Kepler: A Search for Habitable Planets
- Alan Boss (DTM)
- William Borucki, David Koch, Jack Lissauer (NASA Ames Research Center)
- Gibor Basri, Geoff Marcy (University of California-Berkeley)
- Natalie Batalha (San Jose State University)
- Timothy Brown (Las Cumbres Observatory Global Telescope)
- Doug Caldwell, Edna DeVore, John Jenkins (SETI Institute)
- William Cochran (McDonald Obersvatory)
- Jørgen Christensen-Dalsgaard (Aarhus University)
- Edward (Ted) Dunham (Loweel Observatory)
- Nick Gautier (Jet Propulsion Lab)
- John Geary, David Latham, Dimitar Sasselov (Harvard Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory)
- Ronald Gilliland (Space Telescope Science Institute)
- Alan Gould (Lawrence Hall of Science)
- Yoji Kondo (NASA GSFC)
- David Monet (US Naval Observatory)
Why search for more planets?
The centuries-old quest for other worlds like our Earth has been rejuvenated by the intense excitement and popular interest surrounding the discovery of hundreds of planets orbiting other stars. There is now clear evidence for substantial numbers of three types of exoplanets; gas giants, hot-super-Earths in short period orbits, and ice giants. The following websites are tracking the day-by-day increase in new discoveries and are providing information on the characteristics of the planets as well as those of the stars they orbit: The Extrasolar Planets Encyclopedia, NASA Exoplanet Archive, and New Worlds Atlas. The challenge now is to find terrestrial planets (i.e., those one half to twice the size of the Earth), especially those in the habitable zone of their stars where liquid water and possibly life might exist. The Kepler Mission, NASA Discovery mission #10, is specifically designed to survey a portion of our region of the Milky Way galaxy to discover dozens of Earth-size planets in or near the habitable zone and determine how many of the billions of stars in our galaxy have such planets. Results from this mission will allow us to place our solar system within the continuum of planetary systems in the Galaxy.
The scientific objective of the Kepler Mission is to explore the structure and diversity of planetary systems. This is achieved by surveying a large sample of stars to:
- Determine the abundance of terrestrial and larger planets in or near the habitable zone of a wide variety of stars;
- Determine the distribution of sizes and shapes of the orbits of these planets;
- Estimate how many planets there are in multiple-star systems;
- Determine the variety of orbit sizes and planet reflectivities, sizes, masses and densities of short-period giant planets;
- Identify additional members of each discovered planetary system using other techniques; and Determine the properties of those stars that harbor planetary systems.
The Kepler Mission also supports the objectives of future NASA Origins theme missions Space Interferometry Mission (SIM) and Terrestrial Planet Finder (TPF) by:
- Identifying the common stellar characteristics of host stars for future planet searches;
- Defining the volume of space needed for the search and;
- Allowing SIM to target systems already known to have terrestrial planets.