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NASA Science

NASA's Kepler Mission Extended For Two Years 58

Posted by samzenpus
from the keep-it-going dept.
An anonymous reader writes "A report just released from NASA's senior review panel recommends extending the Kepler mission(Pdf), initially for two years. 'Kepler is not only a unique source of exoplanet discoveries, but also an organizing and rallying point for exo-planet research. It has enabled remarkable stellar science." The scaled-down budget for the extended mission was broadly expected to include funding only for continued operations and management, with no funding for science. Astronomers have already started seeking private funding to continue their Kepler-related work, through crowd-funding websites like PetriDish and FundaGeek, as well as through the non-profit Pale Blue Dot project."
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NASA's Kepler Mission Extended For Two Years

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  • Wonderful (Score:5, Insightful)

    by MyLongNickName (822545) on Tuesday April 03, 2012 @07:57PM (#39567087) Journal

    This is awesome! The longer Kepler is up, the more chance it has of finding Earth-like planets. It isn't simply a matter of probability, but the need to see three transits to get confirmation. So at least two Earth years, but often more like 3-5 years. The longer it is up, the more longer orbital period planets it will find!

    I love this!

    • Re:Wonderful (Score:5, Insightful)

      by mattie_p (2512046) on Tuesday April 03, 2012 @08:17PM (#39567273)

      This is awesome! The longer Kepler is up, the more chance it has of finding Earth-like planets. It isn't simply a matter of probability, but the need to see three transits to get confirmation. So at least two Earth years, but often more like 3-5 years. The longer it is up, the more longer orbital period planets it will find!

      I love this!

      I appreciate your optimism, but the NASA senior review panel has absolutely nothing to do with funding decisions, which are all in the hands of Congress. Unless crowd-sourcing works (which is effective for such things as Kickstarter comic book drives, but not science, last I checked), and is more effective than the white house official petition website (aka, not effective) NASA will be out of luck, sad to say.

      • by honkycat (249849)

        It's not fair to say they have "absolutely nothing to do with funding decisions." A negative review can quite certainly kill a mission. A good review is something like a necessary, but not sufficient, condition, to get the funding necessary.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by hairyfeet (841228)

      I REALLY hate to be a party pooper but....why? Frankly our engine tech hasn't really evolved since Nazis were using them to drop V2s on london so even if we find a bazillion worlds out there our pathetic tech means that even if we sent a generation ship you are talking tens of thousands of years before we could even get there, much less any chance of turning around if you find its just a big rock without the ability to sustain life.

      Personally while I think its great they are keeping it going, simply because

      • Twenty years ago, we knew of 9 planets. Now we can begin to do statistical analysis on families of solar systems. It's a huge affirmation of long-held suspicions that previously had no real data to support them. It's a huge boost to being able to model solar system formation. It's really useful information EVEN THOUGH you can't fly to those planets yourself and crunch around on the surface in your hiking boots. Ugh.

        We can't dictate advances in propulsion technology on a schedule that's convenient for

        • by hairyfeet (841228)

          Your "facts" change nothing and are nothing but an attempt to gloss over the facts. here let me spell them out, 1.-you have a VERY limited budget for space, 2.-You have two, possibly three planets in our own solar system where life might be found, 3.- There are a lot of resources out there that could be VERY useful to the human race in the near future.

          So give us ONE reason, just one mind you, as to why your statistical analysis should take precedent over these things much nearer to earth, that we can actual

  • by Cazekiel (1417893) on Tuesday April 03, 2012 @08:15PM (#39567261)

    Just like SETI, it always ticks me off when space and science projects are shelved because "it costs too much".

    The cost to run SETI a year = one army fighter plane
    50 years of NASA = the bank-bailout

    I've shut people up who say "the space program costs too much!" with those two facts alone. It'd be nice if we did spend too much on astronomy and science. "Sorry Mr. President, we can't go to war with (insert country with oil or other resources we want control of). We decided to spend money on cool shit that's gonna expand our feeble minds for once."

