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Kepler object of interest facts for kids

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A Kepler object of interest (KOI) is a star observed by the Kepler space telescope that is suspected of hosting one or more transiting planets. KOIs come from a master list of 150,000 stars, which itself is generated from the Kepler Input Catalog (KIC). A KOI shows a periodic dimming, indicative of an unseen planet passing between the star and Earth, eclipsing part of the star. However, such an observed dimming is not a guarantee of a transiting planet, because other astronomical objects—such as an eclipsing binary in the background—can mimic a transit signal. For this reason, the majority of KOIs are as yet not confirmed transiting planet systems.


The first public release of a list of KOIs was on 15 June 2010 and contained 306 stars suspected of hosting exoplanets, based on observations taken between 2 May 2009 and 16 September 2009. It was also announced that an additional 400 KOIs had been discovered, but would not be immediately released to the public. This was done in order for follow-up observations to be performed by Kepler team members.

On February 1, 2011, a second release of observations made during the same time frame contained improved date reduction and listed 1235 transit signals around 997 stars.

Naming convention

Stars observed by Kepler that are considered candidates for transit events are given the designation "KOI" followed by an integer number. For each set of periodic transit events associated with a particular KOI, a two-digit decimal is added to the KOI number for that star. For example, the first transit event candidate identified around the star KOI 718 is designated KOI 718.01, while the second candidate is KOI 718.02 and the third is KOI 718.03. Once a transit candidate is verified to be a planet (see below), the star is designated "Kepler" followed by a hyphen and an integer number. The associated planet(s) have the same designation, followed by a letter in the order each was discovered.

Kepler data on KOIs

For all 150,000 stars that were watched for transits by Kepler, there are estimates of each star's surface temperature, radius, surface gravity and mass. These quantities are derived from photometric observations taken prior to Kepler's launch at the 1.2 m reflector at Fred Lawrence Whipple Observatory. For KOIs, there is, additionally, data on each transit signal: the depth of the signal, the duration of the signal and the periodicity of the signal (although some signals lack this last piece of information). Assuming the signal is due to a planet, these data can be used to obtain the size of the planet relative to its host star, the planet's distance from the host star relative to the host star's size (assuming zero eccentricity), and the orbital period of the planet. Combined with the estimated properties of the star described previously, estimates on the absolute size of the planet, its distance from the host star and its equilibrium temperature can be made.

Verifying candidates

Additional observations are necessary in order to confirm that a KOI actually has the planet that has been predicted, instead of being a false positive or misidentification. The most well-established confirmation method is to obtain radial velocity measurements of the planet acting on the KOI. However, for many KOIs this is not feasible. In these cases, speckle imaging or adaptive optics imaging using ground-based telescopes can be used to greatly reduce the likelihood of background eclipsing binaries. Such follow-up observations are estimated to reduce the chance of such background objects to less than 0.01%. Additionally, spectra of the KOIs can be taken to see if the star is part of a binary system.

Notable KOIs

KOIs with confirmed planets

As of August 10, 2016, Kepler had found 2329 confirmed planets orbiting 1647 stars, as well as 4696 planet candidates.

Previously detected planets

Three stars within the Kepler space telescope's field of view have been identified by the mission as Kepler-1, Kepler-2, and Kepler-3 and have planets which were previously known from ground based observations and which were re-observed by Kepler. These stars are cataloged as GSC 03549-02811, HAT-P-7, and HAT-P-11.

Planets confirmed by the Kepler team

Eight stars were first observed by Kepler to have signals indicative of transiting planets and have since had their nature confirmed. These stars are: Kepler-1658, KOI-5, Kepler-4, Kepler-5, Kepler-6, Kepler-7, Kepler-8, Kepler-9, Kepler-10, and Kepler-11. Of these, Kepler-9 and Kepler-11 have multiple planets (3 and 6, respectively) confirmed to be orbiting them.

Planets confirmed by other collaborations

From the Kepler data released to the public, one system has been confirmed to have a planet, Kepler-40.

KOIs with unconfirmed planets

Kepler-20 (KOI-70) has transit signals indicating the existence of at least four planets. KOI-70.04 would be the smallest extrasolar planet discovered around a main-sequence star (at 0.6 Earth radii) to date, and the second smallest known extrasolar planet after Draugr. The likelihood of KOI 70.04 being of the nature deduced by Kepler (and not a false positive or misidentification) has been estimated at >80%.

Six transit signals released in the February 1, 2011 data are indicative of planets that are both "Earth-like" (less than 2 Earth radii in size) and located within the habitable zone of the host star. They are: KOI 456.04, KOI 1026.01, KOI 854.01, KOI 701.03, KOI 326.01, and KOI 70.03. A more recent study found that one of these candidates (KOI 326.01) is in fact much larger and hotter than first reported. For now, the only transiting "Earth-like" candidate in the habitable zone around a sun-like star is KOI 456.04, which is in orbit around Kepler-160.

A September 2011 study by Muirhead et al. reports that a re-calibration of estimated radii and effective temperatures of several dwarf stars in the Kepler sample yields six new terrestrial-sized candidates within the habitable zones of their stars: KOI 463.01, KOI-1422.02, KOI-947.01, KOI-812.03, KOI-448.02, KOI-1361.01.[1]

Non-planet discoveries

Several KOIs contain transiting objects which are hotter than the stars they transit, indicating that the smaller objects are white dwarfs formed through mass transfer. These objects include KOI 74, KOI 81 and KOI 959.

KOI 54 is believed to be a binary system containing two A-class stars in highly eccentric orbits with a semi-major axis of 0.4 AU. During periastron, tidal distortions cause a periodic brightening of the system. In addition, these tidal forces induce resonant pulsations in one (or both) of the stars, making it only the 4th known stellar system to exhibit such behavior.

KOI 126 is a triple star system comprising two low mass (0.24 and 0.21 solar masses (M)) stars orbiting each other with a period of 1.8 days and a semi-major axis of 0.02 AU. Together, they orbit a 1.3 M star with a period of 34 days and a semi-major axis of 0.25 AU. All three stars eclipse one another which allows for precise measurements of their masses and radii. This makes the low mass stars 2 of only 4 known fully convective stars to have accurate determinations of their parameters (i.e. to better than several percent). The other 2 stars constitute the eclipsing binary system CM Draconis.

KIC 8462852 is a star with a mysterious transit profile. Researchers are unsure of what is causing the changes to its luminosity, with the leading explanation currently being that the light represents dust from broken down comets. SETI astronomers are studying the star for signs of extraterrestrial life, because the light signatures appear to mimic the signs of what a massive extraterrestrial superstructure, such as a Dyson sphere, might look like if observed by Kepler.

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