April 3, 2015 – K2 began its fourth campaign on February 8. The Campaign 4 target set includes nearly 16,000 target stars, which can be searched for exoplanets and examined for an array of astrophysical phenomena. This field includes two notable open star clusters—Pleiades and Hyades, the nearest open cluster to our solar system. Both are located in the constellation of Taurus.
Data collected for Campaigns 0, 1 and 2 have been made available to the public through the Mikulski Archive for Space Telescopes (MAST). Campaign 3 data will be processed with a scheduled delivery to MAST in June 2015.
The Kepler team continues to make improvements in the spacecraft’s K2 operations, improving the pointing performance, conserving fuel, extending the observation periods and increasing the number of observed targets. It’s currently estimated that the onboard fuel should last until at least December 2017.
While data collection has concluded for the prime Kepler mission, the team continues to analyze the full four years of Kepler data. To-date the Kepler team, together with the global science community, has identified more than 4,000 candidates and verified 1,023 as exoplanets, planets that orbit other stars.
In March the team achieved another milestone — this time in the realm of data processing. Using the first uniform processing of the four-year Kepler data set, the first uniformly vetted catalog of planetary candidates and false positives was delivered to the NASA Exoplanet Archive. Since this catalog was generated by automated software, the detectability of each planet candidate can be quantified, thus enabling reliable occurrence rate calculations to be made over the full range of period and radius for the first time. The data was made available on April 1.
Kepler finished its primary mission in 2012 and began an extended mission, but in 2013, the mission appeared to be over when two of four reaction wheels failed and the spacecraft lost its stability. Ball Aerospace developed an innovative way of recovering pointing stability by using solar pressure to control the spacecraft and the newly named mission, K2, became operational in June 2014.
This new mission provides scientists with an opportunity to search for even more exoplanets, as well as new opportunities to observe notable star clusters, young and old stars, active galaxies and supernovae. The spacecraft continues to collect data in its new mission.
Ball Aerospace was the prime contractor for NASA’s Kepler Mission, designed to search for rocky, Earth-sized planets around other stars. Ball designed and built the Kepler spacecraft, which includes the sensitive photometer used to find planets and operates Kepler for NASA.
NASA Ames Research Center is responsible for Kepler’s mission concept, ground system development, science data analysis and K2 mission operations. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, managed Kepler mission development. Ball Aerospace 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.