    • man, i am with you 100%. but lets think about it, what do those two things have in common? war and bailouts? it is the government wasting our money because our corrupt politicians take 'campaign contributions' (bribes) from companies and hedge funders, and then they decide the government budget that will benefit those 'investors' that profit from war and from bailouts.

      we are just going to have to start funding this stuff ourselves. imagine all the school kids who are still idealistic about this stuff. i kn

    • NASA has plenty of money but it is being funneled to the Pork in Houston to be squandered on manned spaceflights while real science flounders....
  • by Shavano (2541114) on Tuesday April 03, 2012 @08:26PM (#39567339)

    But I think already we have the important data: thousands of planets! And these are just that tiny fraction that have orbits that take them across the line between their sun and ours. Thousands of times as many planets have orbits that would not cause a transit.

    The point is we now have enough data to estimate the density of planets in the galaxy. So you could say the basic goals of Kepler have been accomplished and the rest is gravy.

    • by poly_pusher (1004145) on Tuesday April 03, 2012 @08:55PM (#39567541)
      We do have enough data. That is until we find something so outlandish that we need more data... It's a very sophisticated piece of equipment that is already in space. Considering how successful it's been, if we can continue to use it without having to send a manned mission to fix it, then we should just keep it operational as long as possible.
    • by mendelrat (2490762) on Tuesday April 03, 2012 @09:43PM (#39567829)

      But I think already we have the important data: thousands of planets! And these are just that tiny fraction that have orbits that take them across the line between their sun and ours. Thousands of times as many planets have orbits that would not cause a transit.

      The point is we now have enough data to estimate the density of planets in the galaxy. So you could say the basic goals of Kepler have been accomplished and the rest is gravy.

      The Review panel agrees with you, and even goes further to politely tap the Kepler science team on the bottom and to try to point them in the right direction. Looking at the "Proposal Weaknesses" section (emphasis is my addition):

      Since masses cannot be determined, Kepler can only directly measure an upper limit to [the frequency of Earth-like planets]. The proposal over-emphasizes the capability of Kepler to directly determine [the frequency of Earth-like planets] as compared to the contribution of Kepler determination of exoplanet statistics. The strong focus of the proposal on the detection of a few (e.g. 0 – 20) “Earth-like” bodies leaves the plan subject to criticism for the very high dollar cost of a few new objects, few or none of which can be followed up for mass characterization through Doppler shift measurements.

      So basically they are telling the Kepler science team (rightly so) to pipe down about the Earth-like planets we can't do any more science with at this time and instead talk about the amazing stuff they can do with the statistics they've gathered. This is not even talking about what else can be done with these data; Kepler is an outstanding stellar astrophysics mission.

      • I'd like a link. because you can predict, to a degree of error masses. hell Pluto was proposed because of how well we can calculate gravity. by just taking the mass of the star and the periodicity we calculate its mass to a relatively small degree of error.
        • Kepler observes transits of planets. For simplicity's sake, let's just talk about one planet. As the planet passes in front of the star, the shape of the light curve tells you the ratio of the radii of the planet and the star, and some good constraints on the inclination of the system; that's it. If you make some assumptions about the underlying star, you can make a good estimate for the radius of the star and then get the radius of the planet. As AC points out, if you assume a density, you can get a "m
          • thanks a lot, as a physics fanatic just going into university that's some stuff I will comb over. I had assumed that most of these discoveries were done by Kepler alone, not by follow up surveys but other telescopes. On second thought, that was a bit naive of me.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      Actually, no. The goal of Kepler was to find Earth-like planets in the habitable zone and we don't have any confirmed planets of that type yet. Turns out that the stars in general are a lot noisier than our own so we need a few more years to beat down the noise.

      This was good news for Kepler!

