The study of stars has been revolutionized over the past few years by new satellite and telescope observations of unprecedented quality and scope. Thanks to the launch of the NASA Kepler Mission the last few years have seen dramatic progress in the study of other stellar systems in our galaxy, and the group in Birmingham is playing a leading international role in this exciting work.

Kepler Space Telescope

The NASA Kepler Mission has been continuously monitoring the brightness of around 170,000 stars in our galaxy. We are using these ground-breaking observations to study other stars by observing their oscillations. Kepler has discovered thousands of planets orbiting distant stars by the miniscule dimming of light as the planets transit, or pass across, the visible faces of the stars. Perhaps the most exciting part of the research in Birmingham has been leading the international work on using stellar resonances to characterize the stars around which these newly discovered planets have been found. By studying the "music" of these host stars we can answer questions such as: How big are the planets that have been found around the stars? And might those planets be capable of harbouring life?

The Kepler space telescope continues to observe many hundreds of thousands of stars in its new mission labelled “K2”. In its new role, Kepler is surveying stars in many different regions of our own galaxy. This new role has opened up new ways in which we can understand the formation and evolution of the Milky Way. This field of study is often referred to as Galactic Archeology. The use of asteroseismology from the K2 fields is revolutionising our understanding of our cosmic home.

It is a very exciting time to be involved in studies of the Sun and other stars (in particular those hosting newly discovered planets).  Right now the repurposed Kepler Space Telescope is surveying the ecliptic as part of NASA's K2 Mission. In the near future the all-sky mission TESS will study stars in the solar neighbourhood and discover many planets close, in astronomical terms, to Earth.  Further into the future, ESA’s PLATO mission will provide a revolution in the discovery of planets that are like Earth.

Kepler image © NASA.