Plato to Take on Kepler

The European Space Agency’s (ESA) Science Policy Committee has selected a successor to NASA’s highly successful Kepler.  The mission, the PLAnetary Transits and Oscillations of stars, or Plato, is scheduled to launch in 2024.

Similar to Kepler, the Plato mission should cost just over 600 million euros, although hardware contributions from other parties will push the cost closer to a billion euros.  Still this is relatively inexpensive as far a modern space missions are concerned.

Working off the data returned by Kepler, Plato will be tuned specifically to seek out rocky worlds orbiting in the “goldilocks” or “habitable zone,”  which is the region around a star where water can exist in a liquid state.  So Plato is going to be more specific to finding Earth-like planets, where Kepler was designed to  just find the planets.

Image Credit: University of Warwick

“Plato will be our first attempt to find nearby habitable planets around Sun-like stars that we can actually examine in sufficient detail to look for life,” said Dr Don Pollacco, the University of Warwick researcher who leads the Plato Science Consortium.

Plato will be parked at the L2 Lagrange point, so it will be in permanent orbit.  However, like Kepler, no rescue missions are currently possible if something goes wrong.

Plato is a suite of 34 telescopes mounted on a single satellite.  The array will image about half the sky, to investigate some of its brightest and nearest stars and search them for planets using light curves.

The array will have 136 charge-coupled devices (CCDs) made by e2v in Chelmsford.  The total imaging surface will be about a square meter and have 2.5 billion pixels.

- Ex astris, scientia -

I am and avid amateur astronomer and intellectual property attorney in Pasadena, California and I am a Rising Star as rated by Super Lawyers Magazine.  As a former Chief Petty Officer in the U.S. Navy, I am a proud member of the Armed Service Committee of the Los Angeles County Bar Association working to aid all active duty and veterans in our communities. Connect with me on Google +

Norman

Down, but not out?

By now you have heard the Kepler space telescope is in trouble.  It may have to cease operations soon.

 

There won’t be any repair mission because a) we no longer have any operational shuttles and b) and even if we did, Kepler is about 40 million miles (64 million kilometers) from Earth in a Heliocentric orbit (i.e. it orbits the Sun, not the Earth).

So, what went wrong.  Kepler needs to be pointed with extreme accuracy to point its 1.5 meter mirror.  To do that, there are four reaction wheels that make up a sort of gyroscope keeping Kepler pointed to the exact same spot in space.

One of the four reaction wheels was overheating, so in January of this year NASA shut the whole thing down for ten days to try and cool the reaction wheels off.  It didn’t work.  Kepler could continue with three reaction wheels (redundancy, redundancy, redundancy).  However, it now appears that a second reaction wheel is now failing.

All is not lost however.  Kepler is currently on an extended mission.  The original end date for the project was over a year ago.  NASA agreed to fund the project until 2016, if the equipment lasted that long.  Kepler was launched in 2009 in search of Earth-like planets. So far, it has confirmed 132 planets and spotted more than 2,700 potential ones.  It will take scientists years to figure out all the data.

Considering the very small area of the Milky Way that Kepler was looking at, and the advances made in exoplanet discovery.  I think Kepler was a rousing success.  Too bad it can’t go on.

“I wouldn’t call Kepler down and out yet,” said John Grunsfeld, a former astronaut and Hubble repairman who is NASA’s associate administrator for space science, at a news conference.

Well, hopefully he is right and more planets are discovered.  Kepler II anyone? NASA? NASA?

- Ex astris, scientia -

I am and avid amateur astronomer and intellectual property attorney in Pasadena, California. As a former Chief Petty Officer in the U.S. Navy, I am a proud member of the Armed Service Committee of the Los Angeles County Bar Association working to aid all active duty and veterans in our communities. Connect with me on Google +

Norman

I found one using BEER!

For about the last decade, exoplanets have been found using one of two methods: radial velocity (looking for wobbling stars) and transits (looking for dimming stars).

Now, Tel Aviv University and the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA) have discovered a new exoplanet using a new method that relies on Einstein’s special theory of relativity and data from the Kepler Space Telescope.  The planet was identified using the BEER algorithm (relativistic BEaming, Ellipsoidal, and Reflection/emission modulations).

Contrary to popular belief, BEER was developed by Professor Tsevi Mazeh and his student, Simchon Faigler, at Tel Aviv University, Israel (not in Egypt in the 5th century B.C.).

The BEER method looks for three small effects that occur simultaneously as a planet orbits the star.  Einstein’s “beaming” effect causes the star to brighten as it moves toward us, tugged by the planet, and dim as it moves away. The brightening results from photons “piling up” in energy, as well as light getting focused in the direction of the star’s motion due to relativistic effects.

“This is the first time that this aspect of Einstein’s theory of relativity has been used to discover a planet,” said co-author Tsevi Mazeh of Tel Aviv University.

“Einstein’s planet,” formally known as Kepler-76b, is a “hot Jupiter” that orbits its star every 1.5 days. Its diameter is about 25 percent larger than Jupiter and it weighs twice as much. It orbits a type F star located about 2,000 light-years from Earth in the constellation Cygnus.

The planet is tidally locked to its star, always showing the same face to it, like Mecury.  As a result, Kepler-76b broils at a temperature of about 3,600 degrees Fahrenheit.

- Ex astris, scientia -

I am and avid amateur astronomer and intellectual property attorney in Pasadena, California. As a former Chief Petty Officer in the U.S. Navy, I am a proud member of the Armed Service Committee of the Los Angeles County Bar Association working to aid all active duty and veterans in our communities. Connect with me on Google +

Norman