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Using Kepler Space Telescope Data to Identify an Exoplanet


Areas of Science
Time Required
Long (2-4 weeks)
Material Availability
This science project requires a computer with internet access.
Very Low (under $20)
No issues
Kenneth L. Hess, Science Buddies
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The Kepler space telescope is a retired space telescope launched by NASA to discover Earth-size planets orbiting other stars. Named after astronomer Johannes Kepler, the spacecraft was launched on March 7, 2009, into an Earth-trailing heliocentric orbit. The principal investigator was William J. Borucki. After nine years of operation, the telescope's reaction control system fuel was depleted, and NASA announced its retirement on October 30, 2018.

Designed to survey a portion of Earth's region of the Milky Way to discover Earth-size exoplanets in or near habitable zones and estimate how many of the billions of stars in the Milky Way have such planets, Kepler's sole scientific instrument is a photometer that continually monitored the brightness of approximately 150,000 main sequence stars in a fixed field of view. These data are transmitted to Earth, then analyzed to detect periodic dimming caused by exoplanets that cross in front of their host star. Only planets whose orbits are seen edge-on from Earth can be detected. During its over nine and a half years of service, Kepler observed 530,506 stars and detected 2,662 planets. [Wikipedia]

Kepler's data is available free online, and you can use it to identify stars with exoplanets and calculate the basic parameters for the exoplanets (orbital characteristics, size). To start learning how to manipulate the data, check out Andrew Vanderburg's Transit Light Curve Tutorial.

Example graph of brightness over time for an exoplanet measured by the Kepler space telescope

An example line graph of relative brightness over time recorded by the Kepler space telescope. The relative brightness of stars are recorded by the telescope, and 3 evenly spaced dips in the graph signify when an exoplanet is blocking light from the star. The three dips occur about 2 days apart at days 1.2, 3.4 and 5.6.

Figure 1. Kepler light curve of an exoplanet called HAT-P-7 b


This tutorial is key to this project, describing how to obtain and interpret a Kepler transit light curve.

This is the home for Kepler data.

  • Mikulski Archive for Space Telescopes (MAST). (n.d.). MAST Data. Retrieved December 16, 2019.

In this list of exoplanets, find which Kepler targets have exoplanets here. Planets detected by Kepler will have names that begin with "Kepler" or "K2."

  • Wikipedia Contributors. (2019, December 8). Lists of exoplanets. Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved December 16, 2019.

This website contains advanced information for those who want to go beyond what is required for a basic project.

  • NASA. (2019, October, 24). K2. Kepler and K2 Science Center. Retrieved December 16, 2019.
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General citation information is provided here. Be sure to check the formatting, including capitalization, for the method you are using and update your citation, as needed.

MLA Style

Hess, Kenneth L.. "Using Kepler Space Telescope Data to Identify an Exoplanet." Science Buddies, 18 Dec. 2020, https://www.sciencebuddies.org/science-fair-projects/project-ideas/Exoplanets_p002/exoplanets/kepler-data-exoplanet. Accessed 22 May 2022.

APA Style

Hess, K. (2020, December 18). Using Kepler Space Telescope Data to Identify an Exoplanet. Retrieved from https://www.sciencebuddies.org/science-fair-projects/project-ideas/Exoplanets_p002/exoplanets/kepler-data-exoplanet

Last edit date: 2020-12-18
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