Kepler ‘rising from the ashes’

first_imgTo paraphrase Mark Twain, the report of the Kepler spacecraft’s death was greatly exaggerated. Despite a malfunction that ended its primary mission in May 2013, Kepler is still alive and working. The evidence comes from the discovery of a new super-Earth using data collected during Kepler’s “second life.”“Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, Kepler has been reborn and is continuing to make discoveries. Even better, the planet it found is ripe for follow-up studies,” says lead author Andrew Vanderburg of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA).NASA’s Kepler spacecraft detects planets by looking for transits, slight dimmings of a star’s light as a planet crosses in front of it. The smaller the planet, the weaker the dimming, so brightness measurements must be exquisitely precise. To enable that precision, the spacecraft must maintain a steady pointing.Kepler’s primary mission came to an end when the second of four reaction wheels used to stabilize the spacecraft failed. Without at least three functioning reaction wheels, Kepler couldn’t be pointed accurately.Rather than giving up on the plucky spacecraft, a team of scientists and engineers developed an ingenious strategy to use pressure from sunlight as a virtual reaction wheel to help control it. The resulting second mission, K2, promises not only to continue Kepler’s search for other worlds, but also to introduce new opportunities to observe star clusters, active galaxies, and supernovae.Due to Kepler’s reduced pointing capabilities, extracting useful data requires sophisticated computer analysis. Vanderburg and his colleagues developed specialized software to correct for spacecraft movements, achieving about half the photometric precision of the original Kepler mission.Kepler’s new life began with a nine-day test in February 2014. When Vanderburg and his colleagues analyzed that data, they found that the spacecraft had detected a single planetary transit.They confirmed the discovery with radial velocity measurements from the HARPS-North spectrograph on the Telescopio Nazionale Galileo in the Canary Islands. Additional transits were weakly detected by the Microvariability and Oscillations of STars (MOST) satellite.The newfound planet, HIP 116454b, has a diameter of 20,000 miles, 2½ times the size of Earth. HARPS-N showed that it weighs almost 12 times as much as Earth. This makes HIP 116454b a super-Earth, a class of planets that doesn’t exist in our solar system. The average density suggests that this planet is either a water world (composed of about three-fourths water and one-fourth rock) or a mini-Neptune with an extended, gaseous atmosphere.This close-in planet circles its star once every 9.1 days at a distance of 8.4 million miles. Its host star is a type K orange dwarf slightly smaller and cooler than our sun. The system is 180 light-years from Earth in the constellation Pisces.Since the host star is relatively bright and nearby, follow-up studies will be easier to conduct than for many Kepler planets orbiting fainter, more distant stars.“HIP 116454b will be a top target for telescopes on the ground and in space,” says Harvard astronomer and co-author John Johnson of the CfA.The research paper reporting this discovery has been accepted for publication in The Astrophysical Journal.last_img read more

