Kepler and K2
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 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 might exist on the surface of the planet. The Kepler Mission, NASA Discovery mission #10, is specifically designed to survey our region of the Milky Way galaxy to discover hundreds of Earth-size and smaller planets. After the failure of the second reaction wheel, the original Kepler Mission ended in 2013. However, thanks to an amazing feat of engineering, Kepler lives on as K2, now capable of observing many fields along the ecliptic. We will use K2 to focus on the discovery and characterization of terrestrial planets orbiting low-mass red dwarf stars.
The MINiature Exoplanet Radial Velocity Array (MINERVA) will be an array of small-aperture, robotic telescopes to be built atop Mt. Hopkins near Tucson Arizona, outfitted for both photometry and high-resolution spectroscopy. It will be the first U.S. observatory dedicated to exoplanetary science capable of both precise radial velocimetry and transit studies. The multi-telescope concept will be implemented to either observe separate targets or a single target with a larger effective aperture. The flexibility of the observatory will maximize scientific potential and also provide ample opportunities for education and public outreach. The design and implementation of MINERVA will be carried out by postdoctoral and student researchers at Harvard, as well as our partner institutions Penn State, the University of Montana and the University of New South Wales in Australia.