by the agency's Science Mission Directorate.

For more information about the Kepler space telescope, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/kepler


Michele Johnson
Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif.


Whitney Clavin
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.


J.D. Harrington
Headquarters, Washington


 
 
LADEE All-Hands Visit with Geoff Yoder, SMD's Deputy AA for Programs - Photo Gallery
Jan. 14, 2014
 
Geoff Yoder, the Deputy Associate Administrator for Programs within SMD; Joan Salute, the NASA's Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) Program Executive and additional Lunar Quest Program representatives visited Ames with the express purpose of congratulating the LADEE team on their continued success.


LADEE All-Hands Visit with Geoff Yoder
NASA Ames Center Director S. 'Pete' Worden


LADEE All-Hands Visit with Geoff Yoder
Joan Salute, the NASA's Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) Program Executive



LADEE All-Hands Visit with Geoff Yoder
Geoff Yoder, the Deputy Associate Administrator for Programs within SMD


LADEE All-Hands Visit with Geoff Yoder
L-R: Geoff Yoder, and Michael D. Bicay, Director of Science



LADEE All-Hands Visit with Geoff Yoder



LADEE All-Hands Visit with Geoff Yoder



Image Credit: NASA

 
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