L.A. Dodgers pitcher Kenta Maeda’s latest win puts him in a class by himself

first_imgEllis said Maeda was able to adjust after one batter. That’s easier said than done, and Ellis credited Maeda’s athleticism for the quick adjustment.“He reminds me of Hyun-Jin Ryu, his athleticism. Zack Greinke, his athleticism,” Ellis said. “Those guys have tremendous feel for pitching. They make the spin do different things. They range their velocities — somebody like (Clayton) Kershaw who’s just coming at you. That bully who just keeps coming and coming and coming. These guys are going to mix and match, and pitch off feel, and trust their athleticism on the mound.”The Rockies put one runner on base via a walk until D.J. LeMahieu stroked a clean single to center field with one out in the sixth. Two more singles loaded the bases for Nolan Arenado and Gerardo Parra, the Rockies’ third and fourth hitters.Suddenly, there was a game at stake.“I had a four-run lead,” Maeda said. “I trusted A.J.’s demand for certain pitches. I executed.”Arenado, who hit 43 home runs last year, popped up weakly. Parra hit a dribbler back to the mound and Maeda flipped the ball to Ellis for the third out, his shutout preserved.Maeda got a big assist from left fielder Kiké Hernandez, who made a diving, over-the-shoulder catch to rob Tony Wolters of an extra-base hit in the fifth inning.The Rockies got their only run in the seventh on an RBI double by Brandon Barnes against Joe Blanton. The run was charged to Luis Avilan.The Dodgers got to Redlands native Tyler Chatwood (2-2) in the first inning, when Corey Seager singled, Yasiel Puig doubled, and Adrian Gonzalez poked a chopper over the pitcher’s mound to score Seager.In the second inning, Ellis turned on a knee-high fastball over the inside corner and crushed it to left field for a two-run home run. The home run was estimated at 445 feet, the second-longest by a Dodger player this season and Ellis’ first of the season.The Dodgers were still leading 3-0 in the sixth inning when Maeda helped his own cause. With Ellis on first base and one out, the pitcher was asked to bunt. He did, spinning out of the way of the pitch as the ball bounced back to the mound. Ellis reached second base and scored when the next hitter, Chase Utley, hit a double just beyond the reach of left fielder Ryan Raburn.Kenley Jansen pitched a scoreless ninth inning for his eighth save of the season in as many tries, and the 150th save of his career.For Maeda’s opponents, Saturday’s start added a page to his still-thin scouting report. The league still has five months and one week to adjust to Maeda’s machinations before the 2016 regular season ends.But the game also showed that Maeda can adjust quickly — in this case to the elements of elevation, and against a stout offense.“For 95 pitches you’ve got to be mentally tough to throw every pitch with conviction,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said, “and he did that tonight.” Then there are the other heralded Japanese pitching transplants, from Masahiro Tanaka and Yu Darvish this decade to Kazuhisa Ishii and Hideo Nomo before them. Four starts into his career, Maeda has outperformed them all.In fact, Maeda matched a major league record (since 1900) by allowing only one run in his first four starts according to the Elias Sports Bureau. Jorge Campillo, Fernando Valenzuela and George McQuillan are the only other pitchers to accomplish the feat.Among his peers, Maeda is in a category all to himself.“First time in this environment. First time pitching at Coors Field. First time against that offensive firepower they have over there,” Dodgers catcher A.J. Ellis said. “I can’t say enough about what Kenta was able to do tonight. It was beyond impressive.”Maeda walked only one batter and struck out eight, a new career high. Like many pitchers, his slider and curveball didn’t break as sharply out of his hand, a caveat of pitching at elevation. Newsroom GuidelinesNews TipsContact UsReport an Errorcenter_img DENVER >> One game at a time, Kenta Maeda is forcing his way out of every category he found himself in when he signed an eight-year contract with the Dodgers in January.Pitcher Scott Kazmir has a higher guaranteed salary this year, but Maeda has overshadowed him and every other free agent the Dodgers signed.Four other pitchers made the Dodgers’ Opening Day rotation, but with a few exceptions their performances have been dwarfed by the Japanese rookie. Maeda lowered his earned-run average to 0.36 by throwing 6 1/3 shutout innings in a 4-1 win over the Colorado Rockies on Saturday. He didn’t allow a hit until the sixth inning.There are other talented rookies in Major League Baseball this year, too, but again Maeda is having the better first month. At 21 years old, Dodger shortstop Corey Seager might well have a long and successful career ahead of him; right now he’s the second-best rookie in his own clubhouse.last_img read more

