Sunday, February 27, 2011

AMES NASATweetup–Kepler

Here’s a continuing post regarding the NASTweetup at Ames Research Facility. The people at NASA were nice enough to add us to the welcome sign at the front of the facility. This post is in regard to our tour of the Kepler mission. The Kepler mission is exploring a portion of the universe for habitable planets.

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The first stop was a presentation on what the Kepler mission is doing and how it is looking for planets.

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It was fascinating hearing how they are using pixels from the cameral on the Kepler spacecraft and turning it into data that can be used to find planets. Now I was expecting a fairly good picture of the stars, but as you can see from the raw data in the picture below its just a series of pixels of different intensities. 

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As they take more and more pictures of the same star they can get start to get patterns of the intensity of the pixels. As a planet or planets go in front of the star, the pixels start to get darker. In the above picture, below raw data you can see the output from the data. Each peak is the planet getting in front of the star. The data can be further explored to find additional planets going in front of the star. Based on the data they can determine what size planet it most likely is, and using data from other missions figure out what density the planet may be. Combining the data lets the scientists determine if they think the planet is habitable.

The data is downloaded from the Kepler spacecraft one a month for testing and once a quarter for all of the data collected in the quarter. The data is then transferred around the country, where it finally makes it to a server room in the building Kepler is housed in. In the server room (we got to see it, just no pictures for security concerns) it gets processed further. After the data is processed it is stored for future researchers to use. While the data is processed it is corrected based on any interference from the different tempreature differences in space.

Now I may not have gotten this all correct, but this is the general idea of the project.

Here’s an old structure in front of the building. It looked like it once provided protected electricity outlets.

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