Exploring Exoplanet Populations With NASA's Kepler Mission

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2014 Sep 2;111(35):12647-54. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1304196111. Epub 2014 Jul 21.


The Kepler Mission is exploring the diversity of planets and planetary systems. Its legacy will be a catalog of discoveries sufficient for computing planet occurrence rates as a function of size, orbital period, star type, and insolation flux. The mission has made significant progress toward achieving that goal. Over 3,500 transiting exoplanets have been identified from the analysis of the first 3 y of data, 100 planets of which are in the habitable zone. The catalog has a high reliability rate (85-90% averaged over the period/radius plane), which is improving as follow-up observations continue. Dynamical (e.g., velocimetry and transit timing) and statistical methods have confirmed and characterized hundreds of planets over a large range of sizes and compositions for both single- and multiple-star systems. Population studies suggest that planets abound in our galaxy and that small planets are particularly frequent. Here, I report on the progress Kepler has made measuring the prevalence of exoplanets orbiting within one astronomical unit of their host stars in support of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's long-term goal of finding habitable environments beyond the solar system.

Keywords: planet detection; transit photometry.

MeSH terms

  • Astronomy / instrumentation*
  • Atmosphere / chemistry
  • Exobiology*
  • Models, Theoretical
  • Origin of Life*
  • Planets*
  • Telescopes*
  • United States
  • United States National Aeronautics and Space Administration*