    • Not quite.
      Kepler was designed to detect earth-like planets.
      It does this by detecting the dimming of the star when a planet passes in front of it.
      Unfortunately, the sun has turned out to not be very typical.
      Most stars are much more flickery than the sun - which we diddn't realise until Kepler.

      This means that it's quite hard to pick up an earth-like planet in an earth-like orbit crossing the star.
      Both larger planets - they obscure more of the star, so are more visible, and closer in - they orbit much more rap

      • "The Sun is not a solar-type star" was my favorite quote from the 1st NASA Kepler Conference held Dec 2011!
        • Mine too!
          I strongly recommend watching the Kepler conference.
          http://keplergo.arc.nasa.gov/ScienceKepSciCon1.shtml [nasa.gov]

          This is awesome!

          You need some science background - if you don't know what a harmonic is, or a power spectra - you'll be pretty lost.

          But as it's a new field, I was able to keep up with about 80% of the content, even though I only have a couple of semesters of physics under my belt, and a very limited understanding of the maths.

    • by Teancum (67324)

      So you could say the basic goals of Kepler have been accomplished and the rest is gravy.

      It may be gravy, but it is very delicious gravy that is very difficult to get any other way. The ongoing science that Kepler is doing right now is amazing, and some of the stars they are monitoring right now need to have observations that last several years for some of the most revealing data to come forth. Some of that involves how Kepler is acquiring that data in the first place.

      What is happening here is that this device is looking for transits of planets across the disc of the star being observed. For

  • "senior review panel recommends" does not mean "Congress has approved".

    Until there's a budget passed, senior reviews mean nothing. And if Congress puts in enough mandates on NASA's plate without increasing the budget, something's gotta get cut.

    If the budget's cut, are they going to give up on the JWST, or Kepler and dozens of other smaller projects that are returning results now? Are they going to grab money from earth science, heliophysics, the manned space program, or somewhere else? Maybe I'm just c

    • by Anonymous Coward

      "senior review panel recommends" does not mean "Congress has approved".

      Until there's a budget passed, senior reviews mean nothing. And if Congress puts in enough mandates on NASA's plate without increasing the budget, something's gotta get cut.

      If the budget's cut, are they going to give up on the JWST, or Kepler and dozens of other smaller projects that are returning results now? Are they going to grab money from earth science, heliophysics, the manned space program, or somewhere else? Maybe I'm just cynical, but I don't think it's a good time to be in astronomy at NASA.

      It's not a good time to be in astronomy in general. I know, I left the field because of the few jobs available...

    • by Teancum (67324)

      Until there's a budget passed, senior reviews mean nothing. And if Congress puts in enough mandates on NASA's plate without increasing the budget, something's gotta get cut.

      If the budget's cut, are they going to give up on the JWST, or Kepler and dozens of other smaller projects that are returning results now?

      There are just two significant programs NASA is working on: The SLS and JWST. Almost the entire rest of NASA is being cut to support both programs.... that in my own opinion neither one of these projects are ever going to actually work much less worry about getting much else accomplished.

    • by necro81 (917438)

      Until there's a budget passed, senior reviews mean nothing

      Given the experience of the last few years, I won't be holding my breath - Congress hasn't passed an actual budget, worthy of the name, on time, since 2009.

  • ... and then we'll bring it home for doing a good job. we promise. [xkcd.com]

  • This is good news that it will go on. There is more work that can be done and many more discoveries. The data it has provided will prove useful in more advanced telescopes and instruments in the near future.
  • as well as through the non-profit Pale Blue Dot project.

    Ugh. I simply cannot stand star "adoption."
    • by BTWR (540147)
      Actually, now that I see it in writing, adoption is ok for the cause. Sorta like Adopt-a-Highway or Adopt-a-Whale. It's support, now ownership.

      Now, to be clear - it's "Name a Star" crap that they sell on the radio near Valentine's Day that I hate. And they'll even put it into an "International Registry!"

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