Kepler Science Conference Part 5

Today’s  blog is a guest post  by fellow Planet Hunter and frequent contributor on PH Talk, Daryll (nighthawk_black)  who also attended the Kepler Science conference. This is Part 2 of a two part blog post summarizing the Kepler Science Conference sessions. You can find lots more of his pictures chronicling the conference here.


  • Another PH favorite topic of discussion was covered here with exomoon theory and some possible findings, see more here  by Darren Williams. Will we find an Earth sized exoplanet with an Earth sized exomoon, orbiting a massive gas giant or brown dwarf–in a circumbinary system..?
  • Also promising was a talk on possible detection of strange and exotic phenomenon distinct from ‘standard’ transits by Benjamin Bromley. Across such a diversity of planetary systems, I’m confident there are some intriguing finds we’ve yet to realize or recognize; some possibly in cataclysmic systems.
  • This session concluded with a lunchtime presentation by Martin Still and Tom Barclay about the revised KGO software package PyKE, includes tools for dealing with possible contamination and other flux related issues that come up when doing analysis of FITS data. I highly recommend any of you Planethunters that are interested in that sort of thing to mosey over to this website and take a look, feedback is welcome and encouraged!


  • Sara Seager led off this session and went into giant exoplanet atmospheres. It’s amazing how much we can detect–even if sometimes circumstantial–about an object that 99% of the time we are only inferring the presence of and not resolving visually.  Similar such tactics obviously have diminishing returns when applied to the sub-Neptunes and Super-Earths, but not unfeasible. This sort of research will lay the groundwork for later studies that will surely make use of more advanced orbiting instruments that follow Kepler. Sara also held a public forum on the exoplanet hunt and possibilities for life on Wednesday night, which gave us an excuse to sneak over to the SETI Institute, which is tucked right near NASA-Ames! Lots of very thoughtful and positive comments and questions by the Bay area crowd in attendance.
  • What predominant formation methods produced all these strange star systems?
  • Be watching for an app coming to a market near you: the Kepler Data Visualizer, where you can compose and produce your own exoplanet systems!
  • Expanded details on two bizarre cataloged systems: the badly misaligned Kepler-2b by Josh Carter and KOI-13.01 found orbiting a high-mass fast-rotating star, by Jason Barnes.
  • Are some sub-Neptunes or indeed even some Super-Earths (or MOST?) in fact the evaporated or otherwise badly abused ancient cores of former giant exoplanets?
  • We’ve seen lot’s of ‘hot Jupiters’ so far–what will we have to compare with on an extended mission that will catch additional transits of big bodies at longer periods? Truly, how packed are some of these larger star systems? Is the configuration of our solar system, common, uncommon, or even rare..?
  • Brown Dwarfs. What can I say here? Everything about these objects is mysterious and very cool! I do wonder how many of them or their cousins are out there in the dark between stars…


  • Kicked off by another figure well familiar to many of us by name here at PH in the form of Andrej Prsa of Villanova University, who keeps up the detailed  Kepler Eclipsing Binary Catalog . Of the Kepler EB’s: “This is a gold mine and treasure trove for astrophysics!”
  • Don’t miss discussion in this session of what has been temporarily dubbed ‘The Thing!’! KOI-54 is also worthy of mention here with its eccentricity and powerful tidal pulsations.
  • The EB count appears to grow as one travels towards the galactic center.
  • I learned there are far, far more faint (but somewhat resolvable) stars in the FOV than I ever realized, many of which are not never actively targeted. Properly screening and confirming all these candidate exoplanets is such a monumental task for everyone, and much of it starts right at the pixel level, looking for dirty rotten contaminators!
  • Many cutting edge tools needed to properly analyze and solidly characterize some of the amazing EB’s pouring into the catalogs from Kepler’s eyes have yet to be fully developed and matured, and the community is playing catch up as I write this. The Eclipsing Binary hunt is open season all year, and needs more participants! Identifiny all of the EB’s possible will help everyone vet candidates a little more quickly.
  • Great discussion of the ‘BEER’ method by Prof Tsevi Mazeh for detecting non-eclipsing binary systems. It involves beaming ellipsoidal and reflection effects c/t Kepler light curves and has had solid results so far.


  • ‘Our Sun is Not A Solar-like Star’; this was a line I couldn’t help thinking about several times during these sessions on asteroseismology related topics and the challenge to understand host stars completely when we are still grappling with an incomplete understanding of our own Sun’s. I think it is possible asteroseismology will see the most massive benefit from mission out to 2018 considering the apparent nature of solar cycles. I heard someone mention in the hallway at one break: ‘You can’t truly know your exoplanet until you know its star…” Very true!
  • See talks by Lucianne Walkowicz and Svetlana Berdyugina in this session w/ details and models on starspots. In some cases these seem t/b highly recognizable in light curves, on much larger sizes than what we see on the Sun. Exact rotation data for each host star is understandably incomplete at this time. In my opinion these were two of the more valuable presentations at KSC for both new and old members of the Planethunters project, as this is a form of intrinsic variability that can try and masquerade as more interesting things like transits the odd time–be sure to check it out!
  • Also noteworthy were reviews of LC features we see commonly in the form of stellar flares and apparent outbursts (especially those around G-type stars!) Amazing we can track some of these violent expenditures over long cadence data and not just short–consider the size/duration of the average big publicized SOHO events. Someday, the first of our long legged interstellar probes will need to be well shielded against these if they’re going to venture in for a close reconnaissance!
  • Apologies as I missed several talks in the above sessions so this is incomplete, and of course for any errors, omissions or misinterpretations I’ve left behind in any of the material above.


In my opinion the cost of operating Kepler at 110% until it’s too tired to see anymore is without question worth the astounding potential it holds for all realms of astronomy. Even more amazing things could be done when TESS and Gaia come on line (and perhaps EXOSTATs, or TPF2.0…?), all combined with improved ground based networks for follow up. Given the steady stream of current discoveries, the first extension should be approved.

The quick vote held on the final day of talks seemed to call overwhelmingly for two years from now as a tentative date for a re-assessment conference…unless there is an need to call it early and we find ourselves back on the road down to San Jose again in 2012…

We shall see!


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