Keck Follow-up


Hello PlanetHunters! The Kepler field is finally visible and tonight, grad student John Brewer and I began observing a few of the candidates that you identified.  We are operating the Keck telescope in Hawaii remotely from New Haven, CT. The weather in New Haven may not be great tonight, but it’s perfect in Hawaii – we have clear skies!

There were several steps involved in selecting the best candidates to observe tonight.

  1. You all did the hard first step, classifying data from Q1 to identify prospective transits.

  2. Stuart extracted 3500 prospective transits from the database.

  3. We examined all of your selections by eye – about 100 planet candidates survived (many transits per candidates).

  4. Yale grad student, Matt Giguere, wrote computer programs to model the light curves and to search for evidence of blended background binary stars. Visiting grad student, Thibault Sartori, has been using this code for the past several weeks to model all of the planet candidates – about half of the 100 planet candidates survived that analysis.

  5. John and I will analyze the spectra we collect tonight to derive stellar parameters (temperature, surface gravity and chemical composition) – this will help to better constrain the planet radius.

  6. Jason Rowe and Natalie Batalha from the Kepler team kindly agreed to analyze our  top candidates with the Kepler data verification pipeline to help eliminate additional false positives.

It will be tough to go to the next level and confirm any of these as planets because the stars are faint.  It is sure easy to understand why the Kepler team has more than 1200 planet candidates, but currently only 11 confirmed planet-hosting stars.  It is a long road from planet candidate to a bonafide planet!

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Astronomers at Keck have it easy – whereas I used to slog up to the summit of Mauna Kea*, dealing with the lack of oxygen up there in harsh conditions**, Meg is observing from a sumptuous sea-level fa