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The Kepler Extended Mission

Image Credit: NASA/Kepler Team

Today marks the successful end of Kepler‘s primary mission. Kepler has revolutionized the field of exoplanets. Kepler has facilitated the discovery of over 2,000 planet candidates, nearly quadrupling the inventory of known exoplanets. Kepler has transformed our understanding of planetary systems by finding the first Earth-sized planets.  the first habitable zone planet, the first confirmed circumbinary planet (planet orbiting both stars in a stellar binary), and a wealth of multiple planet systems.

NASA has granted  another four years of science operations for Kepler up to 2016 (and hopefully longer with an extended-extended mission depending on spacecraft health,funding, etc). Today marks the transition to the extended mission.  The Planet Hunters science team is very excited that the exquisite Kepler data will continue to come for several more years. The  lightcurves are such a rich dataset with many buried gems (like PH1) awaiting discovery. With so many eyeballs staring at the data we’re bound to find more in the extended mission.

The extended mission also marks a change in the data policy. Before there was a proprietary period where the scientists who helped bring Kepler to fruition had exclusive access to the data for many months to allow them  first access to the science and then after that time the data is released to the community for use by anyone.  Now in the extended mission there will be no proprietary period. All the data will be made public by the Kepler team and shared once the  observations are downloaded from the spacecraft and processed through the data reduction pipelines to make the Kepler light curves. Another change in the extended mission will be how candidate transit events are released by the Kepler team. All events detected by the automated routines utilized by the Kepler team will be announced online as they are detected at the NExScI Exoplanet Archive. Their status will be vetted in close to live time and shared with the community to encourage and foster follow-up and further analysis.

In the coming year, you’ll see changes to the site as we adapt and change in the extended mission. We’re looking forward to what the Kepler extended mission brings. All of the hard work and time that you all put into Planet Hunters has made it a success in the primary mission. We can’t wait to see what is waiting in the light curves for the Planet Hunters community to find in this next phase.

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