NASA Deep-Dive Update: Kepler Mission’s “Big Alien-Planet Discovery” –Live-Streamed Tomorrow, Thursday



 The Kepler Space Telescope is now in its fifteenth observing campaign of its K2 extended mission, studying more than 23,000 objects located in the direction of the constellation Scorpius. NASA officials said the discovery to be announced tomorrow was made "by researchers using machine learning from Google." Machine learning is an approach to artificial intelligence, and demonstrates new ways of analyzing Kepler data."

The agency will hold a news conference Thursday (Dec. 14) at 1 p.m. EST (1800 GMT) to reveal a new discovery made in the field of view of the Kepler Mission space telescope via briefing live on NASA TV. Click here to watch the conference live streamed.

The following NASA scientists will participate in the news conference:.

Paul Hertz, director of NASA's Astrophysics division at the agency's headquarters in Washington, D.C.

Christopher Shallue, senior software engineer at Google AI in Mountain View, California.

Andrew Vanderburg, astronomer and NASA Sagan postdoctoral fellow at The University of Texas at Austin.

Jessie Dotson, Kepler project scientist at NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California.



Unlike its predecessor, the K2 mission studies a different region of the sky known as the ecliptic plane in which Earth and the other planets and moons of our solar system travel on their annual trek around the sun. Along the ecliptic, 19 different fields of view have been identified for investigation. The Kepler spacecraft  is spending three years observing a ribbon of the sky (blue line) as it orbits the sun. Roughly every 80 days, the spacecraft will pan to a new field of view (blue stamp) aligned with the plane of the solar system. (NASA Ames/W. Stenzel)


In this field of views, called Field 15, Kepler will monitored a variety of astronomical sources of light, including faraway galaxies, star clusters, planetary systems and brown dwarfs.

Closer to home, comets traveling from the outer reaches of our solar system on their orbital dance with the sun, and occupants of the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, will captivate the gaze of the multipurpose planet-hunter.

One particularly interesting object is called GW Librae, a binary star system composed of a pulsating white dwarf and a brown dwarf. In this system, the strong gravity of the white dwarf distorts the brown dwarf and strips away gases from its outer layers. The build up of those gases on the white dwarf causes irregular and significant increases in brightness, and may eventually trigger a supernova explosion that will destroy the system.

Scientists are studying the brightness changes caused by the duo’s tumultuous tango to better understand the mechanisms that ignite these titanic explosions.

Another system of interest previously discovered by the K2 mission is K2-38. In this planetary system, two super-Earth-size planets orbit a bright sun-like star approximately 600 light-years from Earth. Both planets orbit very close to their star, making them inhospitable for life–stick figure or otherwise–as we know it.

In addition, Kepler is observing three dozen solar system objects, and will also monitor more than three thousand faraway galaxies for signs of exploding stars or supernovae.

Continuing the search for planets beyond the solar system or exoplanets, the K2 mission expands the scope of study to include notable star clusters, such as the Pleiades and Hyades; young and old stars, such as Aldebaran; distant active galaxies and supernovae.


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