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NASA's planet-hunting Kepler spacecraft began the 18th observing campaign of its extended mission, K2, on May 12. For the next 82 days, Kepler will stare at clusters of stars, faraway galaxies, and a handful of solar system objects, including comets, objects beyond Neptune, and an asteroid. The Kepler spacecraft is expected to run out of fuel within several months.
Campaign 18 is a familiar patch of space, as it's approximately the same region of sky that Kepler observed during Campaign 5 in 2015. One of the advantages of observing a field over again is that planets outside the solar system, called exoplanets, may be found orbiting farther from their stars. Astronomers hope to not only discover new exoplanets during this campaign, but also to confirm candidates that were previously identified.
Clusters - Regions - Stars - Age - Messier
Open clusters are regions where stars formed at roughly the same age, including Messier 67 and Messier 44, otherwise known as Praesepe or the Beehive cluster. Home to six known exoplanets, the Praesepe cluster will be searched anew for objects that are transiting, or crossing, around these and other stars.
At approximately 800 million years old, the stars in Praesepe are in their teenage years compared to our Sun. Many of these youthful stars are active and have large spots that can reveal information about a star's magnetic field, a fundamental component of a...
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