Corey Seager looks ready for World Series after a full workout at Dodger Stadium

first_imgSeager suffered a muscular injury sliding into third base early in Game 3 of the National League Division Series in Arizona. The injury worsened on the team’s flight home, and Seager received an epidural injection the next day. He was not cleared to play in the National League Championship Series and did not travel with the team to Chicago. Seager said he watched the Dodgers clinch the NLCS from the hotel room he currently calls home.“As much as you couldn’t celebrate and be with your team it was the right move,” he said.If his back were the Dodgers’ only concern, perhaps Seager could play every inning of every World Series game at shortstop. Unfortunately he was still dealing with the effects of a right elbow injury when the postseason began, enough to affect his throwing.That injury didn’t prevent Seager from playing in the NLDS. Neither did it improve during the last week, he said.Manager Dave Roberts has the option of using Seager as his designated hitter beginning in Game 3, when the series shifts to Houston. (MLB does not allow teams to use a designated hitter in National League parks.) Roberts acknowledged the possibility of making Seager his DH, but said the exact plan remains to be determined. Charlie Culberson, who had five hits in five NLCS games, was a competent fill-in on the field for Seager. He was one of five players who took ground balls at shortstop Sunday.“What Charlie’s done in the Championship Series, how well he’s played, and to give us coverage at shortstop, there’s a lot of value in that,” Roberts said.Regardless of Seager’s role, the Dodgers will need to adjust their 25-man roster to accommodate him. Roberts said the club hasn’t determined whose roster spot Seager will take.STARTING ASSIGNMENTSLeft-hander Rich Hill will start Game 2 on Wednesday in Los Angeles, and right-hander Yu Darvish will start Game 3 in Houston. That will preserve the pitching rotation Roberts already established in the NLDS and NLCS, beginning with Game 1 starter Clayton Kershaw.Hill’s only two starts this postseason have come at home – one against the Arizona Diamondbacks and one against the Chicago Cubs. In nine innings over the two games, Hill has allowed six hits, three runs, walked four batters and struck out 12. In six career games (three starts) at Minute Maid Park, he’s 3-0 with a 1.19 ERA, though only one of those starts was after 2007.Conversely, Darvish’s only two starts this postseason were on the road. The right-hander was the winning pitcher in both, allowing a total of two runs in 11-1/3 combined innings. His success at Minute Maid Park rivals Hill’s – 4-1 with a 2.16 ERA in six starts – and all of those starts came in the last five seasons.HOUSTON CONNECTIONSTwo current Dodgers made their major league debuts with the Astros: pitcher Josh Fields and utility player Kiké Hernandez.Fields went to Houston in the 2012 Rule 5 draft. He spent the next 3-1/2 seasons there until he was traded to the Dodgers in August 2016.Hernandez was drafted by the Astros in the sixth round in 2009, and he ascended the minor league ranks with several members of the current Astros squad.“I have a lot of friends on that team,” he said, “but once we step between those lines, we ain’t friends.”Hernandez’s connection to Astros shortstop Carlos Correa runs even deeper. The two played for the same youth team in Puerto Rico as teenagers; Hernandez’s dad, now an area scout for the Pittsburgh Pirates, coached Correa on the island.Shortly after he was drafted by the Astros, the younger Hernandez recalled going back to Puerto Rico for the winter to practice. Correa joined him one day and proceeded to hit home runs off pitches that were being tossed to him underhand from a short distance.“You could tell at a very early age it was a special talent,” Hernandez said.GAME BALLCulberson said he offered the baseball he caught for the final out of the NLCS to pitcher Kenley Jansen. When Jansen declined, Culberson added the ball to his handsome collection of souvenirs, which includes the bat he used to hit a home run in the Dodgers’ division-clinching win over the San Francisco Giants in September 2016.“When I took it out of my pocket it was a champagne- and beer-soaked ball,” Culberson said. “It’s got a good smell to it.”ALSOWeather forecasters have predicted a high temperature in excess of 100 degrees Tuesday. According to it could be the hottest World Series game on record by the time of the first pitch, which is scheduled for 5:09 p.m. … Roberts said the team’s outdoor batting practice might be cut short because of the heat. … Catcher Yasmani Grandal was not on the field Sunday. He was excused from the team workout to be home with his wife, who is pregnant. … The Dodgers will make a “substantial” contribution to Hurricane Maria relief efforts in Puerto Rico in the name of Hernandez. The team announced the donation after Hernandez hit three home runs and drove in seven in Game 5 of the NLCS in Chicago. LOS ANGELES –  Corey Seager’s return looked a bit more real Sunday, two days before Game 1 of the World Series.The 23-year-old shortstop took batting practice, fielded ground balls and threw to first base at Dodger Stadium during a team workout. Then, for the first time since he injured his back Oct. 9, Seager faced live pitching from teammates Hyun-Jin Ryu and Brandon McCarthy in a simulated game.“I feel great,” he said. “There’s no limitations.”Related Articles Back injury forces Dodgers to leave Corey Seager off roster for NLCS Whicker: Dodgers, Houston Astros try to rekindle their 80s rivalry Newsroom GuidelinesNews TipsContact UsReport an Errorlast_img read more