21May2013

Thirteen Stories About Distant Worlds That Really Exist.

This artist rendition provided by NASA shows the Kepler space telescope. The spacecraft lost the second of four wheels that control the telescopes orientation in space, NASA said.

Once upon a time, for us older folks, we lived for science fiction books which described life on other planets and what those worlds might be like. How real are they?Now the science fiction has become science fact. In 2009, the Kepler Spacecraft began its voyage of discovery and found hundreds of planet candidates around other stars. These exciting findings have inspired a new book that combines both science and science fiction: A Kepler’s Dozen: Thirteen Stories about Distant Worlds that Really Exist. This anthology is co-edited by David Lee Summers (author of The Pirates of Sufiro and editor of Space Pirates) and Dr. Steve Howell (Kepler Project Scientist). 

What’s inside? Each segment of the book begins with factual scientific data about a specific planet and its parent star. This information comes from Kepler’s discoveries and the subsequent investigations of its findings.

This information provides the reader with the knowledge of the alien solar system and its sun. It let’s us know what type of worlds may exist there. For example, a story titled “A Mango and two Peanuts” deals with Kepler 37, a star just slightly cooler and less massive than our own Sun, now identified as having three planets in orbit around it, all smaller than Earth.

What of Kepler? It is still hard at work, orbiting the Sun and keeping a vigilant watch over a small region of the northern hemisphere sky – an area situated between Vega and Deneb. The satellite is home to the largest imaging camera ever put into space – 16 million pixels.

The camera is the only scientific instrument attached to the telescope and its job is to monitor all the stars in its given area, forever searching for planets. How does it work? By the transit method. The Kepler Space Telescope watches for small changes in a host star’s brightness… changes caused by a planet transiting between us and the star. We can even tell a distant planet’s year when these changes periodically repeat themselves!

“The location of the 13 stars featured in this book are marked in the Kepler field, shown over Kitt Peak National Observatory (KPNO) in Figure 2, and numbered using astronomical convention.” says NOAO. “The planets themselves are named after their host star followed by a lower case letter. For example, the first planet orbiting the star named Kepler 17 would be called Kepler 17b. The next would be Kepler 17c and so on. Kepler 17a is the star itself, and the “a” is simply not used.”

The position of the Kepler field in the sky, with the Kepler stars identified by number. The sky was imaged using a diffraction grating to show the spectra of brighter stars. Image credit J. Glaspey; telescopes imaged separately and combined, credit P. Marenfeld.

As of this writing, Kepler has scored a surprising 2500 possible planets orbiting distant stars… planets awaiting further confirmation from observations of ground-based telescopes. According to the news release, all 13 extrasolar planets featured in this book have been observed from KPNO at either the Mayall 4-meter telescope or the WIYN 3.5-meter. Such followup observations include gathering spectra of these stars, which tell astronomers far more about the system.

Original Story Source: National Optical Astronomy Observatory News Release. Submitted by Tammy Plotner for “Dave Reneke’s World of Space and Astronomy News”.

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