Planetary Science

We contribute to expanding our understanding of planetary systems.

At the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI), we contribute to the study of planetary systems, including our own, through the missions we operate, those we help envision and define, and through our ever-growing data archives. We also contribute by creating and managing a range of tools and high-level data products, and through cutting-edge research in exoplanet and planetary science. All this offers research opportunities to members of the exoplanet and planetary system communities, whose discoveries, through our internationally recognized outreach and education program, are made available to the public.

Exoplanet and Planetary Science Research at STScI

Artistic rendering of the TRAPPIST-1 star with seven Earth-size planets orbiting it.

EXOPLANET DISCOVERY AND DEMOGRAPHICS

Artist Concept of exoplanet WASP-107b, one of the lowest density planets known.

EXOPLANET PROPERTIES

Artist Concept of Kuiper Belt Object

SOLAR SYSTEM

This artist's concept shows a young star surrounded by a dusty protoplanetary disk.

PLANETARY FORMATION AND EVOLUTION

Technology and Lab Astrophysics

MAKIDON OPTICS LABORATORY

A state-of-the-art facility that simulates the main aspects of wavefront sensing and control to develop the next generation of interferometry techniques for segmented telescopes that will enable direct imaging of exoplanets from space.

PLANETARY ATMOSPHERES LAB

Johns Hopkins hosted lab led by Sarah Hörst to simulate planetary environments with the goal of expanding our understanding of the atmospheric properties of solar system planets and moons (like Titan and Europa), early earth, and exoplanets.

Resources

Archives and High Level Data Products

We build advanced systems for our high value astronomical data holdings to maximize the scientific impact of world-class telescopes in the fields of exoplanet and planetary science, including Kepler, K2, HST, TESS, and JWST observations.

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Software and Simulation Tools

We develop a wide range of software and simulations tools for data analysis and observation planning that are made available to the exoplanet and planetary science communities, offering cutting-edge research opportunities.

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STScI Research Staff

In addition to contributing to the different missions, STScI staff carries out research in exoplanet and planetary science using a wide range of ground-based and space facilities, making tools, models, and high-level data products available to the community.

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IPL Lecture Series and Webcasts

The Planets, Life, and the Universe lecture series brings high-profile speakers to the JHU/STScI campus to discuss current topics of interest in astrobiology. Past lectures are also available online.


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Current Missions


 

HUBBLE SPACE TELESCOPE

test
Launched April 24, 1990

 

HST has made breakthrough discoveries in exoplanet and planetary science thanks to its unprecedented telescope and instrument capabilities, its general-purpose observatory nature, and an extensive general observer program. These discoveries expand the formation and evolution of planetary systems, the characterization of exoplanet atmospheres, and the study of the solar system objects.  HST has supported NASA’s planetary science missions New Horizons, Rosetta, Mars Global Surveyor, Mars Pathfinder, Dawn, and Deep Impact, and will play an important role supporting Europa Clipper. STScI is the science operations center for HST. We help turn great science ideas into great science, highlight the results, distribute the data acquired for others to use, and bring the wonders of HST discoveries directly to the public.

Learn more about exoplanet and planetary science with HST 

HST for the Scientific Community

JAMES WEBB SPACE TELESCOPE

Artistic rendering of the James Webb Space Telescope
Launching in 2021

 

JWST will unravel the birth and early evolution of stars, from infall on to dust-enshrouded protostars, to the genesis of planetary systems. It will determine the physical and chemical properties of planetary systems and investigate the potential for the origins of life in those systems. JWST is uniquely primed to solve these mysteries given the combination of its high resolution observing modes, imaging, spectroscopy, and coronographic capabilities, and superb near and mid-IR sensitivity. JWST's planetary exploration theme also includes a rich solar system science program that includes imaging and spectroscopic characterization of Mars and the outer planets, Kuiper belt objects, dwarf planets, icy moons, and comets. STScI is the flight and science operations center for JWST. We will enable the astronomical community to transform ideas into scientific discoveries and help them obtain the best science.

Learn more about exoplanet and planetary science with JWST 

JWST for the Scientific Community

TRANSITING EXOPLANET SURVEY SATELLITE

Artist concept of TESS in front of a lava planet orbiting its host star.
Launched April 18, 2018

 

TESS will survey 200,000 of the brightest stars near the sun to search for transiting exoplanets, including those that could support life. TESS will catalog thousands of planet candidates and vastly increase the current number of known exoplanets, including Earth-size and super-Earths, providing researchers with a rich set of new targets for more comprehensive follow-up studies. STScI’s Barbara A. Mikulski Archive for Space Telescopes (MAST) hosts TESS data, also available through exo.MAST. The latter creates an easy link between the exoplanet and their system parameters and the observational data associated with that planet within the MAST archive. The archive, tools and high-level data products will enable the community to maximize TESS scientific impact.

TESS 

TESS MAST

Exo.MAST

WIDE FIELD INFRARED SURVEY TELESCOPE

Artist concept of WFIRST
Launching in mid 2020's

 

WFIRST's wide field of view will allow to use time-series microlensing imaging observations of Milky Way Bulge stars to determine the distribution of exoplanets down to sub-Earth masses in a wide range of orbital radii, including the habitable zone, the outer regions of planetary systems, and free-floating planets. This will likely result in the discovery of thousands of bound planets and over 100 Earth-mass planets. It will also excel at carrying out surveys of the minor bodies in the solar system, including asteroids, KBOs, comets, and giant planet satellites. By suppressing starlight by factors of up to 1 billion to one, WFIRST coronagraph will provide a crucial technology demonstration for future missions aimed at detecting signs of life in the atmospheres of Earth-like exoplanets. STScI is the Science Operations Centers for WFIRST. We will schedule and archive all WFIRST observations, and will calibrate and produce pipeline-reduced data products for the Wide Field Instrument.

WFIRST for the Scientific Community 

Past Missions


 

KEPLER

Artist Concept KEPLER Space Telescope
Launched March 7, 2009

 

Over its nine-year lifetime, the Kepler telescope observed more than a million stars and detected thousands of planets through the study of planet transits. These observations have resulted in breakthrough discoveries in exoplanet science, showing us that small planets are common in the galaxy and helped identify targets for more precise follow-up observations to determine their masses, densities, and atmospheric compositions. The data from both the Kepler and K2 missions are available through the Barbara A. Mikulski Archive for Space Telescopes (MAST) and through Exo.MAST.”

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MAST

Exo.MAST

Future Missions

STScI research staff is contributing to envision and define future space observatories that will provide unprecedented capabilities for the discovery and characterization of planets, including terrestrial planets in the habitable zone, enabling the search of biosignatures.

LUVOIR

The Large Ultraviolet/Optical/Infrared Surveyor (LUVOIR) is a concept for a general-purpose observatory that will survey hundreds of stars to search for rocky planets in their habitable zones.

HABEX

The Habitable Exoplanet Imaging Mission (HabEx) will directly image planetary systems around Sun-like stars; it will be sensitive to all types of planets, but its main goal is to directly image Earth-like exoplanets.

Origins

The Origins Space Telescope (OST) is a concept for a general-purpose observatory that will revolutionize our understanding of planetary system formation and detect signs of life in nearby exoplanets.