NASA’s Kepler & K2 Missions: The Past, Present, and Future of Our Search for Alien Planets in the Cosmos. NASA’s Kepler space telescope was launched in 2009 and measured the brightness of 200,000 stars at unprecedented precision for over four years, with the prime mission goal of detecting Earth-sized exoplanets. Now after another four, Kepler’s final planet catalog is complete – over 4,000 planet candidates have been found, with 50 of them possibly rocky and capable of having liquid water. For the first time in human history, we can calculate how common planets the same size and temperature as Earth are, a key component to SETI’s goal of figuring out how common life may be in the universe.
The K2 mission began three years ago, and uses the Kepler spacecraft to stare at many different parts of the sky for 80 days at a time. A broad portion of the Astronomical community chooses what targets to observe, resulting in a wide variety of science, including supernovae, galaxies, stars, and of course exoplanets. K2 has found hundreds of confirmed exoplanets with many more possible detections. Some of these are likely to be habitable, and many of are prime targets to be observed by future missions, such as the James Webb space telescope. At the same time, the recently launched TESS mission is starting to uncover thousands of nearby exoplanets across the entire sky. We’ll discuss what we may learn about these worlds over the next few decades, and what future missions are being planned to find and characterize planets to which our descendants may one day travel.
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Dr. Jeff Coughlin is an astrophysicist with the SETI Institute and is the Director of the Kepler/K2 Science Office at NASA Ames Research Center. He has a B.S. in Physics/Astronomy from Emory University and a Ph.D. in Astronomy from New Mexico State University. He has worked for the Kepler and K2 missions for 6 years, during which he received NASA’s Exceptional Engineering Achievement medal. He happily resides in Bremerton, WA thanks to marrying a shipyard employee and SETI/NASA’s remote work flexibility.
The William D. Harvey Theatre is located on the Olympic College Bremerton campus inside the new College Instruction Center (CIC). It is conveniently accessible via the Warren Avenue and 16th Street entrance and parking is free and available in all lots on campus for this event.
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