Planet Discovery and Demographics Research at STScI

Discovering new worlds through techniques such and planet transits and high-contrast imaging.

Makidon Optics Laboratory

STScI hosts the Russell B. Makidon Optics Laboratory, a state-of-the-art facility with experiments to simulate the main aspects of wavefront sensing and control for a segmented space telescope, and to develop the next generation of high contrast coronagraphic and non-redundant aperture masking interferometry techniques for segmented telescopes that will enable direct imaging of exoplanets from space with significant cost savings relative to monolithic mirrors.


Exo.MAST is a handy search engine for exoplanets linked to the MAST data archive at STScI, including Kepler, K2, HST, and TESS observations, and in the future JWST. In one easy search users can find any confirmed exoplanet and see all of their parameters, what observations have been taken and measurements have been made, and download all the connected data through the MAST archive.

Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS)

The Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (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.


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.

Gemini Planet Imager (GPI)

The Gemini Planet Imager is the next generation adaptive optics instrument for the Gemini Telescope designed to image extrasolar planets orbiting nearby stars. STScI research staff are critical contributors to the GPI instrument, the GPI Exoplanet Survey (allocated 890-hours to search and characterize exoplanets around ~600 stars), and the GPI Debris Characterization Program.