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Proceedings Paper

The little photometer that could: technical challenges and science results from the Kepler Mission
Author(s): Jon M. Jenkins; Jeb Dunnuck
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Paper Abstract

The Kepler spacecraft launched on March 7, 2009, initiating NASA's first search for Earth-size planets orbiting Sun-like stars. Since launch, Kepler has announced the discovery of 17 exoplanets, including a system of six transiting a Sun-like star, Kepler-11, and the first confirmed rocky planet, Kepler-10b, with a radius of 1.4 that of Earth. Kepler is proving to be a cornucopia of discoveries: it has identified over 1200 candidate planets based on the first 120 days of observations, including 54 that are in or near the habitable zone of their stars, and 68 that are 1.2 Earth radii or smaller. An astounding 408 of these planetary candidates are found in 170 multiple systems, demonstrating the compactness and flatness of planetary systems composed of small planets. Never before has there been a photometer capable of reaching a precision near 20 ppm in 6.5 hours and capable of conducting nearly continuous and uninterrupted observations for months to years. In addition to exoplanets, Kepler is providing a wealth of astrophysics, and is revolutionizing the field of asteroseismology. Designing and building the Kepler photometer and the software systems that process and analyze the resulting data to make the discoveries presented a daunting set of challenges, including how to manage the large data volume. The challenges continue into flight operations, as the photometer is sensitive to its thermal environment, complicating the task of detecting 84 ppm drops in brightness corresponding to Earth-size planets transiting Sun-like stars.

Paper Details

Date Published: 14 September 2011
PDF: 12 pages
Proc. SPIE 8146, UV/Optical/IR Space Telescopes and Instruments: Innovative Technologies and Concepts V, 814602 (14 September 2011); doi: 10.1117/12.897767
Show Author Affiliations
Jon M. Jenkins, NASA Ames Research Ctr. (United States)
Jeb Dunnuck, Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp. (United States)


Published in SPIE Proceedings Vol. 8146:
UV/Optical/IR Space Telescopes and Instruments: Innovative Technologies and Concepts V
Howard A. MacEwen; James B. Breckinridge, Editor(s)

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