UH Astronomer, Keck Observatory Confirm First Kepler K2 Exoplanet Discovery
Despite a malfunction that ended its primary mission in May 2013, NASA’s Kepler spacecraft has discovered a new super-Earth using data collected during its “second life,” known as the K2 mission.
University of Hawaii astronomer Christoph Baranec supplied confirming data with his Robo-AO instrument mounted on the Palomar 1.5-meter telescope, and former UH graduate student Brendan Bowler, now a Joint Center for Planetary Astronomy postdoctoral fellow at Caltech, provided additional confirming observations using the Keck II adaptive optics system on Maunakea.
The Kepler spacecraft detects planets by looking for planets that transit, or cross in front of, their star as seen from the vantage of Earth. During the transit, the star’s light dims slightly. The smaller the planet, the weaker the dimming, so brightness measurements must be exquisitely precise. To enable that precision, the spacecraft must maintain a steady pointing.