Graduate student and astronomy writer

Kepler Science using HST

The science of this project was the focus of my Second Year Project and my Comprehensive Exam at PSU, from which I obtained my masters, and also the subject of my first, first-author and second-author papers. From the beginning of  2013 through the fall semester of 2014 I worked with Dr. Ronald L. Gilliland on his project which analyzed the stellar hosts of some of the most interesting Kepler planet candidates, essentially the smallest and coolest planets known at the time. We used the Hubble Space Telescope, UVIS/IR WFC3 camera to image these stars in one optical and one near-infrared bandpass and found that some of the systems we were targeting were actually multiple star systems that were unresolved by Kepler. Three of these recently discovered multi-star systems were observed before May 2014 and so we re-evaluated the stellar parameters of the systems and used that information to determine which, if any, of their planets could be habitable.

The Kepler-296 system contains two early-M type stars and 5 planets. When it was still thought that Kepler-296 was a single star, 3 of the planets in the system were thought to be habitable, which made this system remarkable. We the new stellar parameters from the multi-star analysis, we find that one of the planets in the system can be potentially habitable, but only if it orbits the cooler of the two stars.

KOI-2626 was thought to be a single M-dwarf star with a single planet in the habitable zone. We found that it is actually a triple star system of M dwarfs, and that the single planet could potentially be habitable around either the secondary or tertiary star, but not around the primary star.

KOI-3049 was thought to be a single K dwarf star with one, non-habitable planet. We found that the stars are actually 2 K-dwarfs, and that the planet is still not habitable around either star.

Future work with this project is not currently planned beyond analyzing the images of targets that were observed after May 2014. Things we would want to know in the future would be which of the stars in each system each planet is orbiting, as that is the main determinant of planetary habitability. We would also like to be able to do a more advanced calculation of planetary parameters, as the methods we used were very first-order calculations that have many, possibly invalid assumptions.


 AAS 224 Poster Presentation

Kepler-HST Poster


Relevant Papers

Revision of Earth-sized Kepler Planet Candidate Properties with High Resolution Imaging by Hubble Space Telescope

Hubble Space Telescope High Resolution Imaging of Kepler Small and Cool Exoplanet Host Stars


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