Much like snowflakes, no two stars are alike. Stars vibrate differently, are spaced differently and usually when they are studied, there are more questions to answer.
The Kepler space telescope is on a mission to study the stars — but only select areas. Dr. Mike Reed, professor of astronomy, has had the unique opportunity to choose the stars to study.
After finding the area NASA is studying, scientists proposed star sets to study, and the stars Reed asked to study were chosen. Because of that, Reed and many students will get to process the star data.
On this mission, the Kepler space telescope will look at 29,897 targets, or stars, for 30 minutes each.
A smaller amount of short cadence targets will also be observed, about 147. Reed will get the data from 14 stars, about 10 percent of the targets. The short cadence targets are only a minute long, but they take more memory, which is why only 147 targets are awarded. Having 10 percent of the targets is extraordinary because of the high demand for telescope time and low number of targets.
The Kepler space telescope orbits the sun directly. This is so the telescope can “stare at one place in space without the Sun, Moon, Earth or other planets getting in the way,” Reed said.
The first four years the Kepler was in space, it stared at one place. It is now on its second round of observations, or the K2 missions. The telescope stares at the same place for about three months and then moves on to another set. Reed will get 80 days of continuous data before the Kepler moves to the next “field” or set of stars. This is the 14th field in the K2 missions.
Undergraduate students are integral to this process. Reed has been processing Kepler data since 2010 and about 10 students have either published or are about to publish papers on these.
Reed thinks the best part of this experience is the data. By examining the pulses or vibrations of stars, they can figure out what a star looks like.
“We usually find unexpected features, so we have new puzzles to figure out,” Reed said. “That is a lot of fun turning vibrations into an idea of what each star is like.”