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Washington, DC, United States

News Article | January 9, 2016
Site: http://www.techtimes.com/rss/sections/science.xml

The Kepler spacecraft is back in action and NASA has confirmed that it has found over 100 planets orbiting stars. Ian Crossfield from the University of Arizona announced the mission's discoveries at an American Astronomical Society conference Tuesday, noting that the revamped Kepler mission, now known as K2, found some planets different from what the original mission observed. Many of these were orbit stars and multi-planet systems hotter and brighter than those from the original Kepler field. For instance, K2 spotted a system with three planets bigger than Earth, found a planet within the Hyades star cluster and discovered a planet in the process of being ripped apart while orbiting a white dwarf star. "It's probing different types of planets [than the original Kepler mission]. ... The idea here is to find the best systems, the most interesting systems," said Tom Barclay from NASA's Ames Research Center. According to Crossfield, the first five of the K2 campaigns each observed a different part of the sky and found 7,000 transit-like signals. These signals went through a validation process to narrow down the planet candidates, which were then validated. A $600-million mission, Kepler was launched in 2009 with the task of determining how Earth-like planets commonly occur in the Milky Way galaxy. Over the course of four years, the mission discovered more than 1,000 planets, a number more than half of all the exoplanets that had been discovered. The Kepler spacecraft had been looking at the same patch of sky since it was launched, but it lost the ability to stare at the same spot in 2013. It underwent a few tweaks to get it back in order, resulting in the K2, but it can no longer observe the same spot indefinitely. With K2, the same patch of sky can only be observed for about 80 days at a time. Aside from observing planets as they orbit other stars, K2 is also on the lookout for supernovas and studying planets in the solar system. The mission logged a 70-day observation of Neptune in 2014 to study the planet's windy weather and is currently staring at Uranus. Afterwards, K2 is set to observe an asteroid population sharing Jupiter's orbit. The revamped Kepler mission is also looking at trying to spot planets wandering the galaxy without their own stars.

Agency: NSF | Branch: Standard Grant | Program: | Phase: SOLAR-TERRESTRIAL | Award Amount: 30.00K | Year: 2015

This award supports participation of students and early-career scientists at the Triennial Earth-Sun Summit (TESS), a joint meeting of the Space Physics and Aeronomy Section of the American Geophysical Union and the Solar Physics Division of the American Astronomical Society. TESS is intended to be a gathering of the entire Heliophysics community, including distinct sub-disciplines devoted to studies of the Sun, the near-Earth space environment, and their interactions with the Earths atmosphere. The goal of this conference is to promote greater interaction and unity within this community. This increasingly interdisciplinary effort is necessary to understand, predict, and mitigate the effects of space weather.

This program will be administered by the American Astronomical Society (AAS), the principal professional organization for US astronomers. They have very successfully and economically administered similar programs in the past, and the proposed procedures ensure that these funds will provide the maximum benefit to the astronomical and geospace communities at minimal administrative cost.

Agency: NSF | Branch: Standard Grant | Program: | Phase: | Award Amount: 150.00K | Year: 2015

This award supports the transition of the World Wide Telescope (WWT) project from Microsoft Research to the American Astronomical Society (AAS). Amateur astronomers support an industry of considerable value and are involved in research through citizen science efforts such as the Zooniverse. The WWT software provides a uniquely capable platform for involvement of amateur and professional astronomers alike in research, education, publishing, outreach, and communication. Keeping this package available is a valuable service for the country. The investment to ensure a smooth transition from its current state of being proprietary, albeit free, to an open source project led by the AAS, is clearly very worthwhile and at the same time extremely cost-effective.

Microsoft supported the WWT software system up until the fall of 2014, when they decided to release WWT to the open source community. The AAS is keen to assume a leadership role in a project of such evident value, but needs time to arrange for long-term support of WWT in aid of the US astronomical community. Microsoft funding ended on June 30, 2015, so this project will bridge the gap, although supporting only maintenance activities. This will ensure both that the WWT remains available to AAS and that the system remains available for existing users.

As noted, WWT is currently used widely by many constituencies. This software has unique capabilities, including the creation of video abstracts for publications. It is used in many schools, planetariums and museums across the country and the world. Under a community-driven open source model, these activities will be supported by experts from the respective constituencies, and connections between the various activities can leverage the work in one community for the benefit of all.

Agency: NSF | Branch: Standard Grant | Program: | Phase: | Award Amount: 107.94K | Year: 2012

The proposing professional scholarly organizations, the American Astronomical Society and the American Institute of Physics, will conduct a pilot project to deliver the digital data sets that underlie figures and tables in three of the journals that they publish in astronomy and plasma physics. The project will involve developing methods for identifying and acquiring those digital data, as well as for providing access to the actual data objects in the published literature. The proposers will (i) conduct surveys of authors to determine their willingness to share data and their interest in re-using data that other researchers might publish; (ii) convene expert stakeholders for focused workshops on metadata semantics, digital structures and formats, and on practices for peer review of data; (iii) develop and refine publishing production methods to acquire, validate, deliver, maintain, and curate data; and (iv) raise the awareness of scientists about the merits of and prospects for sharing data. The pilot will be assessed in part by quantitative metrics on the submission of data sets for publication and the use of these data sets by readers of the participating journals, and the outcomes will be disseminated through multiple forums to the scholarly publishing and research communities.

Agency: NSF | Branch: Standard Grant | Program: | Phase: | Award Amount: 190.00K | Year: 2014

Astronomy is a fully international endeavor; we all share the same sky. To participate in the international scientific community, American researchers must meet and collaborate with researchers from around the world. Every three years, the International Astronomical Union has a General Assembly accompanied by topical symposia, joint discussions, working groups, and business meetings. The next such meeting, in August 2015, will be held in Hawaii and hosted by the US (the last US-hosted meeting was in 1988). In order to ensure a vigorous participation by the US astronomical community, this award will fund small travel grants to approximately 200 US astronomers. Preference will be given to early-career astronomers, astronomers from less-endowed institutions, and astronomers playing an active role in the governance of the IAU and the conduct of the associated symposia. Scientists supported by this program will come from a wide range of educational institutions, museums, planetariums, etc. The experiences they gain from this meeting will be shared with a broad segment of the US population, exposing them to the global nature of astronomy and the importance of international collaboration to the advancement of science and technology.

The small travel grant program will be administered by the American Astronomical Society (AAS), the principal professional organization for US astronomers. They have very successfully and economically administered similar programs in the past, and the proposed procedures ensure that these funds will provide the maximum benefit to the astronomical community at minimal cost. The AAS will solicit proposals, select awardees, issue funds to be used for airfare only, collect receipts and meeting reports from the grantees, and prepare a final assessment and report on the entire program.

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